Mertesacker says Arsenal would’ve been EPL title contenders had Sanchez, whose brace guided Gunners to 2-0 win over West Brom, been fit
London: Per Mertesacker admits Alexis Sanchez’s two-month injury absence at the turn of the year hit Arsenal hard, with the Gunners all but certain to miss out on the Premier League title yet again.
Per Mertesacker and (right) An ecstatic Alexis Sanchez during Arsenal’s win over West Brom in an EPL match on Thursday. Pic/AFP
Sanchez has been in fine form in recent weeks and took his goal tally to five in four games as he hit the match-winning brace in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over West Brom on Thursday night.
Fans stay away
The win, which came in front of an unusually sparse Emirates Stadium after reportedly as many as 2,500 season-ticket holders stayed away, was enough to move Arsene Wenger’s side up to third in the table as they look to secure a 20th consecutive season of Champions League football.
But it could have been so much more for a team now set to end the season empty-handed. At the turn of the year Arsenal sat atop the standings, with the two teams now realistically fighting for the crown, Leicester and Tottenham, in their wake. Sanchez missed two months of the season, over the crucial Christmas and new year period, after suffering a hamstring injury in November’s draw at Norwich. He returned in late January, but it has taken him until the last month to get his sharpness and explosiveness back. His quality was in evidence as he struck early on against the Baggies before curling in a free-kick later in the half.
And Mertesacker accepts the Chilean was sorely missed. “There are a couple of things we missed, but he is obviously one,” the defender said. “When he was out, I think the statistics were not that bad for us, I think we played 10 games without him and won seven.
“But obviously if he is on the pitch, he creates space always for other players and that is the key to any team.
“He is a key member of our team and, if he is fully fit, he makes the difference and that is always the case. During the time he was out, I think we had quite a good record, but over the whole season we need him healthy. He is the type of player who makes the difference and, even when he is in Chile playing two qualifiers, he will be back on track in the right time. He is that type of player who gives everything to the team. Those team members are appreciated.”