LONDON: Arsenal’s readiness to mount a sustained title challenge in 2015-16 will be tested at Wembley on Sunday (Monday in Manila) when they face Premier League champions Chelsea in the Community Shield.
Arsene Wenger’s team finished last season at a gallop, winning 20 of their final 26 games in all competitions and retaining the FA Cup by swamping Aston Villa 4-0 in a one-sided final.
They have carried that momentum into pre-season, winning all four of their matches, and having finally addressed their longstanding goalkeeper problem by signing Petr Cech from Chelsea, optimism is abundant.
“We want to win the league, of course we do,” midfielder Jack Wilshere told the Arsenal website ahead of the English football season’s traditional opening fixture.
“We feel we’ve been together a few years now, we’ve brought in world-class players who have had time to settle, we’ve added a world-class ‘keeper with all of his experience—he’s been there and he’s done it; he’s won everything—so we really feel we’re in a strong position.”
Arsenal will be wary of false dawns, having dispatched then-champions Manchester City 3-0 in last season’s Community Shield, only to finish 12 points below Chelsea in the title race.
But Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho appears to consider them genuine contenders, if the comments he has launched in the direction of the Emirates Stadium in recent weeks are anything to go by.
Citing the arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Mourinho claimed that anyone who totted up Arsenal’s transfer expenditure over the past few years would be in for a “surprise” and said that they were “more than ready” to challenge for the title.
Wenger, whose tetchy relationship with Mourinho spilled over into a touchline scuffle at Stamford Bridge last season, responded in sanguine fashion.
“I think what you want is not to listen too much to what people say,” said the Frenchman, who has not beaten Mourinho in 13 attempts.
“Because sometimes in the same week I get two different reproaches: one, I don’t spend enough and one, too much.”
Sanchez, Welbeck out
With the experienced Cech between the posts, Arsenal look much more robust defensively, the Czech international having been allowed to join a major rival due to his close relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Cech, 33, spent 11 hugely successful years at Chelsea before being dislodged by Thibaut Courtois last season, winning four league titles and the 2012 Champions League, and former team-mate Branislav Ivanovic has urged the club’s fans not to jeer him.
“I hope they will give respect to him because he deserves it,” the Serbian defender told the Evening Standard newspaper.
“For 90 minutes the fans will support us. For sure, they will be on our side. Before and after the game, I hope and I’m sure they will give Petr respect.”
To date, Cech is the only new player that Arsenal have signed, but they announced on Friday that forward Theo Walcott and midfielder Santi Cazorla have penned new contracts.
Having finished last season with a flurry of goals and scored the winner against Wolfsburg in the Emirates Cup friendly tournament last weekend, Walcott will hope to start up front against Chelsea.
Sanchez will not feature, having been granted time off after scoring the decisive penalty in Chile’s Copa America triumph against Argentina on home soil, while Danny Welbeck remains out with a knee problem.