LONDO (AFP) – Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars they must improve against their title rivals if they want to end the club’s long wait to be crowned Premier League champions.
Wenger’s side kick off their bid for a first English title since 2004 at home to managerless Crystal Palace on Saturday and morale is sky-high at the Emirates Stadium following last season’s FA Cup final triumph.
That win over Hull City ended Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought and the feelgood factor appears to have carried over to the new campaign on the evidence of the Gunners’ impressive 3-0 win over Manchester City in the Community Shield last weekend.
But Wenger remains concerned by Arsenal’s poor record against their top-four rivals, with last season’s 6-3 defeat at City, 6-0 loss at Chelsea and 5-1 thrashing at Liverpool still fresh in his memory.
“I believe we have a chance because we were a long time top of the league last year,” Wenger said on Friday.
“It is difficult to know how much better the other teams will be. We have some challenges we have of course to face that we did not face well last year, and that means we have to take more points from the top teams.
“That will be our real challenge this year and also to keep the consistency against the teams who do not fight for the championship.
“We finished fourth last year and made 79 points. Man City won it with 86, so it was very tight in the top four, that is one or two games.
“If you win against them, they have three points less and you have three points more, that means it is down to one game.
“With the confidence (of winning a trophy) there is a little bit of weight off our shoulders that is for sure, but we want to show that and transform that into efficiency in our performances.”
Wenger has splashed out £30 million (37.4m euros, $50m) to sign Chile winger Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona and brought in Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy to strengthen the defence.
But most of Arsenal’s main challengers have also bolstered their squads and Wenger feels “six or seven teams” could offer a genuine title threat.
“The favourites you have again Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Man United and us,” he said.
“Then you have Everton, they were very dangerous last year as well and could be candidates. How well will Tottenham respond?
“There is no hierarchy in the teams I give you, there is no priority – they are just the obvious candidates.
“It is very difficult to predict. The only thing you know is that it will be tough.”