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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker believes that the absence of key playmaker Alexis Sanchez at a critical time played a significant role in derailing the club's title challenge this season.
The Chilean was ruled out for two months and missed the vital Christmas and New Year period after suffering a hamstring injury against Norwich in November.
The German defender believes that his absence was crucial as the Gunners slipped from the top of the Barclays Premier League table after losing massive ground to rivals Leicester and Tottenham and are now fighting to secure Champions League qualification.
Sanchez has netted five goals in his last four games including two in the 2-0 victory over West Brom last night.
"There are a couple of things we missed, but he is obviously one," the defender said.
"When he was out, I think the statistics were not that bad for us, I think we played ten games without him and won seven.
"But obviously if he is on the pitch, he creates space always for other players because he draws so much attention and that is the key to any team.
"He is a key member of our team and, if he is fully fit, he makes the difference and that is always the case. During the time he was out, I think we had quite a good record, but over the whole season normally we need him healthy.
"He is the type of player who makes the difference and, even when he is in Chile playing two qualifiers, he will be back on track in the right time when having just two days' rest in between. He is that type of player who gives everything to the team. Those team members are well appreciated."
Mertesacker also revealed his disappointment at losing his place in the first team due to the good form of Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel, but says that he is determined to fight to get back in favour with boss Arsene Wenger.
"That's team sport," he said. "I was always involved in team sport and this is a different situation, but sometimes you need to step back and learn something out of it.
"Now I can train more than I ever could before. I sat back and looked at what I could do in training to really get better. That's the only thing I thought of.
"Obviously you are disappointed, but I will never drop the respect for anyone here, even when I'm not playing. I'll keep working harder. It was a good time for me. If you change a little bit of your perspective, you see how other people feel.
"We are a 25 (man squad) and not everyone can be selected. It is a learning process, even when you are a 30, 31 and a World Cup winner.
"But we have got 25 players, everyone wants to play and obviously the boss has got a lot of headaches with his selection. With players coming back, it is going to be tight and good competition. That is what we play for."
By: Kieran O'Daly