Arnold Schwarzenegger, Per MertesackerGetty composite

Gnabry: Mertesacker is intense, like a friendly Arnold Schwarzenegger

Bayern Munich star Serge Gnabry has opened up on his life at Arsenal and has pinpointed the influence of Per Mertesacker as a particularly positive one, despite the centre-back being persistently “hard” on him.

The attacker was a teenager when he moved from Stuttgart to Arsenal and admits that the move was a big one for him.

Although he ultimately failed to make the grade at the Emirates Stadium, his time there set the foundation for a promising career, which has seen him move back to Germany with Werder Bremen and now with Bayern Munich, where he is establishing himself as a star player.

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And Gnabry admits that he owes much to Mertesacker, who now works for the Gunners' academy, for the way he drove him on when he was younger.

“He used to always be so hard on me, but in a really good way,” the 24-year-old wrote for The Players’ Tribune. “He was like an older brother for me at Arsenal, and no matter how well I played, or how hard I worked, he used to say...

“O.K., hang on! Because this part is not going to make sense unless you really know Per. You have to hear his voice. You have to see his face. Per is the nicest guy in the world. But he’s also the most German guy in the world. 

“Like everything he says, it’s so intense. Like he’s so tall, and he’s looking down at you trying to be intimidating but it’s also kind of friendly. I don’t know if there’s an English word for it. Imagine like a really friendly Arnold Schwarzenegger or something. That’s Per. 

“And no matter what I did in training, he would come up to me afterwards and start yelling, like: ‘Serge, remember where you come from! You are from Stuttgart! Humility, humility, humility! Serge, you think you’re good now, huh? You must be humble! Humility!’”

Mertesacker understood how quickly Gnabry’s life was changing, as the player himself admitted.

“One day, you’re watching Mesut Ozil on TV with your mates, and he’s your idol. Then two years later, you’re having a coffee with him,” he said. 

“You were watching him in awe, assisting Cristiano [Ronaldo] in El Clasico. And then he’s right in front of you, asking you how you’re doing. It’s surreal. It’s hard to not change, to be honest. 

“It’s hard to remember who you are.”

Gnabry is set to return to action on Sunday after a two-month layoff caused by the corona pandemic, with Union Berlin Bayern’s first opponents as they aim to close out the Bundesliga title.