By Chris Harris
Per Mertesacker admits he feels much more at home in his second season in English football.
The Germany defender arrived just before the transfer deadline passed in August 2011 and went straight into the fray as an injury-hit Arsenal side tried to get over a difficult start to the campaign.
Mertesacker, like most foreign signings, took time to settle in his new surroundings. But this term the 28-year-old has been one of Arsène Wenger's stand-out performers and is well on the way to eclipsing the 27 starts he made last season.
"It was quite tough for me [in my first season] but now I feel much more comfortable with the situation, with the season, with opponents, with our team as well, with the game we play," said Mertesacker. "I try to keep on going with that feeling, yes.
"English football is much more physical than the Bundesliga so you have to make your mind up about the tackles, about the way you cover your partner. So I set those things up a bit and I feel much better than last season.
"We try to play our game, to set the pace. The improvement has been so big, especially when you train more than one year with a team. The improvement is that big and I think you can see it. You can see those players who came in this year, they need a bit of time to settle in completely."
Mertesacker does his best work in the Arsenal penalty area but he popped up in the Tottenham box on Saturday to power a header past Hugo Lloris and equalise in the north London derby. Mertesacker's first Arsenal goal came in his 41st appearance and he savoured the moment.
"It was kind of a relief," he said. "For a striker I think even more, I think of Olivier Giroud. In the modern game, set-pieces are getting more important, so you try to do your best as a defender to make a difference.
"After the sending off of Adebayor we had to come quickly into the game, so it was vital to score very quickly after that to show everyone that we are still confident. When you miss, or you are struggling, or you make a mistake, you have to switch on quickly and do you best for the team. That shows your responsibility and respect for the team."
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