Granit Xhaka has said the pressure has ramped up on Arsenal as they challenge for the Premier League title but is confident they have the mentality to cope.
Arsenal face Fulham on Sunday hoping to maintain a five-point lead at the top of the table, while also pursuing glory abroad with their Europa League round-of-16 tie with Sporting Lisbon finely poised after a 2-2 first-leg draw in Portugal.
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Mikel Arteta’s side were absent from European competition last season and missed out on a top-four finish after losing two of their final three league matches.
However, Arsenal have shown greater resilience so far this season, and Xhaka said: “You can see that every team is playing different against us. They are dropping a lot, sometimes they are pressing us as well, but this is [what happens] when you are top of the league.
“[There is] much more pressure than before, for sure. But in general, I think we are doing well. I think there is a good mentality in the team and let’s try to keep that.
“You see the last games, the results, we won them. We have to respect all the opponents, even if Bournemouth is not top in the table. We know how difficult it is to play against them. Even in the Premier League you play against first or last, it’s the same. It’s difficult. But as long as you get the result, nobody will ask you at the end of May.”
Arteta bemoaned Arsenal’s poor defending after Thursday’s draw in Lisbon, and Xhaka added: “It’s too simple. One a set-piece, the other one we don’t take the runner. But everything starts at the front, if nobody or not all of us are ready on this level, you get punched.”
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Sources have told ESPN that Arsenal altered their preparations ahead of the Fulham game having originally arranged to stay in Lisbon on Thursday night before training on Friday and flying back later in the day.
However, illness has struck several players with Martin Odegaard and Kieran Tierney among those unable to travel while Fabio Vieira and Reiss Nelson — who both started against Sporting — have also been affected in recent days, prompting a decision to fly straight home on Thursday night.
Sources have told ESPN that Arsenal had planned for Gabriel Jesus to fly to Portugal to take part in the Friday session but once training was rescheduled, the Brazil striker was left back in London given he was not deemed fit enough to be included in the matchday squad as he recovers from knee surgery.