Born in Harlesden, North West London, Paul Merson started his career at Arsenal, joining the club as an apprentice in 1984. After a loan spell at Brentford, then under manager Frank McLintock, he made his debut for the Gunners on 22 November 1986 against Manchester City, and gradually established himself in George Graham's successful Arsenal side of the late 1980s. By the 1988-89 season he was a regular on the right wing, at the end of which Arsenal secured the First Division title with a last gasp Michael Thomas goal in the final game of the season against Liverpool. Merson scored ten times that season, made his debut for the England U21 side, and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.
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 appearance. 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. 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. Paul Merson simply loved playing football.
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