Crit­ics made me stronger, says Merte­sacker

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LONDON: Per Merte­sacker says his key role in Arse­nal’s FA Cup fi­nal tri­umph was fu­elled by the crit­ics who claimed he was past his best.

With Arse­nal’s de­fence rav­aged by in­jury and sus­pen­sion, Gun­ners boss Arsene Wenger handed Merte­sacker his first ap­pear­ance in the start­ing line-up for 392 days in Satur­day’s Wem­b­ley show­piece against Chelsea.

A se­ri­ous knee in­jury suf­fered last year led to a lengthy spell on the side­lines for Merte­sacker and when the Ger­man re­turned to fit­ness he was un­able to re­gain his place.

The 32-year-old had played only 37 min­utes all sea­son af­ter com­ing off the bench in last week­end’s win against Ever­ton.

But the ab­sence of Lau­rent Ko­scielny, Gabriel and Shko­dran Mustafi gave Wenger no op­tion but to end Merte­sacker’s ex­ile.

Against all ex­pec­ta­tions, the cen­tre-back emerged as the tow­er­ing foun­da­tion of Arse­nal’s 2-1 tri­umph.

And Merte­sacker, who lifted the tro­phy as Arse­nal cap­tain, claimed the chance to si­lence the pun­dits who had writ­ten him off helped in­spire his dom­i­nant dis­play.

“I ex­pect my­self to per­form at that level ev­ery sin­gle week,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m ca­pa­ble but I’ve done it for 15 years. The more peo­ple that write me off, the stronger I get. That’s my feel­ing.”

De­spite play­ing in a three-man de­fence for the first time in his ca­reer, Merte­sacker’s com­po­sure and lead­er­ship were cru­cial to sub­du­ing Chelsea striker Diego Costa and play­maker Eden Hazard.

The for­mer Werder Bre­men de­fender was de­lighted to help Arse­nal fin­ish a trou­bled sea­son on a high note as they re­bounded from the mis­ery of fail­ing to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League by win­ning the Cup for the third time in four year.

“I’m just blessed for this op­por­tu­nity,” Merte­sacker said.

“For the trust from my team­mates and my man­ager be­cause be­ing side­lined for such a long time, I suf­fered a lot this sea­son be­cause you want to con­trib­ute on the pitch.

“To be able to do that to­day was a very proud mo­ment for my­self and to lead the team out for the first time of­fi­cially as cap­tain is a great mo­ment for my­self.

“At the end of the day ev­ery­one trusted me and sup­ported me through­out the sea­son and the man­ager gave me the op­por­tu­nity.”

While Merte­sacker left Wem­b­ley on a high, it was a down­beat de­par­ture for John Terry, who was an un­used sub­sti­tute in his fi­nal Chelsea match.

Af­ter 22 years, 717 ap­pear­ances and count­less tro­phies, Terry has brought down the cur­tain on his play­ing ca­reer with the Premier League cham­pi­ons.

Terry has cleaned out his locker at Chelsea’s train­ing ground and will head off on hol­i­day be­fore de­cid­ing whether to re­tire or ac­cept one of sev­eral of­fers to con­tinue play­ing.

The 36-year-old plans to go into coach­ing even­tu­ally and would love to re­turn to Wem­b­ley as a man­ager in the fu­ture.

“It’s heart-break­ing, go­ing out like that and los­ing. It’s the last time prob­a­bly at Wem­b­ley as a player,” Terry said.

“Hope­fully one day I’ll be back here as a man­ager, that’s kind of the am­bi­tion.

“If I do stop or if I do carry on play­ing, I will press on in that re­gard­less. I do want to be a man­ager.

“I think I’ve got too much to give and I’ve learned too much not to pass that on, whether that’s ini­tially to a younger gen­er­a­tion or even­tu­ally at this level.

“Lis­ten, this is the tar­get, be­ing here man­ag­ing a top side.”

Terry has been linked with Bournemouth, Swansea City and West Bromwich Al­bion, while a move to the United States or China is also pos­si­ble.

“For me, just hon­estly, gen­uinely and ev­ery­one keeps ask­ing me and no-one be­lieves me when I say that I’ve not got any­thing sorted,” he said.

“I’ve got op­tions but noth­ing sorted or in stone or any­thing like that. But it’s al­ways good to have op­tions.” AFP

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