Gun­ners ‘still in ti­tle race’

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

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

to

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

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