Merson warns Arsneal: win next three or miss out on Champions League

Win your next three games or kiss goodbye to a top four finish. That is Paul Merson s stark warning to Arsenal as they look to get their Premier League challenge back on track on Saturday when they entertain Sunderland at The Emirates Stadium. It begins a

Win your next three games or kiss goodbye to a top four finish.

That is Paul Merson's stark warning to Arsenal as they look to get their Premier League challenge back on track on Saturday when they entertain Sunderland at The Emirates Stadium.

It begins a run of three games against sides from the lower end of the league, as the Gunners follow up the Black Cats clash with another home game, against London rivals Fulham, before a trip to bottom-of-the-table West Bromwich Albion early next month.

Sandwiched in between is their Champions League home clash with AS Roma, but three wins and nine points from those vital league games is, the former Arsenal attacker warns, the bare minimum required.

"We have to win our next three league games, no excuses," Merson told Ham&High Sport.

"No ifs or buts. We can't afford to drop any points against sides like Sunderland, Fulham and West Brom - we are now in the run-in and wins are all that matter.

Most Read

"We have dropped too many points, failed to convert draws into wins, and that has to change - I am hopeful it will change."

But Arsenal have already shown this season that games against the so-called lesser sides can end in frustration.

Fulham defeated Arsene Wenger's side 1-0 at Craven Cottage back in August, and Merson says there must be no repeat.

"At the beginning of the season I looked at the fixture list and I was delighted," added Merson, who scored 99 times for the Gunners and won two league title medals.

"We all sat there thinking we would easily be top of the league after being gifted such an easy start. But that didn't happen.

"We still have a chance of the top four and we have to take it. If we go into our next three games and only take six or seven points then we can forget it. We have to win them all, we really should do it.

"Chelsea are at Aston Villa at the weekend so they can take points off each other. In fact, a Villa win will probably help us more the way Chelsea are playing at the moment - and we wouldn't have said that a few weeks ago."

Merson was delighted to see Eduardo make a scoring return on Monday night after just under a year out of first team action, and he believes it can help soften the blow of the absence of injured target-man Emmanuel Adebayor.

"Adebayor hasn't done too much this season to be honest, certainly not since the New Year," added Merson.

"Eduardo's return is great news, while Theo Walcott is close to coming back. But for me Robin van Persie is the man. He is key to what we are trying to do. I'm looking forward to seeing Andrei Arshavin, too, now he is available for us against Sunderland.

"He seems happy to be here. He's at a great club to play his football, believe me. Arshavin can really thrive at Arsenal."

Wenger admitted this week the league is the club's main priority as they chase a 12th successive season of Champions League football.

Even after Monday night's exhilarating 4-0 hammering of promotion hopefuls Cardiff City in the FA Cup, the Frenchman's eyes immediately turned to the bread and butter of the Premier League as his team look to improve on their current fifth-place position.

The reality is simple. Wenger - and Arsenal's board of directors- will gladly forfeit silverware for a fourth successive campaign so long as they retain their now customary place in the money-rich Champions League.

His side are, despite recent misgivings over their form, unbeaten since November in the league, an 11-match sequence. Now he wants to see the team score more goals to go with their new-found solidity.

"We are very consistent and we are on a very strong run," said Wenger after Monday night's victory.

"We missed the goals recently but I believe we are on a very strong run. We promised ourselves we would give everything until the last day of the season.

"At the moment Manchester United look untouchable. Their results are really consistent, they win 1-0.

"You always think during the game that they may drop points but they always manage to find the resources to win the game.

"Our basic target is to get in the Champions League, which means the league is our priority."

Wenger was full of praise for Eduardo, whose scoring return this week is a major boost for a side needing extra firepower in recent weeks.

But the boss admitted he may have to be careful with the Brazilian-born Croatia international, who picked up a hamstring strain against Cardiff, despite the temptation to play him week in, week out.

"I am very happy to have him [Eduardo] back because he gives us options," said Wenger, who was all smiles as an emotional Eduardo hugged fitness coach Tony Colbert after scoring.

"He can play on the flank, he can play central, he can play on the shoulder or upfront on his own. It is fantastic for us.

"We will see how important it [his return] is to us at the end of the season.

"I still have to be cautious with him and I cannot throw him in every three days after nine months.

"We will see how he responds to that hamstring and maybe he can be with us on Saturday, I don't know."