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Koscielny praises Mertesacker influence

Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny has lauded his partnership with fellow central defender Per Mertesacker ahead of the top-of-the-table clash against Manchester United on Sunday.

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And the Frenchman is predicting he and Mertesacker can keep former team-mate Robin van Persie from hurting his old club.

Arsenal are in a purple patch of form heading into the race to the end of the season, claiming 13 points from a possible 15 in the last five games.

The Gunners run of results has catapulted the north London club up the Premier League table, manager Arsene Wenger and his squad in a heated battle with fellow Londoners Chelsea and Tottenham for a top-four spot.

And Koscielny believes one of the reasons behind the club's recent success has been the partnership in the heart of defence.

"(Mertesacker and I) play well together as a pair," Koscielny said. "We communicate on the pitch well.

"His experience is vital and it helps us work together on the pitch, so we try and talk to each other a lot and it is important at the back to have an understanding.

"Per is a very good player. He reads the ball well. He is clever, attacks the ball and wins headers whereas I can go behind and be quick and cope with the long balls.

"He is good technically so he is good for the defence. Per is calm on the pitch.

"He is good for me, he uses his experience, this helps me, and he helps the team."

However, the defensive duo could face one of their toughest tests in recent weeks with the arrival of United to the Emirates Stadium.

United, who play Aston Villa on Monday, need only one more victory to claim the Premier League title and could secure that trophy in front of the Arsenal faithful.

But Koscielny said the Gunners were ready for the Red Devils and their key strike weapon - Van Persie.

"I hope we can keep Robin quiet," he said. "He is a good player. I enjoyed my time playing with him, but I hope we keep the story with us.

"It will be a hard game for the whole team, but we are at home and we will try to get the three points.

"It will be a good game against a big team and I think they have won the title (already)."

And if Koscielny and Mertesacker can stop United and Van Persie, it may force Wenger to continue captain Thomas Vermaelen's exile to the substitutes bench.

However, Wenger has eased Vermaelen's fears his Arsenal future could be reduced to the role of a bit-time player, commending the Belgian international for his response since being benched.

"Thomas is one of the best defenders in England, like the two others," Wenger said. "I told them at the start of the season we have three outstanding central defenders.

"It is about game by game that I make a decision, and it is about partnership as well.

"Vermaelen has been a substitute for quite a few games and he still plays a big part in the game. I don't see him as a substitute at all.

"Koscielny was a long, long time during the season in that position and that can change very quickly."

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.


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