Arsene Wenger insists the pressure of hauling Arsenal into the top four following their move to the Emirates Stadium far outweighs the challenge of fighting for the Barclays Premier League title.
The Frenchman has played playing down talk of a move for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, believing his current squad is good enough to bridge what was a 12-point gap to Chelsea last season.
His side’s impressive pre-season campaign, culminating in a Community Shield win over Chelsea last Sunday, coupled with a strong end to last term sees them head into the season with arguably the best chance of claiming their first championship since 2004.
But Wenger does not believe their emergence as Chelsea’s biggest spoiler to the title they won so comfortably last season brings an added pressure.
Instead the Frenchman was keen to draw on the years in which Arsenal scrambled into the top four and qualified for the Champions League as they balanced the books after leaving Highbury.
“We had much more pressure before when I knew I had at least to be in the top four and we had not necessarily the potential to do it,” said Wenger ahead of his team’s opener against West Ham at the Emirates Stadium today.
“The pressure is really on you when you know you are just on the border of achieving what is absolutely requested.
“You know you cannot miss an inch because you’re out, so that is much more difficult.
“So here, what is interesting is the pressure is on everybody. On at least, six, seven clubs, and that’s what makes the Premier League very interesting.
“The only league where you do not have that now is France because everyone knows that Paris St Germain will win the league.”
When he was asked about ongoing speculation regarding France striker Benzema, Wenger added: “It is just media talk.
“At the moment we have no (Alexis) Sanchez, no (Danny) Welbeck, and when these players come back we feel we have the needed striking force. But we do not rule it out if something exceptional comes up to do it.”
Wenger will also be without Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky. Wenger insists he will not ask 23-year-old Wilshere to adapt his approach to the game. “You can’t play football without going freely in the challenge,” said Wenger.
“Jack’s game is to provoke with the ball at his feet and go and penetrate. You take that away, you change the player and you take one of his biggest strengths out of the game.”
Meanwhile Slaven Bilic plans to hold talks with skipper Kevin Nolan over his future at West Ham. The 33-year-old is likely to become a peripheral figure this season as Bilic has brought in a number of his own players he hopes can help propel the Hammers into the top 10.
Nolan, who captained an inexperienced side that lost their Europa League qualifier against Astra Giurgiu on Thursday night, will probably be amongst the substitutes at Arsenal.
“I’m going to speak with Kev,” the Croatian said. “He is a major player and I’m the first one to admire his career, we have already had a little chat and we will talk more. I will sort it out with Kev.”
Bilic could have opened his league account as manager of the Hammers with an easier game but he does not intend to make the short hop to Arsenal just to sit back and try and escape with a draw.
He said: “We have a team, when we are fit, that has got a lot of creative players. Basically, we have to defend as a unit. You cannot have two or three bodies staying up front, and resting, especially with Arsenal you cannot get away with it. You have to be as a unit, defend with numbers, attack with numbers.”
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