Mertesacker braces for Stoke battle
Arsenal defender gets his first encounter with fearsome side in match of clashing styles
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker is bracing himself for his first taste of the ferocious assault that awaits the Gunners whenever they face Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.
Mertesacker missed Arsenal's trip to Stoke last season but is all too aware of the challenge that will confront his teammates in their second match of the Premier League season today.
Meetings between the two clubs in recent years have been marked by the clash of playing styles, with Gunners manager Arsene Wenger frequently critical of Stoke's more direct approach.
Relations hit a low two years ago when Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey suffered a badly broken leg after a challenge by Ryan Shawcross that earned the Stoke defender a red card.
Backed by a passionate home crowd, Tony Pulis' Stoke will do everything they can to unsettle the visitors.
And German international Mertesacker admits Wenger's side have been preparing to handle the aerial bombardment and physical challenge they will face.
"I didn't go to Stoke last year because of my injury, so this is a completely new experience for me as well," Mertesacker said. "I hope to adapt quickly to Stoke and the situation and the way they play.
"We have to switch on quickly and do the right thing. We have done a lot of things in training concerning set pieces, throw-ins and crosses.
"We have to cover each other even more than the other games because they are very dangerous players, especially up front, and very tall players. Maybe we have to behave differently but we always want to show our own qualities."
Mertesacker will face a particular test of his abilities when he confronts Stoke's towering striker Peter Crouch. "I played against Crouch at Wembley, so it is not a new situation," he said. "When you look at Sunderland and Stephane Sessegnon and then one week later you play against Peter Crouch, it's weird, but you have to deal with this."
There will be plenty of attention on Shawcross after his role in Ramsey's injury, but Pulis remains supportive of his player and insists he is keen just to concentrate on his football.
"I think Ryan's drawn a line under it," said Pulis. "He's one of those who get on with his business - he's a great lad and a fantastic character. He's been captain of the club now for a couple of years and he deserves it. He's a smashing lad, and he's got better as time's gone on.
"It won't worry him whether Aaron's playing or not playing. We still contest it, we're adamant that Ryan never went in to hurt Aaron, I don't think Ryan's that sort of player.
"He's proved since that he's not a dirty player. He can be clumsy at times, he's six feet four inches and a young man playing professional football at the highest level.
"Defenders do make mistakes, but he's not a dirty player and that's a fact."
Pulis is looking forward to the chance to ruffle Wenger's side again, but he maintains he has plenty of respect for the north London club. "On their day, they can beat anybody," said Pulis.