London (AFP) – Per Mertesacker says his key role in Arsenal’s FA Cup final triumph was fuelled by the critics who claimed he was past his best.
With Arsenal’s defence ravaged by injury and suspension, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger handed Mertesacker his first appearance in the starting line-up for 392 days in Saturday’s Wembley showpiece against Chelsea.
A serious knee injury suffered last year led to a lengthy spell on the sidelines for Mertesacker and when the German returned to fitness he was unable to regain his place.
The 32-year-old had played only 37 minutes all season after coming off the bench in last weekend’s win against Everton.
But the absence of Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi gave Wenger no option but to end Mertesacker’s exile.
Against all expectations, the centre-back emerged as the towering foundation of Arsenal’s 2-1 triumph.
And Mertesacker, who lifted the trophy as Arsenal captain, claimed the chance to silence the pundits who had written him off helped inspire his dominant display.
“I expect myself to perform at that level every single week,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’m capable but I’ve done it for 15 years. The more people that write me off, the stronger I get. That’s my feeling.”
Despite playing in a three-man defence for the first time in his career, Mertesacker’s composure and leadership were crucial to subduing Chelsea striker Diego Costa and playmaker Eden Hazard.
The former Werder Bremen defender was delighted to help Arsenal finish a troubled season on a high note as they rebounded from the misery of failing to qualify for the Champions League by winning the Cup for the third time in four year.
“I’m just blessed for this opportunity,” Mertesacker said.
“For the trust from my team-mates and my manager because being sidelined for such a long time, I suffered a lot this season because you want to contribute on the pitch.
“To be able to do that today was a very proud moment for myself and to lead the team out for the first time officially as captain is a great moment for myself.
“At the end of the day everyone trusted me and supported me throughout the season and the manager gave me the opportunity.”
– Ambition –
While Mertesacker left Wembley on a high, it was a downbeat departure for John Terry, who was an unused substitute in his final Chelsea match.
After 22 years, 717 appearances and countless trophies, Terry has brought down the curtain on his playing career with the Premier League champions.
Terry has cleaned out his locker at Chelsea’s training ground and will head off on holiday before deciding whether to retire or accept one of several offers to continue playing.
The 36-year-old defender plans to go into coaching eventually and would love to return to Wembley as a manager in the future.
“It’s heart-breaking, going out like that and losing. It’s the last time probably at Wembley as a player,” Terry said.
“Hopefully one day I’ll be back here as a manager, that’s kind of the ambition.
“If I do stop or if I do carry on playing, I will press on in that regardless. I do want to be a manager.
“I think I’ve got too much to give and I’ve learned too much not to pass that on, whether that’s initially to a younger generation or eventually at this level.
“Listen, this is the target, being here managing a top side.”
Terry has been linked with Bournemouth, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, while a move to the United States or China is also possible.
“For me, just honestly, genuinely and everyone keeps asking me and no-one believes me when I say that I’ve not got anything sorted,” he said.
“I’ve got options but nothing sorted or in stone or anything like that. But it’s always good to have options.”
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