By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
Mikel Arteta has urged his players to return from the international break fit and hungry to continue Arsenal’s Premier League title bid.
The Gunners sit eight points clear at the top of the table after a straightforward 4-1 win over managerless Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium.
Bukayo Saka once again starred as he scored twice and set up the opener for Gabriel Martinelli, becoming the first Premier League player this season to reach double figures for both goals and assists.
Four years on since he swore at his own fans when his substitution in this fixture was cheered, Granit Xhaka’s fine season continued when he turned home the third after the interval.
Palace, who sacked former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira as boss on Friday, at least got themselves on the scoresheet as Jeffrey Schlupp’s second-half consolation under caretaker boss Paddy McCarthy ended a near seven-hour scoreless run.
Saka is now one of several players to head off on international duty as England start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign against Italy and Ukraine.
Gabriel Jesus was forced to undergo knee surgery after an injury at the World Cup and, at such a crucial stage of the campaign, Arteta will be keeping his fingers crossed his international contingent return unscathed.
“I want to think positively. Touch wood, but I want to think positive,” he said.
“They’re going to have to play games, they have to do it in the way that they do it here or possibly even better with their country.
“We are in contact with all of them, they know how to look after them and hopefully it will all work out.
“(My message is) that they really look after themselves in this period. We will look after the players that are with us here.
“That they come back with the same mindset and hunger from before to go into Leeds which is the only important game right now. We know it.”
Saka himself admitted the team will continue to give everything they can as they got back to winning ways despite crashing out of the Europa League after a shootout loss to Sporting Lisbon three days earlier.
“Of course we are humans and we get tired,” he said.
“It is difficult sometimes but the prize at the end is worth giving everything, giving all our energy for.
“Today sometimes you can feel and see the tiredness in our bodies after playing 120 minutes and then you have to come again three days later to play here.
“But we have the belief and the desire that we want to do this this year and nothing can stop us. Especially not us being tired.”
Palace remain in a relegation fight as Paddy McCarthy took charge of the Eagles for the first time following Patrick Vieira’s sacking on Friday morning.
They are without a league win in 2023 and Schlupp’s goal ended a run of nearly seven hours without a goal.
“It was hectic,” admitted McCarthy.
“You get called into action and you have two days. The boys gave it their all and I can’t fault their effort. They’re a great group of lads, they are great people and I definitely believe they have more than enough to get themselves out of this situation.
“Lots of positives to take from the game, we worked their goalkeeper on a number of occasions. We started well and created the two clear-cut chances at the start of the game. Certainly lots of positives, you could see the fight in the team and they were going forward and pressing him.”