By Richard Clarke
Last season, Arsenal's Premiership title bid floundered against big, tough sides away from home.
Defeats to Bolton, West Brom, Newcastle, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Blackburn and Everton left them well off the pace by the end of February. However, on the eve of the new season, Arsène Wenger argues his youngsters have matured. They are bigger, stronger and much more capable of coping with the toughest division in world football.
"At the start of the season we were out-muscled in some games," said Wenger. "The main target was to out-muscle us sometimes and we had no answer. I am convinced since then we have not only improved but we have found the way to deal with it. At the end of the season, when we brought in some more experienced bodies, we did quite well.
"And now the kids have grown up. That one year between 18 and 19 makes a big difference."
Certainly Cesc Fabregas can no longer be considered a boy. He has now had almost two full seasons in the Premiership and, this summer, went to his first World Cup. At 19, he has the responsibility of stoking the fires in the Arsenal engine-room but Wenger feels there is room for improvement - including his tackling.
"I feel he can add to his game by scoring goals, which is what he was doing when he was a young player," said Wenger. "He can also improve the defensive side of his game, and the challenges. In the Premiership, the tackles you get are definitely the strongest you face in the world.
"If you go to Bolton or Everton you get the really tough challenges in the middle of the park. Of course, that is where he wants to show he has improved as well."
Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 18 Aug 2006