LONDON (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes 90 minutes against one of the Premier League’s more robust sides will convince the supporters of the worth of new signing Per Mertesacker.
The Gunners host Stoke City on Sunday, with the fixture having been put back a day because of the Potters’ Europa League commitments.
Arsenal have often struggled against Tony Pulis’ side and Wenger had previously complained on more than one occasion about the tactics employed by Stoke’s more physical players.
Germany defender Mertesacker, a deadline day signing from Werder Bremen, should be able to cope with that however as he is one of the tallest players in the Premier League.
Yet Wenger insisted there was much more to the central defender’s game than the ability to battle.
“I brought him here for more than this type of game because I feel he is a good player,” the Frenchman said.
“He is a good organiser, he is an intelligent player and physically he is getting sharper and sharper in every game.
“He had no real preparation for the season and now you can see we look less nervous at the back and he contributes to that.”
An injury to Carl Jenkinson at a time when first choice right back Bacary Sagna is already sidelined means Wenger will have to play a defender out of position against the Potters, with Johan Djourou likely to be moved across and Laurent Koscielny paired alongside Mertesacker.
Arsenal have improved since a sticky start to the campaign and the 1-0 Champions League win at Marseille on Wednesday was their fifth victory in six games.
“We feel we want to especially continue the quality of our game and the result will be the consequence of that,” Wenger added. “What is important is that we have a consistent focus and then we will come back.”
Stoke have not won at Arsenal since 1981 but were victorious in European competition themselves on Thursday when they beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv 3-0, a result which left them top of their group and still unbeaten seven games into continental competition this season.
They are, however, bidding to avoid another European hangover in the Premier League with their two top flight defeats this term, at Swansea and Sunderland, having arrived on the back of midweek exertions in the Europa League.
Pulis made it clear he was not happy that so far every Europa League fixture has been followed by a Premier League away trip.
“What we’ve realised is that we have to cut the training down and do more strength and conditioning,” he said. “The third game in the stretch is very difficult and to have every game away afterwards is tough.
“To be the only club to stomach this is typical – if anyone was going to have it, it was Stoke.”
However, the Welshman warned his players this could not be used as an excuse to fail to perform against an Arsenal team he believed had rediscovered its swagger.
“If you look at the stats it’s a mental thing rather than a physical thing,” he said. “Our running stats away from home both at Swansea and Sunderland were very, very good.
“We know Arsenal is going to be a tough game whatever day we play them. They have won five of their last six games so they’re on a roll. Again everyone will have to be on their mettle because if not we’ll get beat.
“It’s still early in the season. They’ll be there or thereabouts. They’ve lost some players but they’ve still got some outstanding players.”
Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters could both be recalled despite Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones scoring on Thursday. Jermaine Pennant faces a late fitness test on a hamstring problem.