Per Mertesacker has paid tribute to Arsene Wenger for putting his faith in the “big fella.”
Arsenal’s giant 6ft 7in centre half made his first start since April 2016 to answer an injury crisis and defied the doubters to put in a remarkable man-of-the-match performance.
Mertesacker, 32, who has been out with a knee injury, admitted it was a brave decision and said: “It was completely unexpected to reach the goal. I didn’t expect it.
“He (Wenger) could have gone small but he went with the big fella and that is something I need to give him credit for because I haven’t played a lot, I just trained, always with the same focus and mentality because in football things change quickly.
“You can always say it was a first start of the season and first of being captain, lining up in front of the lads. It was a proud moment.
“But I went into the game saying to myself: ’there is nothing to expect from myself’ everyone has written me off already and I went through my normal routine. 15 years and you never forget.
“You know what you have achieved and what you have been through and I have learned a lot and one thing I want to be sure about is this team is very exceptional and trusted myself in a good way and always appreciated my support even when I was not playing.”
Mertesacker also believes that they will come back stronger next season – and challenge for the title.
He added: “We have still a lot to prove and this team wants that challenge especially next season. It is going to be a tough one again but I am not frightened to say we have still 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, consistency was not our strength I think that is something we need to work on on a regular basis but big performances we are capable of.”