Arsenal defender warns of harder challenges ahead after win at Crystal Palace
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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has labelled their victory at Crystal Palace “a good test” – but he admits there are tougher examinations just around the corner.
Mertesacker, who sported the captain’s armband for the last 25 minutes following Mikel Arteta’s dismissal at Selhurst Park, felt the Gunners could be satisfied with their performance after going down to 10 men.
A 2-0 win over the Premier League’s bottom club ensured that Arsenal retained top spot ahead of a testing sequence of fixtures, starting with the visit of third-placed Liverpool on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s side follow the Liverpool clash with a trip to defending champions Manchester United and, after the next international break, host this year’s Premier League surprise package Southampton.
“I think it was a good test for us and a good win before the hard games come in the next few weeks,” said Mertesacker. “I think these will be the test.
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“It was important for us to come back as quickly as possible [from the Champions League defeat by Borussia Dortmund], as a strong unit. What we showed was good enough to respond.
“Especially when we received the red card, we had to defend and we did it quite well. They tried to attack us with long balls and they were always dangerous with set-pieces.
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“With 10 men we still had a few good chances and we deserved the win. But there will be more tests to come and those will be crucial for the rest of the season.
“We want to surprise people more and more. This was a good opportunity to put pressure on all the other teams, we did that and we need to keep doing it.”
It could be Arsenal who find themselves under pressure by the time they take on the Anfield side, with Chelsea poised to depose them as league leaders for the first time this season.
The Blues, who climbed to second place with a late win over Manchester City on Sunday, could move ahead of their London rivals – temporarily at least – by winning at Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime.
But Mertesacker, now in his third season at the Emirates since moving from Werder Bremen, believes Arsenal’s current squad are far better equipped to deal with the battle at the top than in previous years.
“We’ve improved a lot and when you compare it to the last two years, we’re in a strong position,” observed the German international. “It feels much better and it gives us more safety.
“It took a lot of time for players to settle in and adapt, but this season we didn’t lose any players and that’s a big advantage – everyone knows each other and knows how to cover each other.”
Mertesacker’s defensive partnership with Laurent Koscielny has helped to create some stability at the back this season, but the pair were often indebted to the man behind them during the second half against Palace.
Despite speculation about his future over the summer, Wojciech Szczesny remains Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper and his importance to the team was reiterated on Saturday.
With the Gunners’ 10 men clinging to their 1-0 lead, Szczesny produced some crucial saves – most notably two within a minute to deny Joel Ward and Mile Jedinak.
“We have a decent goalkeeper – three times he saved in a good position, and that’s what we needed with 10 men,” added Mertesacker. “I think he did a great job and the whole team did as well.
“We don’t need the goalkeeper so much at the moment, but in some situations we do need him desperately – and that’s his job, to save us sometimes.”