Arsene Wenger has revealed his surprise that Arsenal are currently topping the Premier League table, but believes his side are one of six clubs that can challenge for the title this season. An opening day loss to Aston Villa spurred murmurings of a crisis, but the Gunners have responded in the best way possible with eight successive wins. In that time, each of the pre-season favorites to take home the championship have suffered blips, something which Wenger wasn’t counting on.
"I didn't expect that to happen [be at the top of the table] as quickly as that," he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. "I thought of course the season is long but as you have seen everybody at some stage or another has had a bad result and that allowed us to bounce back. But as well the group has shown mentally a positive response, what I didn't worry about. But I thought some teams could have a perfect start.”
"If you have a choice, that's where you want to be [at the top]. It's a very early stage but there's a compact group of teams. We are there and we want of course to stay there. [I think] five, six [teams can challenge for the title]. The top four of last year, Liverpool, Tottenham, all these teams, yes.”
Arsenal can claim that their winning run is still technically alive, courtesy of a penalty shootout victory over West Brom in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. The thinness of Wenger’s squad was tested in the encounter as he tried to give his well-worked first choice lineup a rest. Still, Per Mertesacker was forced to play for over 120 minutes.
With the likes of Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski still on the sidelines, Arsenal were relieved to get through the past week unscathed. Midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are expected to shake off thigh and shoulder problems, respectively.
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A rotated Swansea side suffered a surprise 3-1 defeat at Birmingham in the League Cup in midweek. Despite Swansea’s form being good in recent weeks, both in the Premier League and in Europe, manager Michael Laudrup believes his side have to be more clinical in front of goal.
“When you create so many chances -- and that is a major positive -- against huge sides like Liverpool and Valencia, you need to score,” he explained, according to Swansea’s website.
“We have an average of two goals a game [in all competitions], but I think we can do better. We need to take our chances more often -- we saw that in the cup in midweek and we were made to pay for that.” Swansea’s main injury worry is over captain Ashley Williams, who is set to face a late fitness test on an ankle injury. Pablo Hernandez is out with a hamstring problem.
D: Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies
M: Canas, Shelvey
Dyer, Michu, Routledge
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Flamini, Ramsey
Gnabry, Ozil, Wilshere
Prediction: While the signing of Mesut Ozil was seen as very much a luxury at the time, his presence is now crucial given the injuries that have taken out a trio of players who operate in a line of three behind Olivier Giroud. Jack Wilshere is uncomfortable on the left of that trio, while Serge Gnabry shows promise but it is unlikely Wenger imagined having to throw the 18-year-old in at this stage. But with Ozil’s creativity supported by Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have a chance of winning any game.
It will not be easy against Swansea, though. The Welsh side produced one of their best performances last season in outplaying Arsenal at their own passing game at the Emirates and coming away with a 2-0 win. It will be interesting to see whether Laudrup looks to be more cautious by utilizing an extra midfielder and sticking Michu up front or deploys the Spaniard in behind the dangerous Wilfried Bony.
There is unlikely to be much in the contest, but Arsenal’s confidence should just be enough to keep their run going.
Swansea City 0-1 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Premier League clash will kick-off at the Liberty Stadium will kick-off at 12.30 p.m. Coverage will be provided by NBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.