London – Arsene Wenger has been puffing out his chest rather a lot lately.
He has earned that right, perhaps more than any other manager, for the intensity and volume of criticism he has been forced to swallow over the past eight years since he last won anything worth polishing.
Vindication has been the theme of his recent post-match sermons and there was a justified smugness about the grin he wore on Saturday evening, as well.
After Arsenal increased their lead at the top of the league – at least until Liverpool narrowed it again on Sunday – he spoke about August 17, when the Gunners lost their opening-day fixture against Aston Villa and he was booed from the touchline.
Wenger also believes that winning the Barclays Premier League is harder than ever and that it requires a team operating at 95 per cent to have any chance of victory. Back to the Villa result.
“We were in a massive crisis after our first game,” he said in sarcastic reference to that defeat, one of only four his team have suffered in this calendar year.
It is interesting to think that of the 25 Premier League games Arsenal have played in 2013 – by extension, games largely played without Mesut Ozil – they have acquired more points than any other team.
“We have kept focused on what was important,” Wenger said. “We have shown a good mental response and desire to improve and that is what we have to keep in the team.
“It is terrible to lose the first game, but it was the first one we had lost since March. I was proven right by our positive response.
“We have improved, we have good stability so let’s enjoy the win against Swansea together, that’s all we can do.”
Of course all of this is set against a backdrop of injuries to key personnel and a division that, according to Wenger, is stronger than it has been in years.
By the time Swansea were beaten and Aaron Ramsey had completed the latest stage in his remarkable resurrection – he now has eight goals in nine games this season – Manchester United and Manchester City had already lost to West Brom and Aston Villa respectively.
The cliche about there being no easy games at this level is starting to sound quite shrewd, not least because Arsenal have a defence that looks like it might unravel at an inopportune moment.
In discussing his side’s title prospects, Wenger said: “We have the desire, you can see that. It’s early stages, we have only played six games, but I would have signed up to have 15 points now after losing the first game.
“We have a chance but it is very open. You can add Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton to the top four, it will be very interesting.
“But what has changed to years before is that at 80 per cent you will not beat any team in the Premier League.
“You have to be at least between 95 to 100 per cent and that promises a very interesting season.”
Wenger’s captain Jack Wilshere added: “In the Villa game we knew we didn’t acquit ourselves well. We knew it wasn’t good enough.
“The fans gave us some stick, which we deserved. We woke up after that.”
That much is obvious. – Daily Mail