Mounting injury problems have weakened the Gunners ahead of tomorrow’s trip to the Etihad Stadium.
It is a match Arsene Wenger’s side approach fresh from a 3-0 home win against Stoke — a return to winning ways several of the north London club’s players celebrated when the NBA returned to London on Wednesday evening. Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Flamini were amongst the Arsenal contingent at the O2 Arena, where the New York Knicks were demolished 95-79 by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mertesacker knows the Gunners cannot afford to be on the end of a similarly one-sided result this weekend and believes the trip to the basketball has aided the team ahead of the City match.
“As well bonding, we had team chat as well,” the German defender said.
“It is never too early to prepare, but it is good for us and the team as well.
“We had a good last game and January is a good time to come down and have a bit of a relax, but to switch on at the weekend.
“The rhythm is a bit slower so we have more recovery, but we have to switch on quickly at the weekend. It is a big test for us (to see) if we can compete for the top four on Sunday.”
The Gunners visit Manchester hoping to avenge last season’s 6-3 hammering at the Etihad Stadium.
One player who could make the difference for the Gunners this term is Alexis Sanchez, whom City boss Manuel Pellegrini described this week as “the best player in England”.
“It’s a great compliment because Pellegrini knows football well,” Wenger said.
“I agree with him — at the moment Sanchez is one of the top performers in the league.”
Sanchez has 18 goals in all competitions this season, one fewer than City striker Sergio Aguero. Aguero could make his first start since December 3 on Sunday, after the Argentinian recovered from a knee injury.
“There are some other great players but Sanchez and Aguero are two of the best performing since the start of the season,” Wenger said.
“Aguero has been less consistent because he’s been injured more — in the last year he has suffered from being a bit in and out — but of course he is a world-class player. Alexis is full of energy, full of enthusiasm as well. That is what is fantastically refreshing when you see the number of games he’s had to play — he’s always keen to go out and play.
“What everyone admires about him is his game is always full of enthusiasm, a desire to do well, to take people on and fight to get the ball back. It’s fantastic and it’s infectious.”
Wenger admits Mathieu Debuchy is “destroyed” and “embarrassed” after it was confirmed the injured defender would endure another lengthy spell on the sidelines. Debuchy has started only nine Premier League games since joining the Gunners from Newcastle in the summer.
The France full-back was out for three months earlier in the season after undergoing ankle ligament surgery in September and he will now miss the majority of the rest of the campaign with a problem to his right shoulder.
“He is destroyed,” Wenger said. “He is such a keen player, so professional and so willing. It is his first year here and of course he is embarrassed. But it is not his fault.”
Debuchy was carried off on a stretcher during Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Stoke last Sunday after he was pushed into the advertising hoardings by Marko Arnautovic.
“The push was not needed,” Wenger added.
“It was a bit unlucky as well because there was a divot after the touchline which may have made it worse. Arnautovic did not have a chance to get the ball — I don’t think it was malicious but he had no chance to get the ball so it was not needed. It’s not obvious what his intent was, I don’t think he wanted to hurt him but I don’t think it was needed.”