Former Gunner explains why he's really grateful to Per Mertesacker

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Said Benrahma of Brentford battles for possession with Semi Ajayi of West Bromwich Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Brentford at The Hawthorns on December 21, 2019, in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Said Benrahma of Brentford battles for possession with Semi Ajayi of West Bromwich Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Brentford at The Hawthorns on December 21, 2019, in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Semi Ajayi looks back fondly on his time with Arsenal, particularly what he learned from the now-academy manager Per Mertesacker.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 29: Semi Ajayi of West Bromwich Albion looks to break past Gary Roberts of Wigan Athletic during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic at The Hawthorns on February 29, 2020 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
WEST BROMWICH: Semi Ajayi of West Bromwich Albion looks to break past Gary Roberts on February 29, 2020. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Speaking in an Instagram chat this week, Semi Ajayi talked about learning from Per Mertesacker and the two years he spent with Arsenal.

Ajayi joined the Arsenal academy from Charlton Athletic in 2013, earning a two-year deal after a trial. He made over 30 appearances at youth level and spent time on loan with Cardiff City, but left at the end of that contract without making a senior appearance.

Nonetheless, the 26-year-old clearly sees the positives in that spell in North London.

“I learned a lot while I was there so I always look back on the two years,” Ajayi said (via Goal). “Training with these guys every day was great because I could go up against some of the best players in the country and around the world.

“Per Mertesacker took a lot of time out to teach me the art of defending and give me some wisdom that he’s picked along the way and shared with me, and I was really grateful for that.

“I did hope to one day break into the first team but everyone’s path is different. Sometimes you have to take two steps back to take three steps forward. The things that I learned while I was there will serve me for the rest of my career.”

What is Ajayi up to now?

Ajayi’s career is very much on the up in the last few years. He earned promotion from League One with Rotherham in 2017/18, before moving to West Bromwich Albion last summer. 37 appearances later they’re in an automatic promotion place.

Assuming we either conclude the season or West Brom get promoted on PPG, Ajayi will make the jump to the Premier League for the first time next season.

The centre-back’s recent form also propelled him into the Nigeria national team. He’s up to 10 appearances including four 90-minute matches across the three most recent international breaks. For his sake (and only his), I hope West Brom do get that promotion.