EXCLUSIVE: Mertesacker's a lifelong Gooner
Published 23:00 30/09/11 By John Cross
Per Mertesacker has always regarded the Premier League as the "motherland" of football.
But Mertesacker finally made up his mind to move to Arsenal after one of the worst days in English football's recent past.
Mertesacker helped Germany thrash England 4-1 in the World Cup in June 2010 but loved the English fans and decided he must fulfil his wish of playing for his unlikely boyhood heroes.
German centre half Mertesacker loves the passion of the fans, atmosphere in the stadiums and admits that he is bracing himself for a whole new experience in the heat of tomorrow's north London derby.
"England scored more than just one goal!" laughed Mertesacker, recalling Frank Lampard's effort which would have levelled the scores had the linesman seen it cross the line.
"We were very lucky in many situations but it was a great feeling to beat England in a World Cup, in an African country and we saw nice places, especially Bloemfontein.
"The supporters were very close to the pitch and there were many, many England supporters there. It was that day that I thought: 'playing in England must be the place for me to play.'"
It was always going to be Arsenal. Mertesacker has a curious story as to why joining Arsenal was always his wish from when he was a ten-year-old.
His aunt, Ute, worked as a waitress in Plymouth and back in 1995 the whole family came to England to visit for a holiday. His two brothers were equally football mad but chose other shirts while Per chose Arsenal.
From that summer on, Mertesacker, with his red home and blue away shirts, was an avid Arsenal fan and did not take any persuading to come to England when Arsene Wenger tried to sign him.
The only issue was the timing. Mertesacker says Arsenal made an enquiry just after the World Cup but Werder Bremen would not let him go.
This summer it finally happened and, despite the last minute nature of the deal, Wenger's long-held interest proves once and for all that the transfer was anything but a panic buy.
"When I looked back, I saw the pictures of me in the shirts and then I signed for Arsenal and I got a few SMS messages from some of my friends in my old youth team," he said. "The story has gone full circle.
"England was always my favourite football land and if ever there was a chance to come to this country then it was always going to be to sign for this club.
"England is the motherland. Everyone in foreign countries speaks about English football. It's famous. All the best players come here.
"I was at a good club but Arsenal was another step for me. It was my wish to make it happen if everyone could agree.
"It nearly happened last year but I talked to the manager in Bremen and he stopped it because they had too many injuries. But we stayed in contact for a long time and that's why I'm sure he wanted me for a long time."
Mertesacker, together with his girlfriend Ulrika and five-month old son Paul, has settled in north London after taking some advice on where to live from Jens Lehmann.
Mertesacker also ticks all the boxes for Arsenal. He is 6ft 6in, a vastly experienced German international with 76 caps and he is the sort of established centre half Wenger has been looking for.
But there have been question marks over his size and mobility. There are no doubts in Mertesacker's mind and he is determined to prove it against Sunday and by trying to help Arsenal achieve the target of finishing in the top four.
Mertesacker, who had his first formal English lesson yesterday despite speaking the language perfectly, said: "Of course I want to be the dominant player. But I also want to help the squad, be part of the team and everyone has specific strengths.
"The league is very different to the Bundesliga. It's very quick, very intense and is very hard for me. It will be hard to be successful here but it's a big challenge for me and I want to help the team come through and it will be good for me, too.
"I've heard a lot about the derbies, especially Arsenal and Tottenham. I'm looking forward to it. I played at White Hart Lane for Bremen in the Champions League. It's good that I've played there but I think it will be different on Sunday."
* Per Mertesacker was speaking on behalf of Thomas Cook Sport, official travel partner of Arsenal. Secure your seat at any Arsenal home game with a Thomas Cook Sport Match Break available at www.thomascooksport.com or by calling 0844 800 9900.