'Manager's trust got me through after 13 months on sidelines'
Per Mertesacker said that his surprise masterclass in the FA Cup final was the ultimate vindication for Arsene Wenger's decision to trust him to play.
The German had been out with knee problems - he had not started a game for 13 months but he shackled Diego Costa, helping to guide Arsenal to a 2-1 win no-one expected.
Wenger only picked Mertesacker because Arsenal's top three centre-backs were all out but as an emergency measure it worked perfectly. Mertesacker (32) said that his performance proved the motivational power of Wenger's trust, showing the valuable difference that the under-fire manager can still make.
"I was almost forgotten and that makes me stronger," Mertesacker said. "I could feel that the trust of the team and of the coaching staff is vital in those moments when you struggle and when you are out.
"The trust he gives his players, that is the most important part as a manager. You want to challenge your players, but you trust them when you send them onto the field."
Arsenal produced their best display for years and Mertesacker said that the high level the team reached was testament to Wenger's enduring ability.
"He has been calm and quiet, as he has always been when dealing with those situations," Mertesacker said. "I just have to give him credit, because there were a lot of people saying he can't deliver anymore, but still his team is able to do that."
After a difficult season in which Arsenal came fifth in the league, their worst finish under Wenger, Mertesacker said that they realised that they had to be more competitive on the biggest stage.
"We had to improve a lot because we saw teams doing a better job than us, being more physical, having a better work rate," Mertesacker admitted.
"It was time for us to have that learning experience again this season. What comes out of it is such a performance where we put the work rate in, put the intensity in, and up front we are capable of winning against any team."
Although Arsenal finished 18 points behind Chelsea in the league, Mertesacker remains confident over their bid for the title next season. He said that they have a "good chance" to win their first title in 14 years if only they can improve their consistency.
"We still have a lot to prove and this team wants to challenge, especially next season," Mertesacker said.
"It is going to be tough again. But I am not frightened to say that we still have a good chance in the league because this team suffered a lot this season, and were still able to perform like that. We are able to have such big performances, but consistency was not our strength.
"That is something we need to work, on a regular basis." (© Independent News Service)