London (AFP) – Arsenal’s meeting with Southampton on Saturday marks the start of important run of six games in 18 days as Arsene Wenger’s side play catch-up in the Premier League.
The new league campaign is only three games old but Arsenal already lie five points behind Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, who have all made perfect starts to the campaign.
And while Gunners boss Wenger is far too experienced to be overly concerned by the early league table, he knows the value of developing momentum in the title race before turning his attention to the club’s opening Champions League game at Paris Saint Germain next week.
The visit of Southampton offers Arsenal the chance to get off the mark on home turf after they lost their opening league game at the Emirates Stadium against Liverpool.
And Wenger will have a much more comfortable afternoon if Chile forward Alexis Sanchez can live up to his claim he is now ready to be compared with Lionel Messi and, Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I have reached a level where I can compete with great players,” Sanchez said.
“I do not feel inferior to anybody. I liken my qualities to Messi and Ronaldo. I have the same abilities as them.”
Wenger is able to call on Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, who both arrived shortly before the end of last month’s transfer window.
But anything less than victory will turn the focus on Wenger’s failure to once again bring in more world-class recruits, as well as the Frenchman’s long-term future at the club, just days after Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe was linked as his successor.
Mustafi, the Germany defender signed from Valencia, is likely to come straight into the team, but Perez, a Spanish forward from Valencia, may start on the bench.
Nacho Monreal, the Arsenal left-back, believes Mustafi will have no problem settling in.
– Tough to beat –
“He will find it easy to adapt to the club,” Monreal said. “He has already lived abroad, he speaks the language and he knows Mesut Ozil.
“All those elements will lessen the impact of changing environments. Luckily for him, he will feel at home from the very first day.
“Mustafi is a player I like. He is experienced and really tough to beat, which makes him very suitable for the Premier League’s style.
“We really needed to bring a centre back to the club considering Per Mertesacker and Gabriel’s injuries, as well as Calum Chambers’ departure on loan.
“I hope he feels happy here from the very beginning so he can do for us what he does best.”
Alex Iwobi is set to return after recovering from the hip injury he suffered against Liverpool, but Aaron Ramsey is expected to again miss out with a hamstring problem.
Claude Puel is still looking for his first league win since taking charge at Southampton and is hoping it comes against Wenger — his former manager at Monaco.
“It’s the first time that we can play one against one as I haven’t met him in an international game or Champions League game so far,” Puel said.
“It’s the first time we can compete against each other and it’s a pleasure of course because he was a very important person for me and he’s a great manager.
“Arsene is an example for all the coaches because for so many years he’s done really well in the Premier League, with Champions League secured every season.
“People don’t sometimes realise how good his work with Arsenal has been, and I really think he’s a good example for all the other trainers.”
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