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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Simon Collings

Arsenal targeting Christmas top spot, says Granit Xhaka, as World Cup break could benefit Gunners

Granit Xhaka says Arsenal are targeting being top of the Premier League when the World Cup starts — and he believes the mid-season break could benefit the Gunners.

Arsenal have made a stunning start to the season and they continued their fine form by beating PSV 1-0 in the Europa League last night, with the only sour note being crowd trouble at the end of the game.

Some travelling PSV fans hurled chairs and flares at Arsenal supporters and two men were arrested. UEFA this morning opened disciplinary proceedings against the Dutch club.

On the pitch, Arsenal continue to thrive, and Mikel Arteta’s side are now five points clear at the top of their group with two games to play, meaning they should get a bye to the last 16, while they also currently top the Premier League.

Manchester City are four points behind Arsenal, who head to Southampton on Sunday, and with just four matches to go until the World Cup, Xhaka insists the Gunners are aiming to still be top when the mid-season break starts.

“It has to be [the aim],” he said. “When you are there, you have to be there as long as possible. I think if we have the chance to stay there and the World Cup comes, maybe it is a good break for everyone, maybe for us as well, to prepare something else for January.

“We have always been good at home, but maybe now we are much stronger, much more compact, we have many more solutions. Of course, since Mikel came, we have Plan B and C as well.”

Last night’s game was marred by crowd trouble after the full-time whistle, with police moving in after Arsenal and PSV fans clashed. Chairs and flares were thrown from the away section.

PSV have been hit with four charges: throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, acts of damage and crowd disturbances. Arsenal have not been charged with any wrongdoing, and it is unlikely UEFA would go back to an incident and add a charge. Both men arrested last night remained in police custody this morning.

Arsenal have a packed schedule before the World Cup, playing twice a week, but Xhaka is not worried about burning out. The midfielder, who is due to captain Switzerland in Qatar, has missed just 93 minutes of football this season, but says he is not concerned about playing too much or picking up an injury.

“No, I was never thinking like this, I will never think like this when I go on the pitch,” Xhaka said. “This is football, [getting injured] can happen in one second. You have to put your foot in when it is a 50-50 ball. And me, my personality, the people who know me, I will never back out of that.

“I am not worried about [playing too many minutes] because the staff, the coach, they know how I am physically, how I look after myself. It is not the first time I am doing this [amount of] games in a row. I did this once the last couple of 13 years.

“So I am feeling very good. Of course, every time you win it makes it a little bit easier, but yeah I am not worried about the minutes, or the World Cup, or the future.

“I don’t think it’s about my games at the moment, I’ve been here seven years and my numbers speak for themselves. The numbers I’ve got for this football club, how many games I have had in seven years. I calculated maybe two years ago that I’m playing 45 games a season.

“It’s a number I had always in the past as well. Really I’m not thinking about a break. Mikel is the boss, he decides when to take me out and when not to. He did against Bodo, it was maybe perfect timing to give me a bit of a rest. Games like this, everyone wants to play.”

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