Gunners ‘still in title race’
LONDON — Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker believes the Gunners can still catch Premier League leaders Leicester City — despite their 11-point deficit in the table.
The Gunners are third in England’s top flight after Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Watford.
They have 58 points and lag behind secondplaced Tottenham (62) and Leicester (69) with seven league games, but Mertesacker is adamant they have not given up hope.
“No, absolutely not,” he told German website Sport1.de as Arsenal face West Ham, Crystal Palace, WBA, Sunderland, Norwich City, Manchester City and Aston Villa in the coming weeks.
“If we win all of our matches, then we’ve got a good chance.
“We’ve got to keep focusing on that and that’s why we’re looking at things game by game.
“We’re trying c o ncentrate fully on our next
match against West Ham and we have a bit more time as we’re not in any other competi- tion.
“We don’t have to concentrate on anything else, other than the title; we are still in the title race.”
The 31-year-old, who retired from international football immediately after helping Germany win the 2014 World Cup, has played 21 times for Arsenal in the Premier League this season.
He wore the captain’s armband in all but three of those appearances and still has a year left to run on his contract in London.
But having been on the bench for five of the Gunners’ last eight games, he admits being a sub is not something he wants to get used to and wants to help close the gap behind his team’s rivals.
“It’s a different view of the game, I have to admit that,” he said after 90 minutes on the bench against Watford.
“I’m fit. Of course I am playing less, but I’ll stick at it. Maybe I’ll get another chance. Things change quickly nowadays.
“That’s why I’ve survived for so long in this business. I listen closely to what the coach says and he knows that he can count on me, no matter what happens.”
Meanwhile, Louis van Gaal is convinced Manchester United are on track to claim a Champions League place from the wreckage of one of Old Trafford’s most difficult seasons in recent memory.
Van Gaal’s job as manager, in his second campaign at the club, has been the subject of widespread speculation since United’s early exit from the Champions League group stage in December.
That failure was compounded by United’s defeat in the second-tier Europa League by arch-rivals Liverpool last month.
However, van Gaal, who has been tipped to make a summer departure to make way for Jose Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager, will lead his team into Sunday’s game against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in confident mood following their 1-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford.
That was United’s fourth win in five domestic league games and left them just a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City, currently occupying the final Champions League spot on offer to English clubs.
“I said in the dressing room after the match that it was very important to win today, otherwise the victory against (Manchester) City was worthless,” said van Gaal.
“We keep in touch with City, one point behind, and we keep in touch with Arsenal, five points behind,” the veteran Dutch boss added.
“We have to play Tottenham (next), not an easy match, but normally we are playing very well against the top teams. If we continue like that, I am very happy.”
Van Gaal has been under fire from critics and fans alike, yet he can make great strides with his young squad in what will be a critical month of April.
Home matches against doomed Aston Villa and struggling Crystal Palace offer six points to a team that has grown in stature at Old Trafford in recent weeks, while Van Gaal can steer United into the FA Cup Final by first winning an admittedly tough replay with West Ham and then a Wembley semi-final against Everton.
Van Gaal now needs to manage his players
wisely at the stage of a season where fatigue can creep in, especially with international demands thrown in as well.
Daley Blind, who was superb in policing the menace of Belgium striker Romalu Lukaku at Old Trafford, is a case in point.
“Daley Blind has played nearly all the matches, so I need to give him rest,” said van Gaal. “I don’t want to, because he is playing very well. I shall give him two days off, so then he is alright, I think.”
Anthony Martial, who scored United’s lone goal against Everton on Sunday, has also been a willing workhorse in United’s cause.
“I have already said that Anthony Martial, with his age (20) is an exception, because he has also played every match,” said van Gaal.
“To play every match then you have to be very strong and consistent, because every week I shall compare every player with his competitor, so it is fantastic what he is doing.”
Everton manager Roberto Martinez, meanwhile, has to ponder a fresh round of criticism from Toffees fans as he prepares for the weekend trip to Watford.
Told that many of Everton’s 3 500 following at Old Trafford had booed at the final whistle because they were “fed up”, Martinez replied: “We all are. You can hear our boos in the dressing room.”
Martinez wants to take 12th-placed Ever- ton forward without panicking.
“We are a club where there has been a bit of a change of generation,” he said.
“A lot of players have come in. Incredible young talent needs know-how and lessons, and to develop,” the Spaniard added. — AFP
Fixtures April 9: West Ham v Arsenal, Swansea v Chelsea, Crystal Palace v Norwich, Southampton v Newcastle, Watford v Everton, Aston Villa v Bournemouth, Manchester City v West Brom. April 10: Sunderland v Leicester, Liverpool v Stoke, Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United. LONDON — Wes Morgan is backing Leicester’s mean machine to go on grinding out the results and complete their amazing journey to the Premier League title.
Claudio Ranieri’s side head to Sunderland on Saturday having kept 10 clean sheets in their last 14 games as the cornerstone to building a seven-point lead at the top of the table.
And after Watford striker Troy Deeney used a Match of the Day 2 appearance to highlight the importance of Morgan and fellow centre half Robert Huth, the Leicester captain promised their uncompromising approach won’t change.
“We understand each other, we know each other’s jobs,” said Morgan, who has put talks about a new contract on hold until the summer so he can concentrate on the last few games. “It is a lot easier when you have a sense of each other’s roles and abilities, strengths and weaknesses.”
Huth’s arrival from Stoke in January 2015, when Leicester were bottom and heading for relegation, marked a turning point in the club’s fortunes.
And Deeney said: “I have played against every Premier League defence this season for Watford and Huth is the toughest opponent I have faced.
“He is the sort of centre half who will let you know he is there, so to speak, with a challenge or two early in the game.
“When I got my chance, I made sure I let him know I was about, too. To be fair, he did not seem to mind.
“Like his team-mate Wes Morgan, who I had many battles with in the Championship earlier in our careers, Huth is old-school — an out-and-out defender who really enjoys the physical side of the game.
“That is normally the side I thrive on, too, but I did not have much joy against the German. He is horrible to play against, in the most complimentary way.” — AFP
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker