Arsenal star expects Newcastle to have a successful second half of the season

The Northern Echo: NEWCASTLE FAN: Per Mertesacker (left) expects Newcastle to enjoy more success in the second half of the season NEWCASTLE FAN: Per Mertesacker (left) expects Newcastle to enjoy more success in the second half of the season

ARSENAL defender Per Mertesacker expects to see Newcastle United challenging for a place in Europe in the second half of the season.

Mertesacker produced a superb defensive display as Arsenal claimed a 1-0 win at St James' Park on Sunday to move back to the top of the Premier League table.

Newcastle's first defeat in six matches took the Magpies down to eighth, but they find themselves just three points off the European places as the season passes its halfway stage.

Arsenal will be targeting the title in the second half of the campaign, and having been impressed with Newcastle's attacking efforts at the weekend, Mertesacker sees no reason why Alan Pardew's side should not remain in the European mix.

“Newcastle have been very impressive this season, and you can easily see why they are doing so well,” said the German centre-half. “They are a very strong side, with some great individual players. I'm not surprised at all with where they are in the league, and I'm sure they will carry on to do very well this season.

“They have such a strong squad these days, and we had to fight really hard, especially towards the end of the game. In the last few minutes, it was a real battle. We dropped deeper and deeper, but we were strong in the air, strong in the tackle and didn't give too much away. We just defended well.”

In previous seasons, Arsenal might well have lost the kind of physical, keenly-contested encounter they found themselves embroiled in at St James'.

Arsene Wenger's current side is better equipped to handle themselves in such circumstances though, with last summer's re-signing of defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini looking like an increasingly inspired piece of business.

The Northern Echo: Mathieu Flamini wants Arsenal to continue their progress

Most commentators focused on the arrival of Mezut Ozil during the summer transfer window, but Flamini's less heralded return from AC Milan could yet prove even more crucial as Arsenal attempt to end a length wait for silverware.

“In the past few years, maybe the physical side of things has been missing a bit,” said Flamini. “What you need in any Arsenal side is the fighting spirit, but you can see that we have it and that's great for us because if you want to win titles and cups, sometimes you have to fight for it, especially in this league because it is the hardest league.

“You have to go to places like Newcastle and typically be prepared to fight, then play your football, and only by doing that can you win and get three points.”

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