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Was Wenger’s strength also his biggest weakness? Mertesacker assesses Arsenal legend’s methods

8:38 PM IST 10/09/19
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
The former Gunners captain, who is now academy manager in north London, admits that underperforming players let the iconic coach down towards the end

Per Mertesacker does not believe that Arsene Wenger’s unshakable faith in his players can be considered his biggest weakness, with the former Arsenal defender considering it to be a strength.

It has long been argued that a legendary coach in north London placed too much trust in a sometimes underperforming squad.

That was certainly the case towards the end of his reign, with Arsenal slipping out of the Premier League’s top four and European elite as a result.

Mertesacker concedes that Wenger did not rule with an iron fist, but he believes that the playing staff must take more of the blame for regression than a manager who saw his tactics and recruitment policy questioned on a regular basis.

The World Cup winner, who is now academy manager at Arsenal, wrote in his autobiography ‘Per Mertesacker: Big Friendly German’: “When we lost one game, we often lost a few in a row.

“We could show off our class across six FA Cup games, but 38 League matches in 10 months were a different matter. We simply lacked the consistency all top teams need.

“You couldn’t win the League on eight defeats a year.

“Arsene Wenger was always the kind of manager whose belief in his team’s qualities was steady as a rock and who approached matters with never-ending patience.

“He didn’t lose his nerve during losing streaks, either. He stuck with his convictions and his players, no matter how strong the wind was blowing. It was his greatest strength.

“Wondering whether it was also his greatest weakness and whether he was he too lenient with us is, in my opinion, a little too simplistic.

“If the fans had got their way, there would have been five new top signings every year. ‘Spend some f***ing money!’ they would chorus from the stands after defeats.

“But Wenger trusted the players he had. I never met another manager who believed more strongly in his squad’s ability.”

Former Germany international Mertesacker added: “First and foremost, Wenger saw us as human beings and he had a lot of faith in us, which is why he stood by us.

“Ultimately, we as players need to ask ourselves whether we did everything possible to justify his trust.

“Did we implement his instructions perfectly? Were we pulling together? Did we learn from our mistakes? No.

“Wenger has won three Premier League titles, which is proof enough of his standing as a ­manager. The team, on the other hand, had fallen short since 2004.”

Wenger brought a 22-year stint as Arsenal manager to a close in 2018.

Mertesacker slipped into retirement during the same summer, with the 34-year-old bowing out after seven years with the Gunners that delivered 221 appearances – many as captain.