Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Aston Villa - Preview

Emirates Stadium

“What excites me about the new season is that the Premier League is much more open at the moment.

“You have many teams who can compete for the title and, if you look across Europe, it's maybe the only country where, at the start of the League, it's very difficult to predict who will win it.

“That's less the case in nearly all the other countries. That's why the Premier League is more interesting for me this time.”


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Arsène Wenger would go on to suggest that six teams were capable of becoming the 2013/14 champions - including his own of course.

With the exception of the final 10 minutes against a Didier Drogba-inspired Galatasaray on the Sunday of Emirates Cup, it has been heartening pre-season on the pitch for Arsenal. It culminated with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Manchester City, a side that finished second last season and have invested heavily in the transfer market this summer.

But it did not stop the suggestion that the Frenchman might have added to his own roster by the start of the Premier League campaign. While that may be true - and Wenger told Arsenal Player on Thursday that he would be bringing in new signings before September 2 - it is also apparent that his existing squad are developing. Couple the last few months of last term with pre-season, add in the team spirit so obvious to those of us lucky enough to go on tour in Asia, and you have a unit getting better month-by-month.

"If you analyse the quality, we have good players. Eleven internationals will start against Aston Villa and we will have internationals on the bench."

Arsene Wenger

And, unlike previous summers, Wenger has not lost first-choice players. The vast majority of the close season departures were on the margins of the squad.

So while those big names have not arrived, the Arsenal team’s achievements on the pitch have been decent enough - especially last Saturday’s win. It leaves Wenger fighting on two fronts - to get in the players he requires and to counter a certain negativity without a ball having been kicked this season.

“It is a bit frustrating,” he admitted when asked about the latter. “We just beat Man City 3-1, imagine if we had lost. But what can I do about it? I can only influence what we do on the football pitch.

“If you analyse the quality, we have good players. Eleven internationals will start against Aston Villa and we will have internationals on the bench. That is, for me, what counts.”

Of course, Mikel Arteta would have falsified that statement but the Spaniard, who has somehow never been capped, is out with a thigh problem. Aaron Ramsey missed training twice this week but will be fit.

“Vermaelen is out, Monreal is out and Arteta will be out,” said Wenger in summary. “That's the three main injuries we have at the moment. Monreal is not far from coming back but Arteta and Vermaelen are a bit longer.”

Villa endured a troublesome, relegation-threatened campaign last term under new manager Paul Lambert. But, for the first time since 2009, they start the new season with the same manager that ended the last. And, crucially, the Scot retained the services of striker Christian Benteke after he looked like leaving Villa Park.

Meanwhile the new additions - Jores Okore, Antonio Luna, Leandro Bacuna, Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius and Jed Steer - are all young, hungry and with something to prove.

Wenger sees comparisons with the side he has constructed.

“If you look at our team, from Szczesny up to Walcott up front, we are the only team in the top four that has brought these sorts of players through,” said the manager. “Players who have started in the Premier League with us.

“Nobody else has done it recently but Aston Villa are starting to do that as well now. They plan for the future and, in today's market, it's the only way for them to be successful.

“For me they have bought well this summer and they had some strength at the end of the season anyway that gave them some consistent results. They needed to be tough to stay up and they did it. That certainly strengthened their resolve plus, in Benteke, they have a player who can score at any moment.

“They are a team that is very dangerous on the counter-attack with Weimann and Agbonlahor and they bought Tonev who looks quite creative. So we need a solid performance to win this game as it's important we start well.”

"A win on the opening day can give you in a good confidence level."

Arsene Wenger

Arsenal have not lost their season-opener for 12 years but this one is more important than most. The beginning of the campaign see Wenger’s men take on some of the sides not expected to be challenging at the top, with the notable exception of the north London derby in September. This, plus an unprecedented turnover of managers in the main title contenders, gives Arsenal the opportunity for a fast start.

They need that anyway as, on Wednesday, they travel to Turkey for a tough-looking Champions League qualification round first leg at Fenerbahce.

“A win on the opening day can give you in a good confidence level,” said Wenger.

“We all know that [nowadays] in the Premier League, every game is important and that a good start is vital, especially when you play at home.

“So we'll put all the effort in to win our first game.”

The first of many we hope.

Happy new season everybody.

Team news:

Arsenal: Vermaelen (back), Monreal (back), Arteta (thigh), Ryo (rib), Diaby (knee)

Aston Villa: Herd (doubt – calf), Sylla (ankle)

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