By Declan Taylor

Arsène Wenger believes Thomas Vermaelen is both physically and mentally primed for the Premier League battle.

The Belgian central defender has impressed in his first two outings for his new club, as the Gunners made light work of tough-looking fixtures at Everton and Celtic.

Wenger knew all about the 23-year-old’s technical ability before he signed, having faced him during previous Amsterdam tournaments and Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial at Emirates Stadium in 2006.

But one thing that the manager was not so certain about was Vermaelen’s ability to handle the Premier League’s “psychological factor”. But on the evidence of the last two matches, Wenger needn’t have worried.

“He is a player who has intelligence, physical strength and a good technical level,” the manager explained at Friday’s press conference.

“If you analyse him well you see that he has all the ingredients needed to be successful in the Premier League.

“But on the other hand there is a psychological factor that you never can measure at the start but he doesn’t look too impressed – he’s a strong character.

“I am very pleased because everybody looks surprised that he’s doing well – I am not because I saw him when he played against us for Ajax.”

Wenger highlighted the defence as a must-improve area this season, having finished 18 points behind Manchester United. The two sides scored the same number of goals in 2008/09 but the Gunners let in 10 more than the eventual champions.

But that is not only a task for Vermaelen, according to the manager.

“Of course [he will help Arsenal concede fewer goals], he is a central defender,” he said.

“But as a team we want to do better defensively than we did last year.

“That’s vital to us – we conceded 37 goals last year and the target is to do much better than that.”

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21 Aug 2009