Arsenal kick off the 2017/2018 Premier League season on Friday* and as usual, Arsene Wenger sat down to answer questions with the press.
How do you feel about the season ahead?
Well prepared and ready for a fight and of course ambitious as well.
6 game pre-season, community shield, how ready and prepared are your players?
I think we have a good level of physical preparation and all our players got a decent number of minutes of good competition so overall the preparation of the squad looks good then it’s to transform the quality of the preparation into points and that is, of course, the pragmatic view, but all that matters is that we win the next game and start in a strong way, what we did not do last year. That’s what we want to achieve this season.
What’s the best way to change that opening day record?¹
(Sighs) Quality of the performance. We play quality opponents, you know, and Leicester has a good way to stop people because they defend very well, they are dangerous on the counter attack, so we have to put a decent pace into the game to be dangerous.
In terms of the early team news (injuries) what’s the latest you can tell us?
I have plenty of uncertainties about the players who didn’t play against Chelsea (Ozil, Alexis, Cazorla, Ramsey) – will they be available or not – for example, Ramsey, Ozil, Mertesacker, of course Koscielny is suspended, I have players coming back who have not played like Mustafi… Sanchez – Sanchez will not be available for example. So, I cannot go into the game with too many uncertainties. I can take a gamble on one, maybe maximum two, but I focus more on the players who had the right number of competitive minutes in the recent weeks.
What’s the issue with Alexis, Arsene? Is it just simply match fitness?
No, he had a little abdominal strain that he caught on Sunday morning in training before he came to Wembley. He had a scan two days ago and he’s out for a while. I don’t know, is it two weeks or one more week but he will not be available.
So possibly at least two weeks out?
He will not play against Stoke (August 19th), yes.
How do you feel about that?
Always for us Alexis Sanchez is a loss, of course, but we had all the other players prepared pre-season and are all ready and it can happen in preparation. Anyway, I don’t think I would have included him certainly on Friday night, but I don’t think I would have started him.
How has he (Alexis) been around the training ground? What’s his frame of mind like at the moment?
Of Sanchez? Focused. (Shrugs)
Of course, when you have treatment on the medical bench, it’s not easy.
What can you take from the performance against Chelsea?
The quality of the performances and the continuity of our end of season where we had a strong finish. Overall we looked to have a desire to play, hunger to play together and to win, and these are very interesting qualities but we have to maintain that, go from game to game with the same hunger.
Strong end to the season last season but you still didn’t end up where you wanted to be…
No. But. Certainly we made 75 points last season, maybe 4 points more than the season before², but it was not enough. We have to do more.
What’s the target this season?
The target is very difficult to set. You know, what you want.. you can interview seven to eight Premier League managers who will tell you that they want to win the League and they are very ambitious and rightly so. But, so, let’s just focus on us and our quality and get into the games with the desire to win every game. What is needed I don’t know.
How strong are the other teams? That’s very difficult to predict as well because you have some who have been very active in the transfer market. How will that transform into quality? It’s very difficult to predict.
Just on the transfer markets, Arsene, following that Neymar deal. How do you feel about Premier League clubs possibly benefitting from dealing with clubs like Barca paying them inflated transfer fees?
Well, it is a consequence because the money will circulate, it will rotate from one club to the other, the money that Barcelona got will go somewhere else. Will it come to the Premier League? I don’t know. Certainly, when you listen to the transfer rumours, some of it will travel to England. But at the end of the day it’s only numbers. Despite the numbers (money), the number of top players is not increasing. What you want is to have the best players in the English league and not in any other European league. We want to be the best league and therefore it’s important that the best players stay in England.
We spoke with Nasser Al-Khelaifi last week and he said that if he wants to get Alexis he will just talk with you directly, that he has very good relations with your club and with you, what’s the news there? Has he spoken with you directly?
Have there been negotiations at all?
No. It’s been a long time since I spoke with Nasser because he was certainly very busy to complete the transfer of Neymar.
Are you expecting him to get in touch?
No. I think that they are, if you read the French papers, they are on Mbappe’s case to finish their transfer market.
Do you think they’d rather go for Mbappe than Sanchez?
Look, that’s what I’ve read in the papers and on my side I’ve had no contact at all with Paris Saint Germain.
Is Alexis going to sign a new contract?
It’s possible, you know, when players go into the final year of their contract we will try to extend their contract because there is no reason why we shouldn’t do it but we are not there yet.
You won the FA Cup, you won the Community Shield, fans seem to like the new signings, a lot of the negativity seems to have gone from last season, is that something you’d agree with?
Yes, of course. But you know that’s a battle that you’ve never won definitely. And that’s all linked with the results and the way that we play football. You have to accept the verdict, the public verdict, and we have to make sure that we just keep everybody on our side. It’s ideal to have everybody on your side but that is down to the performances we have.
In recent seasons, you haven’t gotten off to the best start, particularly at home, so it’s even more important that you need to win on Friday to keep that negativity away?
Yes of course, but statistically we do not always lose the first game. In the last few seasons we have as well had special circumstances because it’s after the World Cup, after the European Championship and we have many players who were not ready to play³. On top of that we have always quality opponents: West Ham, Liverpool, and now we have Leicester. So, we have a good opportunity to show that we have had a good preparation and that we are ready.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been linked with a move to Chelsea. Is he still part of your plans? And he signed six years ago yesterday, I believe, has he made the progress that you’d hoped to?
One last one from me: Theo Walcott said to me, he described Kolasinac as an “Animal”, how would you describe him?
He has the force of an animal, certainly. I just think that Kolasinac is a good player and that he has an attitude that is suited to the Premier League. That means that he is determined, he’s aggressive, and forceful, and wants to play. That is vital in our club as well that every time you win the ball you want to play and he’s available to play.
David Ospina as well has been the subject of speculation and you talked about the possibility of a move to Fenerbahce. And now it seems like he’s staying for another season. Was it harder to convince him to stick around this year when there’s no Champions League role to offer?
Yeah. It was not easy. Because of course all these players, they are top level players, they want to go as well to the World Cup. But he will get as well a number of games here and he will fight with Petr Cech and the fight is quite open. At the moment I play Petr Cech but this battle is not won definitely by Petr Cech because I rate high Ospina and anyway we play all the competitions and he will play (shrugs).
Have there been any bids for Alexis?
I cannot tell you that at the moment. I can just tell you that we are not interested in selling.
Any other players moving?
*Noon PST for those of us in the West Coast time zone
¹Arsenal have lost three of their last four opening day matches and have not won a single opening day match since August 2009’s 6-1 win over Everton. Earning just one point in the last four years and four points in the last seven seasons on opening day.
²Wenger has averaged 75.65 points per season over his 20 full seasons at Arsenal. The Premier League champions have averaged 86.55 points per season in that same time. Wenger’s Arsenal have only achieved 86+ points twice, both times they won the Premier League. In the last 10 seasons, the Premier League winner has earned 86+ points 8 times. The only two times that a team won the League with less than 86 points were 2010/2011 (Man U 80 pts) and 2015/16 (Leicester 81 pts).
³This season for opening day Arsenal will be missing Alexis, Ozil, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Cazorla, Gabriel, Mustafi, and Koscielny, all of whom have been regular starters/captains of Arsenal football club these last two years.
4Ox played just 2568 minutes last season. A career high of 28.5 full 90 minute equivalents. His minutes, by season (all competitions) are as follows: 11-12 – 1311; 12-13 – 1570; 13-14 – 1025; 14-15 – 2128; 15-16 – 1530; 16-17 – 2568