By Rob Kelly
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“I’m very happy with the way we prepared. I felt the quality of preparation was there, the focus was there, the team spirit is there… but now we want to transform all that work into points.” - Arsene Wenger
After a long summer absence, Premier League football makes its much-anticipated return to Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
The feelgood factor was in full effect last time out in N5 as our 4-0 win against Aston Villa in late May was memorably accompanied by Tottenham’s capitulation at Newcastle. It was enough to sweep us into second place by the skin of our teeth and send us into the break smiling.
But now we’re back down to business and, while pre-season form is not generally a reliable indicator of what is to come, it certainly doesn’t hurt when the team is playing as fluidly as it is now.
Five matches, four wins, one draw and 17 goals scored: the summer stats make for encouraging reading. While injuries have prompted headlines warning of a ‘defensive crisis’, there remains a quiet optimism within the squad that we can go one step further this year.
Granit Xhaka has been added, while Rob Holding and Takuma Asano are ones for the future. Arsene Wenger freely admits he hopes to add the final pieces to the jigsaw before the transfer window is out, but for now he is satisfied with what he has seen from his squad.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (knee), Welbeck (knee), Mertesacker (knee), Gabriel (ankle)Liverpool: Grujic (ankle - doubt), Milner (ankle - doubt), Lovren (leg - doubt), Sturridge (thigh), Karius (hand), Lucas (hamstring), Gomez (calf), Sakho (calf)|
“I’m very happy with the way we have prepared,” the manager told Arsenal Player. “I felt the quality of preparation was there, the focus was there, the team spirit is there and the way we want to play football is shared by everybody.
“The players nowadays come back very fit compared to 15 years ago. There are no overweight people, the prevention, the work rate and rest is there. Their fitness level is quite good when they come back.
“They benefit from the fact that we finished well last season so the confidence is high. Some players also had a good experience at the Euros so their confidence level is quite high.
“It was a very positive [pre-season] overall, but now we want to transform all that work into points and that is a reality on Sunday that we have to catch straight away.
“We are full of hope, full of ambition and we are very focused to start well. We have a very intense game straight away with Liverpool, these games are always very unpredictable. We try to prepare well to be ready.”
ONE TO WATCH
While Granit Xhaka’s initiation song may not have gone down too well with his team-mates, his pre-season performances have been received far better.
The Switzerland international was one of the stars of Euro 2016, and he has started translating that form to his new club.
English football may be notorious for its physicality, but Xhaka is no shrinking violet and Wenger fully expects him to hit the ground running.
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“He has not played in the Premier League yet but I’m confident he will adapt very quickly because he is very keen and he wants to work and wants to become a top-level player,” the manager said.
“His attitude is spot on, so when the attitude is as it is at the moment, the player's adaption is very fast.
“He has done extremely well from the start. He looks to be a very motivated and focused player, with good leadership qualities as well.
“He is a left-footed player, the quality of his pass is top level and he will help us improve our technical level.”
Wenger was right when he said this season’s Premier League will be a “world championship of managers” - and Jurgen Klopp is one of the planet's brightest talents.
|Arsenal have only lost one of their last nine Premier League games against Liverpool (W4 D4 L1)Only Mesut Ozil (20) and Alexis (10) made more assists for Arsenal in all competitions than Hector Bellerin last season (8)Liverpool have collected just eight points in 10 Premier League games at Emirates StadiumSince his Premier League debut, Mohamed Elneny has the best passing accuracy of any Premier League player (92.8 per cent)|
The charismatic German boss has made a big impact since his arrival last October from Borussia Dortmund, and hopes are high in Merseyside ahead of his first full season in charge.
Pre-season results have been mixed, and while a 4-0 demolition of Barcelona at Wembley certainly raised some eyebrows, defeat by the same scoreline to German side Mainz will have given Klopp food for thought.
His ‘gegenpressing’ approach, instructing his team to pressure to win the ball back immediately after losing it, has made them a far more intense team to play against, and Wenger is expecting a major tactical battle on Sunday.
“Klopp tries to play a different style, with more pressure and more intensity in the game so it will be very important for us to adapt to that. He has his own style and he tries to transfer that to Liverpool,” the manager said.
“It is very important for us [to start well], because last year we got West Ham and we didn’t win the first game - we lost. After that, there is big pressure and we want to start well this time.”
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