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Football | Barclays Premier League

Podolski backs Arsenal for UCL spot

Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski insists his spluttering side will win their battle to qualify for the Champions League.

The Gunners host Stoke on Saturday looking to bounce back from another sloppy display in a 2-2 draw against Liverpool on Wednesday.

That left Arsene Wenger's side in sixth place, trailing fourth placed Tottenham by four points, but Germany international Podolski is convinced Arsenal are good enough not only to pass Everton and Tottenham, but also oust Chelsea from third place despite an eight-point advantage held by their west London rivals.

"We must fight for the Champions League places and this is our focus," he said. "We want third place and we have a lot of matches to play. We are in the FA Cup and the Champions League but the focus must be on the Premier League.

"We wanted to finish first but we lost a lot of points in the first half of the Premier League and now the difference is too big. The other teams are really strong so we must fight in every game."

Arsenal have conceded the first goal in their last five Premier League games however, a fact that will not have escaped the attention of Stoke, who have a developed a habit of making life difficult for the Gunners.

Liverpool went 2-0 up through goals from Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson before replies from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott rescued a point and Podolski admitted: "It is a problem in the last matches that we are losing a goal and then coming from behind.

"We must start strong from the first minute and score the first goal. In the last few weeks that has always been the problem, that we have to fight and come back.

"But when you are 2-0 down and you come back it feels like three points. This is the way we have been playing recently."

Wenger has seen his side score 10 goals in the last three games but also concede five, with Liverpool's two the result of more sloppy play at the back.

"It's a bit of a price of our philosophy but I feel we are too nervous," said Wenger, who will be without left-back Kieran Gibbs for three weeks because of a thigh injury suffered against Liverpool.

"We looked a bit nervous defensively and the recent history of the team certainly plays a big impact in the heads of the players.

"We have to get rid of that, because apart from that, there are a lot of positives in the games."

Giroud is in particularly good form as the focal point of the attack and the France international's five goals in the last three games has brought his tally for the season up to 14.

He also set up Walcott for his goal against Liverpool and the England forward was grateful.

"It was a fantastic touch and his goal was what he is known for," Walcott said. "He has been on fire in recent weeks and he is great to play with."

Walcott is also confident Arsenal will get back on track against Stoke.

"We're at home, we're very strong and we need to pick up three points rather than a point," he said.

"If we show the performance from the second half against Liverpool then I am sure we will beat them."

Stoke have not won a league game since Boxing Day and were leading 2-0 against Wigan on Tuesday before conceding twice in a 2-2 draw.

Republic of Ireland forward Jonathan Walters revealed the extent of the frustration in the Potters' dressing room.

"There are no excuses, we just weren't good enough, and that's the be-all and end-all of it," he said.

Both clubs were active on transfer deadline day on Thursday with Arsenal signing Spanish defender Nacho Monreal from Malaga for an undisclosed fee and Stoke paying £3.5 million for Birmingham's England goalkeeper Jack Butland.


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