Thursday 8 December 2016

Mertesacker eyes top-three finish

Published 12/05/2015 | 13:21

Per Mertesacker believes Arsenal can secure a positive end to the Premier League campaign
Per Mertesacker believes Arsenal can secure a positive end to the Premier League campaign

Defender Per Mertesacker sees no reason why Arsenal should not head to Old Trafford confident of securing automatic Champions League qualification despite the frustration of a 1-0 home defeat by Swansea.

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The Gunners saw their 10-match unbeaten run in the Barclays Premier League brought to an end by the Welsh side on Monday night after failing to take several chances before substitute Bafetimbi Gomis headed in a late winner for the visitors, which was given via the Goal Decision System.

Arsenal remain in third place, three points behind Manchester City, but with a game in hand, albeit with a far inferior goal difference.

Manchester United are two points further back, but would leapfrog the Gunners with victory on Sunday afternoon.

Mertesacker, though, feels Arsene Wenger's squad can take heart from their consistent performances since the turn of the year as they look to emulate their FA Cup quarter-final win at Old Trafford in March.

"You could feel the disappointment in the dressing room after the Swansea game, because we gave so much, but we are still positive," the German said.

"We still have a good level of confidence, so we are looking forward to the remaining games.

"It is very important (finishing in the top three) when you look at the schedule (for the start of next season), so we try to really avoid that."

Conversely, Arsenal could consign United to the Champions League play-offs with what would be a first league victory at Old Trafford since September 2006.

Mertesacker believes winning the midfield battle will be crucial.

"That is a major part of their game and we need to try to control it. They will want to keep the ball as much as possible," he said.

"Can we restrict that? Can we get the ball in their half and break? Francis Coquelin did really well in that role last time."

Wenger was left less than impressed by Swansea's approach, the visitors having sat back for most of the second half, but crucially converting one of only three chances on goal.

The Gunners boss, however, is expecting his side to produce the required response at Old Trafford on Sunday.

"We played against a team with a 4-6 formation, who didn't play and you are always frustrated when they manage to get away with a win," Wenger told Arsenal Player.

"On the other hand, we showed a lot of quality, but were not very good in our finishing and guilty of giving away a mistake (for their goal).

"It is (disappointing), but we should get encouragement because if we have done it for 10 games, we can do it again. We haven't lost our quality here, so let's restart on Sunday.

"Of course it makes that game important because the way you respond to a defeat always gives you a big (indication that) the team is strong mentally and that is what is expected of us on Sunday."

Despite remaining positive for the run-in, which finishes with home games against Sunderland and West Brom, Mertesacker accepts Arsenal's defensive shortcomings could again prove costly in the battle for a top-three finish.

Jefferson Montero's deep ball into the Arsenal penalty area picked out Swansea's lone forward Gomis, who got between the two centre-backs to head into the bottom corner, with goalkeeper David Ospina also caught out of position.

"That is how quickly football can change. When you don't execute, you get punished. That was a good reminder how important it is to score, how important it is to get the opener when you have the opportunities. When you don't do that in the Premier League, you are battling for fourth place, not second. How simple is that?" the German said.

The 2015 FA Community Shield is set for Wembley on August 2 ahead of an early start to the new domestic campaign. With such little down time over the summer, Mertesacker accepts Arsenal could be caught out if they are not fresh to play another crucial Champions League qualifier.

He said: "I think, even for non-international players, the (summer) break is pretty weird, and we have a couple of under-21 players (at the European Championships), a couple at the Copa America (in Chile), so it will again be a tight schedule and we will try to really avoid that (qualifier)."

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