Per Mertesacker saw red fewer than 20 minutes into Arsenal’s crucial game with Chelsea, but was he really to blame?

There’s no doubt the German’s tackle was a poor one – it was silly, more than anything – but was the entire situation avoidable? Having watched it back a few times, I’d have to say yes.

Playing as our deepest midfielder, Mathieu Flamini does a horrible job of closing down Willian, who advances with the ball from the edge of Chelsea’s box. Flamini stares him down but retreats for at least 30 yards without putting any pressure on the ball. It wasn’t only odd, it was awful and it left the entire defence exposed.

Chelsea could counter, but surely this situation is under control?
Chelsea could counter, but surely this situation is under control?
Ok Mathieu, maybe close him down now?
Ok Mathieu, maybe close him down now? Put some pressure on the ball? At least stop so he can’t keep coming forward…
Nope, Willian has travelled a long way and Flamini hasn't closed him down at all.
Nope, Willian has travelled a long way and Flamini hasn’t closed him down at all.

Not once did Flamini approach Willian to make him think about his next move, maybe force a change of direction or give other midfielders time to get back. Knowing the Arsenal defence there’s a pretty good chance they wanted to play Diego Costa offside, but with Flamini not closing the ball down and retreating fast they had no chance.

Laurent Koscielny, probably worried by the lack of pressure on the ball, doesn’t play the offside line with Per Mertesacker, who realises too late.

It allows just enough time for Willian to play a perfect ball for Diego Costa, who is through on goal. Per tries to make up for the situation with a last gasp tackle but he gets it wrong. He didn’t make any contact with Diego Costa but, as far as I’m concerned, as soon as you go to ground you make a rod for your own back.

The Spaniard was always going to go down as soon as Mertesacker made a challenge; there’s no doubt it was a silly challenge to commit to. However, it all could have been avoided had Flamini done his job or Koscielny played the line like he usually does.

Mertesacker wasn’t faultless here, but he doesn’t deserve all the blame.

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