Belfast Telegraph

Early start suits Mertesacker

Per Mertesacker has challenged Arsenal to lay down an early marker with victory over Blackburn as they look to close back up on the top four.

The Gunners missed the opportunity to capitalise on Chelsea's draw at Swansea when they failed to beat Bolton after a goalless encounter at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday night.

However, with Saturday's visit of struggling Rovers moved forwards to a 1pm kick-off because of engineering works on the London Underground, Arsenal could leapfrog both Liverpool and Newcastle, who are not in action until later over the weekend, and the German centre-back said: "It is an early game and as we are one of the first teams (to play), so we have to go for three points to show the other teams we are there."

He added: "We are always looking for clean sheets and good performances. We created good chances to score at Bolton, but it wasn't enough. There is a lot of room for improvement.

"We have a very good side with lots of potential but we have to be good on the pitch and we have to use our opportunities."

Midfielder Mikel Arteta knows Arsenal have to consistently produce good performances every week if they are not to fall behind in the race for Champions League qualification, currently trailing Chelsea by five points.

"Hopefully we will get the points on Saturday because we really need them as we have been losing too many in the last few weeks," said the Spaniard.

"We should win the game, like we should have won against Bolton. However, Blackburn will make it tough because they are in a relegation battle and you know how hard a team works in that situation."

Arteta added: "It (the race for a top-four place) is going to be tough. We have the talent and quality in the side, but we have to show it game by game.

"I am confident because we train together every day and I know how good we are, but we have to show it every week not every two or three weeks."

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