Per Mertesacker has admitted the pressure was getting to him in his final year with Arsenal, and he was happier taking part in training sessions than he would’ve been on the pitch.
Mertesacker made a few appearances in the early part of the 2017/18 season for Arsenal, playing consecutive league games against Watford, Everton and Swansea. From November though, his starts were few and far between.
Eventually he stopped getting games completely, only making one final 13-minute showing in Arsenal’s 5-0 win against Burnley in May. You might think the German would be disappointed not to have more game time in his final season before retirement, but he told the BBC it’s what he wanted.
“Especially in my last year, I felt something and felt the pressure and it was very awkward sometimes,” he said. “I was happy about not necessarily playing, just training was enough for me.
“Sometimes you don’t feel like doing sports or don’t feel like doing workouts [where you are] spending eight weeks together and you just don’t see your family.
“So it [football] has taken some bits and pieces as well – my health at one or two stages where you give absolutely everything and your body is just exhausted and you try to continue but your body says ‘I’m done. I need an injury I need a break.’ That’s what I’ve experienced.”
It just goes to show the toll that professional football has on people. Obviously it’s putting a massive strain on their bodies, we’ve seen that all too clearly with Santi Cazorla’s injury struggles in the last couple of years. Mertesacker isn’t shying away from the impact it has on your mind as well.
Hopefully he uses his new role as Arsenal academy manager to make it clear to the club’s young players that it’s normal to feel like that. If they know it’s not just them worrying about it, they’ll be more likely to open up about it. At least then they can share the burden with other people.