Mertesacker: ‘Naive’ Arsenal can bounce back at Man Utd

Date published: Wednesday 24th February 2016 11:10

Per Mertesacker insists Arsenal will not feel sorry for themselves after their defeat to Barcelona – and believes there is still a small chance they can advance in the Champions League.

The Gunners lost 2-0 at home to the reigning European champions on Tuesday night as a brace from Lionel Messi put Barcelona firmly in the driving seat ahead of next month’s second leg.

Two lapses in concentration was all the World Player of the Year required to make the difference at the Emirates Stadium – where Arsenal’s game-plan had largely kept Messi, as well as Luis Suarez and Neymar, quiet for 70 minutes.

The opening strike came after the hosts over-committed in search of a goal of their own, with the potentially crucial second coming from a penalty after substitute Mathieu Flamini felled Messi just moments after being introduced.

The result leaves Arsenal staring at another exit at the round of 16 stage – a point they have failed to pass since 2010.

But, with the team still right in the hunt for the Barclays Premier League title and a crunch game at Manchester United to come on Sunday, Mertesacker says there is no time for anyone in the Arsenal ranks to allow their head to drop.

“No, never,” the German World Cup winner replied when asked about feeling sorry for themselves.

“We have never done that this season, particularly when we have lost a game we have tried to bounce back quickly.

“I think we have a great chance on Sunday to do that again and to show we are still in a strong position and still competing for the title.

“It was obviously a disappointing ending, I think we defended so well over 70, 80 minutes and then got punished twice.

“How we defended and kept going over 80 minutes was alright. We tried so hard to cover each other but someone was always a little bit late on that counter-attack.

“It was a bit naive but when you keep going for such a long time and keep up with a good team you have to score. That was a disappointing moment for everyone and we couldn’t get over it.”

Per Mertesacker Arsenal

Manager Arsene Wenger admitted Barcelona are “95 per cent through” to the quarter-finals but Mertesacker said the team will fight, having seen a few chinks in the armour of the five-time winners and proved critics wrong for large portions of the tie.

“We will try with effort and spirit,” he said of the second leg in Spain on March 16.

“We won’t give up, honestly. There is a small chance, small margins obviously but we could see they were vulnerable at times.

“We need to play better on the break and when we had the ball, we could have created more chances and shared the ball better in the final third. Obviously, we needed to score at one point, then we could have put pressure on them and they would have to come at us.

“The defensive effort from ourselves, we were doubted a lot but you can’t say that we have defended badly today.

“You have to score at one stage against Barcelona to keep the pressure up on them, they had a lot of possession but we defended well and we had to score at one point – that was the key to why we lost in the end.”

The defeat to Barcelona came just days after a disappointing 0-0 FA Cup fifth-round draw at home to Hull which means Arsenal also face a tricky replay in the coming weeks.

But there is a return to Premier League action with a trip to Old Trafford this weekend and Mertesacker wants to banish the final 20 minutes of Tuesday night’s game to the history books as the pursuit of the domestic crown continues.

“We will take positives from this game as well,” he added.

“You can always take positives from a game and how we created the chances sometimes and how we got out of the pressure, that was positive.

“There is always something positive we take from this game and we go to Manchester because we want to compete in the Premier League.

“We are in a good position and we don’t want to give that position up, it is a great chance to get focus back on the Premier League and forget what happened in the last 20 minutes and just focus on what went well.”

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