By Rob Kelly
“Preparation breeds confidence so we can go into the season in a good shape. Now it’s about points, about performance, about efficiency, about togetherness and about heart.” - Arsene Wenger
Finally the long wait is over. After a 77-day drought, the Premier League returns to Emirates Stadium and it finds Arsenal in fine fettle.
While it tends to be injudicious to read too much into pre-season results, the feelgood factor surrounding the Gunners this summer has been impossible to ignore. And while no one will celebrate the Barclays Asia Trophy, Emirates Cup and Community Shield as ‘the treble’ with anything but their tongue lodged firmly in cheek, the performances have been hugely encouraging.
The Gunners are playing with a confidence that has allowed them to switch from the stylish (in beating a Singapore XI, Everton and Lyon) to the more prosaic (against Wolfsburg and Chelsea), with no let up in intensity. It bodes well for the season ahead, Arsene Wenger’s 20th in charge of the club.
“I still feel the same excitement, the same uncertainty, because football is not predictable so you always have the level of excitement and uncertainty,” the manager told Arsenal Player.
“The pressure for me today is even bigger because you know what is expected - the expectation level is very high at Arsenal and you have that weight of wanting to do well and start well. That is why we are all under a huge desire to perform from the start.”
Wenger has exuded a quiet confidence all summer, and both his side’s summer results and the tangible unity they have displayed have given real cause for optimism ahead of a season that promises so much.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (knee), Welbeck (knee)West Ham: Carroll (knee), Valencia (leg), Jenkinson (ineligible)|
“I couldn’t ask for a better preparation,” he said. “Preparation breeds confidence so we can go into the season in a good shape. Now it’s about points, about performance, about efficiency, about togetherness and about heart. We have to earn the right to win the games through effort. Those are the qualities that will be tested now.”
While stability has been the watchword at Arsenal, it has been all change across London at Sunday’s opponents, West Ham. Slaven Bilic has replaced Sam Allardyce as manager, while the club has brought in seven signings over a busy summer that has also taken in no less than six Europa League qualifying matches already.
Their European adventure may have ended prematurely in Romania on Thursday night, but they are sure to be spiky, difficult opponents this weekend. But after a summer of serenity in north London, Arsenal are more than ready to brave the stormy waters of the Premier League once more.
ONE TO WATCH
If one man embodies the effervescence of Arsenal’s pre-season campaign, it is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The England international has been picked by many of his team-mates as their tip for this year’s breakout star after a string of eye-catching displays.
That culminated in a matchwinning performance against Chelsea in last week’s Community Shield in which he gave his direct opponent, Cesar Azpilicueta, a desperately-trying afternoon.
Wenger hopes it is merely a taste of things to come for the 21-year-old this term.
“When you look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain you think, ‘What has he not got?’ and then you’re a bit speechless,” the manager said. “It’s all there but I don’t want to put any special pressure on him because he has it all in the locker.
“What it demands is for him to let it come out. What I want from him is complete concentration, dedication, to bring his qualities to the team. Naturally he’s a guy who likes to do it for the team and he’s not a selfish player, but you want him to play a bit less with the handbrake on and get out what is really in there.”
The first order of business upon Bilic’s appointment as manager this summer was to bring in the talented Dimitri Payet.
The French playmaker shone in an exciting Marseille side last season to the extent that his 135 chances created was the most of any player in any of the top five European leagues.
Wenger is well aware of his compatriot's qualities and has warned that his side will have to be on their guard to nullify his threat on Sunday.
“I’ve known him well for a long time because he’s played at Lille, at Saint-Etienne, at Marseille - a very difficult club to play for because you are under extra special pressure,” the manager said.
“He can always deliver the special pass. He’s a highly-gifted player and he will add something on the creative front to the West Ham team, that’s for sure.”
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