Per rues slow starts against top 4 rivals for title collapse
Per rues slow starts against top 4 rivals for title collapse

Per Mertesacker admits Arsenal’s slow starts away to top-four rivals “killed” their hopes of maintaining a title challenge throughout the season.

Apart from a brief spell just before Christmas, the Gunners led the Premier League table for a five-month period between September and February.

But heavy defeats at Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton meant the Gunners are into a battle just to hold on to fourth place.

Mertesacker concedes that lessons must be learned before Arsenal can sustain a title challenge next season.

“Of course everyone wanted us to get further up [the table], especially the fans,” said the German defender. “We were top of the league for a long time and everyone dreamt about maybe getting the title.

“But it takes more than just to stay at the top until the winter period. I think we couldn’t afford those away games against the big teams, so we didn’t deserve to be in the first three spots.

“That is something for next year that we have to manage much better. I think those away games killed us this year and hopefully we can learn from that.

“We have to learn quickly how to play and how to defend early in those away games, the first 20 to 25 minutes when you go there and they try to get you on the break.

“I think it was very similar in each game – the first 20 minutes we lost some balls in the middle of the park and they got us on the break. That’s something we have to look at next year.”

“We play on Sunday so we have to wait, but we have it in our own hands and we want to secure the fourth spot,” he added. “We just have to think about the next game.

“The possibility to secure Champions League football was another test for us.

“Last year we managed to deal with an even more difficult situation – with 10 games to go, no-one expected us to be in the top four.

“This year, with a couple of injuries, we struggled heavily but we regrouped very well and how we managed this situation was maybe more important than last year.

“Everyone questioned us and our football qualities and I think the way we came back as a team makes us stronger for the future. We have improved a lot and we’re in good shape.”

Do you agree with Per’s assessment on this season and the challenges for the next one.