Per Mertesacker has dismissed speculation he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season by insisting he wants to stay at the club and that a new contract is his “absolute priority”.
The German has yet to feature for the Gunners in the current campaign after picking up a knee problem in pre-season, with no date yet scheduled for his return to first-team action.
The 32-year-old’s current deal expires at the end of the season which has led to speculation he could leave the Emirates particularly with summer signing Shkrodran Mustafi impressing in central defence alongside Laurent Koscielny.
However, while Mertesacker has admitted he is yet to begin talks over a new deal he is adamant that he wants to stay with Arsene Wenger’s side.
“A new Arsenal contract has absolute priority for me. But no dates have been set [for talks],” Mertesacker told Spox. “Arsenal has the highest priority for me. Everything else is pure speculation, and I won’t join the discussion.”
Arsenal have fared well without Mertesacker, currently sitting level on points at the top of the Premier League table and the defender thinks his team are in good shape.
“The team has matured a bit,” he added. “We played a few convincing matches, but there were also some hard-fought last-minute wins.
“The competitiveness at the top of the league is certainly unique in Europe. And it’s unmistakable the fans want the title, but it might be harder to win it in England than elsewhere.”
Mertesacker also gave his backing to manager Wenger who is still to confirm his plans for next year, with his current contract due to expire at the end of the season.
“To me, Arsene Wenger is way above any public criticism. A coach who has been with a club for 20 years, and has developed and shaped the club decisively — where do you find that today?” he explained.
“You have to look at the bigger picture and he deserves the highest respect here. Criticism in the media is rushed these days, it’s too closely connected to the results and sadly it’s often not that knowledgeable.
“You beat Razgrad in a midweek fixture, and three days later you receive fundamental criticism for a draw at home to Middlesbrough. How much have the team, manager, and club really changed for such a different perception?”
Mertesacker has been linked with a move back to the Bundesliga with former clubs Hannover and Werder Bremen and it remains to be seen whether Arsenal will offer him, what will surely be only a one-year extension.