Arsène Wenger has targeted a strong start to the Premier League season as Arsenal prepare to begin their title challenge at home to West Ham on Sunday. Arsenal had a strong finish last season to come in third place, but their hopes of a first championship in more than a decade were ultimately dashed by a sluggish start that saw them win just two of their opening eight matches. And Wenger is determined that his side avoids any slipups on Sunday as he sets his sights on ending the club’s title drought.
“I’m ready for a fight and of course motivated to start well,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “One of our targets is to start strong. We had a good preparation and that should give us the needed confidence.
“The Premier League is a fight in every single game so we have to prepare ourselves mentally for that and come strong out of the blocks straight away against West Ham.
“We won the FA Cup last year and we finished third in the Premier League so our target is very high. We want to fight for the Premier League and that’s our ambition: to win the Premier League. But we have to sustain that by performance and a fighting spirit in every single game.”
Arsenal begin the new season on a high note following a victory over champions Chelsea in last week’s Community Shield, and now with the boost of having former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech as their last line of defense. But they will get the campaign underway without their standout performer of last season, Alexis Sánchez, who has been given extra time to recover from helping Chile to the Copa America title. On Saturday, Wenger will also be unable to call upon Danny Welbeck or Tomas Rosicky, while Jack Wilshere has suffered yet another ankle injury that’s expected to sideline the midfielder for four weeks.
Still, Arsenal’s preparations for the new campaign have been far smoother than those of West Ham. Having only just made it through the previous round on penalties, West Ham’s Europa League run was ended in the qualifying rounds on Thursday when a second-string lineup crashed out to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. It was hardly an ideal start to the reign of Slaven Bilic, who has been brought in to replace Sam Allardyce and lead the club in their final season at Upton Park before moving into the Olympic Stadium.
The former Croatia and West Ham defender has also seen striker Enner Valencia go down with an injury that will keep him out for up to three months. Still, while Andy Carroll is also sidelined, Bilic has confirmed that a deal for Atlético Madrid striker Raúl Jiménez is close. And the club has already spent a significant amount over the summer in bringing in the top assist provider in Ligue Un last season, Dimitri Payet, as well as center-back Angelo Ogbonna from Juventus and former Sampdoria midfielder Pedro Obiang.
Bilic explained that he is raring to go.
“I am excited,” he said. “I know the league; I was here before as a manager of other teams in Europe, I’ve played against English teams in European competition. They all say that the Premier League is different, is the hardest league so I’m looking forward to it and. I’m ready and the team is ready and we’re going to see on Sunday how it starts.”
Kickoff time: 8:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra