Belfast Telegraph

Per Mertesacker: Arsenal can shake up title race

By Jim Van Wijk

Per Mertesacker has called on Arsenal to show their Barclays Premier League challenge is very much alive when they head to West Brom for tomorrow's lunchtime kick-off.

The Gunners produced a much-improved, composed display to beat Champions League Group D leaders Borussia Dortmund 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night, reaching the last 16 of Europe's elite competition with a match to spare.

Mertesacker, though, believes the Germans' own domestic struggles in the Bundesliga - with Jurgen Klopp's side in the bottom three despite their fine European form - show that focus must quickly turn towards getting things right at The Hawthorns.

Arsenal are eighth in the top flight after a 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United last time out.

Mertesacker said: "We were very convincing (against Dortmund). Everyone had to learn.

"We have to show character and that is what makes me really happy for the next few games, because we have to sharpen up in the Premier League as well. Saturday is a good chance to show to everyone that we are still alive.

"We have secured Champions League football (in the knockout stages) but that has nothing to do with the Premier League.

"Dortmund are a good example of that, because they are already through, but they have suffered a lot in the league. We have to come back in the Premier League and that is the next target."

Arsenal will need results to go their way on matchday six to overhaul Dortmund and secure seeding for the knockout stage draw - with the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris St Germain, just ahead of Barcelona in their group, potential opponents for runners-up.

Whatever transpires by the time Arsenal's next European fixtures come around in February, manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping to see some key men back from injury.

Midfielder Jack Wilshere has been ruled out for around three months after successfully undergoing surgery on his left ankle, while captain Mikel Arteta is also being assessed after limping off on Wednesday night with a calf problem.

Wilshere is likely to make a return around February. An Arsenal statement read: "Jack Wilshere has had successful surgery on his left ankle and will be out for approximately three months.

"An assessment with a specialist confirmed the need for an operation and the 22-year-old had successful surgery to his ankle in London on Thursday afternoon."

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sidelined by a hip problem, but should return at The Hawthorns, with striker Danny Welbeck rested because of a minor knee injury.

France forward Olivier Giroud was ineligible after not being included in Arsenal's original European squad, so will be pressing for a start this weekend, while defender Laurent Koscielny was on the bench against Dortmund after recovering from an Achilles problem.

Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is confident Arsenal can now build some momentum.

"Wins always relieve pressure," he said. "There is a long way to go in Europe and the league. We need to build with more good results."

Belfast Telegraph


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