Wenger out to close gap on City

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iol spt aug10 Wenger Getty Images Following their FA Cup triumph, Arsene Wenger feels that Arsenal are capable of challenging for the Premier League title this season. Photo: Alex Livesey

Arsene Wenger is quick to interject. The question is about Arsenal’s increased spending power, having signed Mesut Ozil for £42million last season, Alexis Sanchez for £35m this summer, as well as Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Calum Chambers.

“Let’s not go overboard,” said Wenger, interrupting. “We are more comfortable but we are not Manchester City.”

Today’s opponents in the Community Shield are the eternal reference point for the clubs who once ruled the Premier League before the era of Russian oligarchs and energy-rich states upset the established order.

It is City who are the Premier League champions and the new force in English football. They are also a constant irritant to Arsenal.

It is not just the procession of players who have gone there for better money and trophy-winning prospects: Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor (ingloriously) and now Bacary Sagna. There is even an Arsenal influence over the management at City in Brian Marwood and Patrick Vieira. The old jibes about being a feeder club are still raw and relevant.

“Well, Sagna just left for City, so you can’t say those days are over,” says Kieran Gibbs when asked if the days of City dominating Arsenal might be past. “But you would think from the signings we have made...”

He doesn’t finish the answer but it is put to him that players should believe they can achieve their ambitions at Arsenal. “You would hope so,” says Gibbs.

It is seemingly always a definitive season of late because performances were lacklustre for so long. Wenger has his rehearsed and very reasonable defence for that. “The real pressure was first of all to keep the club financially capable to pay back the debt (for the stadium) and for that we needed to be in the Champions League,” he said. “If I write my book I’ll explain why that was the real pressure.”

Arsenal scrambled across the line to win the FA Cup. Hull almost did for them in the final. You could say they demonstrated the mental strength that has been lacking over the years, or that the FA Cup papered over the cracks more easily seen in dreadful hammerings by Liverpool and Chelsea.

Jack Wilshere is under pressure to deliver and there will still be departures, as Thomas Vermaelen’s £15m transfer to Barcelona proved.

But Gibbs tries to sum up what a trophy can do. “The ceiling is higher. You just feel more responsible and more mature because you’ve actually gone through quite a lot to get your hands on it, so you realise what it takes. I think the whole squad realises.”

A holding midfielder – maybe Sven or Lars Bender or William Carvalho – and another striker would make them more credible title contenders. But key men are already in place. Debuchy replaces Sagna; Chambers, at centre-back today, is an exciting and youthful addition; Ospina is a keeper to challenge Wojciech Szczesny while Sanchez could be the star striker craved since Robin van Persie’s exit. “Alexis is like an animal in training,” said Gibbs. “He doesn’t stop running. That is what we need. We can’t just sign a superstar and say, “Ok we’re going to win everything”.”

Training against him, says Gibbs, is “not the best day you’re going to have; he’s a top player who will bring something extra”. - Mail on Sunday


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