By Rob Kelly
“The challenge is to get the focus back because everybody has been spread all around the world and we need to get that unity back very quickly. The fact that we play a big game against Manchester City will of course be very helpful.” - Arsene Wenger
Premier League football is back again - and the challenge facing Arsenal does not come much bigger.
An international break just a few short weeks into the new season may be unpalatable to some, but for Arsene Wenger it has worked out pretty well. Not only has he seen his players return from their various travels relatively unscathed - save for the ankle injury that makes Aaron Ramsey a doubt - it has also allowed precious time for some big names to prove their fitness.
Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs, David Ospina and Mikel Arteta have provided the manager with a welcome selection headache with their respective returns, while Theo Walcott is edging ever closer to his. Not only that, Abou Diaby was influential as he completed 90 minutes for the under-21s on Thursday night.
This is a squad rich in talent, and growing in numbers too.
The break also provided positives on the pitch, with new signing Danny Welbeck showcasing his quality with two goals for England. Meanwhile, the man he is likely to be competing with for a starting berth, Yaya Sanogo, made it three goals in two games for France Under-21s.
In the lead up to this game, Wenger has been repeatedly quizzed over his side’s performances in the lunchtime kick-offs after some disappointing results last season. Indeed, in their last three 12.45pm league matches, the Gunners have come out second best each time - but the manager insists it will have no bearing on this game.
“We only had problems away - at home we did quite well in the 12.45 kick-offs so let's not create a problem that we didn't have,” he said. “We had [a problem] away from home but honestly, I didn't think it was linked with the kick-off time. It was linked with our performances. In our job it's always very important to find the right responsibility.”
After heavy investment in the summer, Wenger's options have been further boosted by the arrival of Welbeck. The former Manchester United forward only completed his move to north London in the closing stages of transfer deadline day, but could well be thrown straight into action against his former city rivals.
“I'm very pleased [to have signed him] because we lost Olivier Giroud,” the manager said. “To find a striker who is a young English international and has the pace to play up front, that is not an easy task.
“He's a team player. I see him more through the middle than on the flanks but what is very good for us is he can play in all three positions - and sometimes behind the striker if needed - so he's very versatile as well. When you have his size, his pace and his running capacity you would say through the middle.”
Should he start on Saturday, Welbeck will be up against opponents with last season's second meanest defence, and which has only conceded three times so far this term. Not only that, Man City's defence been strengthened by the arrival of former Gunner Bacary Sagna.
“I was very disappointed to lose him and I tried to keep him,” Wenger said. “He is a player I respect a lot and he could play right back and centre back, so he was good in two positions. But we dealt with it by buying Debuchy. [He is a] very similar player. Committed, strong in the challenge, he gives his best in every single game - I am very happy with him.”
Manuel Pellegrini’s side come into the match on the back of a shock home defeat to Stoke City, while memories of their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield will be fresh in the memory. However, Wenger does not anticipate that providing his side with much of an advantage.
“It is a different match, every game is different and that's the unpredictability of our game - but we know we can [beat them] so let's just do it again,” he said.
This is a big week for the Gunners, with Dortmund and a tricky trip to Villa Park lying in wait once Saturday’s game is over. But their focus will need to be trained on the task in hand if they are to secure the result they need to maintain their momentum.
City will provide a massive test, but as Wenger points out it is one that they passed with flying colours just over a month ago at Wembley. This match will tell us much more than that one ever could - but there is every reason to be optimistic.
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