Could Per and Petr return for Crystal Palace’s visit to the Emirates?

Arsene Wenger has not ruled out a return to first team action for both Per Mertesacker and Petr Cech as Arsenal prepare to host Crystal Palace on Sunday).

In his pre-match press conference, the Gunners boss revealed the latest team news ahead of his side’s return to Premier League action.

He said: “From last Saturday’s game against West Ham, we should have everyone available who was in the squad.”

When pushed on the potential return of Cech and Mertesacker, particularly in light of criticism of the performances of David Ospina and Gabriel, Wenger insisted no decisions had been made.

He said: “I haven’t decided yet. We are 48 hours away from the game so I will see. When it is decided I will have to inform the people first.”

For my money, I think Cech will most certainly return to the starting line-up. David Ospina is an excellent shot-stopper, but he is not spectacular. He makes saves he is expected to make, but rarely makes extraordinary ones, saves that you would never expect a goalkeeper to make. For me, Cech is capable of that.

As for Per, I think he will stay on the bench this time around. As raw as I believe Gabriel to be, and I think he was a little exposed at West Ham, I think Wenger will give the relationship between him and Laurent Koscielny more time to develop.

If it were up to me, I would go with Per, particularly as every team that comes to the Emirates from here on in will be loading throws and crosses into the box with gay abandon. The German is more capable at dealing with that.

Title ambitions

Elsewhere, Arsene spoke about how he is staying positive as the season heads into its final few games, and even with a near insurmountable points deficit to league leaders Leicester.

Arsene said: “For everybody it is tight, and we have to look behind us because everybody is chasing. There can still be twists and turns until the end and everyone is fighting to put teams in front of us under pressure.

“We need a strong run at home now and I think that is what we want to do. It is perceived that the championship is over but I don’t think that completely even if Leicester are in a strong position.

I think we have to continue to fight until the last minute of the season.

“Crystal Palace should now be completely safe but they still might need one or two points. I think they have nearly got out of their relegation problems.

“They have a lot of potential offensively with individuals like Bolasie, Zaha, and Adebayor. They have a big offensive force. We need to rectify the fact we conceded goals at West Ham and come back strong defensively.”

Of course Arsene is being optimistic – he has to be – but I think he knows that the game is up for his side. To hope that Leicester lose four of their last six games, with Tottenham suffering a similar collapse in form, is bordering on fantasy and I’m sure everyone at the club is realistic about that.

It’s not impossible, in that you can never rule anything out, but Leicester have been superb in 2016 and I really can’t seem them to suffering the necessary collapse in confidence and form that might allow us to swoop in.

That’s not to say that we should simply give up and begin making plans for summer holidays. There are still points to be played for and league positions to determine, and we should, if nothing else, be pushing for as high a finishing place as we can manage.

The games we have left are very winnable and I’m sure the team will want to keep pushing – even if there is little but pride and a Champions League spot.

Quite apart from anything, we don’t want to finish fourth, with all the aggravation of a Champions League play-off that that brings, and we certainly don’t want the shame of finishing below Tottenham.


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