Paul Merson simply loved playing football.
With an infectious smile always on display, Merson was championed by the Highbury faithful, and his team-mates appreciated him too. The Londoner bought flair and imagination to the Arsenal side, often producing the spectacular and unexpected.
|Arsenal Career||1982 - 1997|
|Appearances||425 (381 starts, 44 as a sub)|
The young Merson had bags of promise but spent time on loan at Brentford in order to gain some consistency. It worked. The forward returned from Griffin Park in 1987 and was thrust straight into the Gunners first-team.
Rather than be overawed by the situation, Merson thrived, scoring three times in his first five starts. However, despite his early impact, a regular starting place eluded the talismanic striker until the 1988/89 season. Then, he coupled hard graft with verve and enterprise, going on to play a key role as the Club won their first League title in 18 years.
His development into one of the country's hottest prospects was confirmed with the PFA Young Player of the Year award, and international recognition soon followed - he went on to make 21 appearances at senior level.
Merson had, by trade, been a striker, but as time went on a deeper lying role become more common. After a brief, but alarming, dip in form Paul found comfort behind Alan Smith and in tandem with winger Anders Limpar. From his new vantage point Merson could dictate the pace of an attack, combining raking diagonal passes with sharp exchanges and incisive runs. In 1991/92 he was irresistible.
However things began to go awry during the next campaign as Merson's well-documented personal problems affected his game. In late 1994 he underwent therapy for his addictions and some people believed he was finished. Not a chance.
Merson returned with a an unbroken run of over 100 appearances. The fans welcomed him back with open arms. He was a firm favourite, not least for his mercurial talent but for the manner in which he carried himself on the field. He battled with every ounce of energy whenever he wore the shirt, replacing an initial caution with moments of the original 'Merse'. In 1996 he justifiably earned a recall to the England set-up.
Merson left one summer later. Gone were his playing days at Arsenal, but the memory of both his character and playing ability will last a long, long time.