Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker has U-turned over a possible return to Germany and admits signing a new contract with the North London club is his "priority". The 32-year-old is out of contract at the end of the campaign but is yet to begin talks over an extension after five years at the Emirates Stadium.
Mertesacker plunged his own future into deep uncertainty in October when he suggested he would consider his next move – which included a possible switch back to his homeland – during the January transfer window. The World Cup winner is eligible to speak to rival clubs and a sign a pre-contract agreement once he enters the final six months of his deal.
Former clubs Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen, where he spent a combined 21 years prior to moving to Arsenal in 2011, have since voiced interest in re-signing Mertesacker. However, the 6ft 6in defender has insisted he has no intention of instigating a move away from the Premier League, and wants to begin talks over a contract extension.
"An extension at Arsenal has absolute priority for me," he told German website Spox. "There is no agreement on timing. For me, Arsenal is a top priority. Everything else is pure speculation and I will not participate in it.
With Mertesacker having not played this campaign due to a knee injury suffered in pre-season, Laurent Koscielny and summer signing Shkrodran Mustafi have struck up an impressive partnership at the heart of the Arsenal defence. Mertesacker is expected to return in 2017 having undergone treatment at a rehabilitation centre in Donaustauf, but is refusing to put a specific timeline on his return.
"Basically, I am very satisfied with the course of my rehab," he added. "The doctors and therapists do an excellent job and the team around me works perfectly. However, I am not a friend of clinging to specific dates in such phases and perhaps even blocking myself.
"There is a close communication between the Arsenal Medical Department and the team in Donaustauf. Our team doctor accompanied me to the surgery to Germany and sat with me in the plane. Of course, the form of contact with those responsible is different at the moment. But I'm always there in London and the contact is good."