December 13 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Friday, August 16, 2013
Arsene Wenger has admitted his surprise at Christian Benteke’s transfer U-turn but is wary of a striker he believes can be even more devastating in his second season at Aston Villa.
Arsenal will get their Premier League campaign off to a start with the visit of the Villans tomorrow and with all the transfer talk about the north Londoners lack of summer business, the Midlanders pulled off something of a coup in keeping their Belgian hitman.
The 22-year-old scored 19 goals in his debut season in the Premier League after moving from Genk in a £7million switch last summer and that form saw Arsenal’s arch-rivals Tottenham linked with a move for him.
He handed in a transfer request earlier this summer but then surprisingly signed a new four-year deal 11 days later, just 24 hours after reporting back for pre-season training.
Wenger said: “For a while he looked like he wanted to go and suddenly changed his mind, surprisingly. But, of course, that was good news for Aston Villa.”
Gunners boss Wenger has come under fire for failing to attract any big name signings, with Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo slipping through his grasp, while Liverpool are adamant that Luis Suarez will not be sold to them after two rejected offers.
Lille winger Florian Thauvin is another said to be on Wenger’s radar, as is Romania forward Ciprian Marica following his release by Schalke, but while he admitted he is “optimistic” of adding new recruits before the September 2 transfer deadline, nothing will be done in time for tomorrow’s curtain-raiser.
And with central defender Thomas Vermaelen (back injury), Mikel Arteta (thigh) and Nacho Monreal (back) all out injured Wenger knows his depleted side will have to be wary of Benteke.
“He has qualities that you cannot lose during the summer, especially in the air,” the Frenchman said. “I think he could be more dangerous this year.”
Villa fought relegation last season, but Wenger does not expect a repeat performance from them this term.
He said: “They kept a good stability with the players they had from last year and they are a team who is very dynamic, very good on counter attack and set pieces with Benteke, [Andreas] Weimann and [Gabriel] Agbonlahor.
“They are interesting players who have quality, especially going forward.
“It is a team that can be a threat for anybody.”
The Gunners began last term with back-to-back stalemates and after finishing 16 points of the title pace, Wenger knows that they must hit the ground running tomorrow.
“A win can put you in a good level of confidence,” he said. “We know in the Premier League nowadays that every game is important and that a good start is of course vital, so we’ll put all our effort into winning the first game.”
But with managerial changes at title rivals Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City this summer, Wenger believes this season’s race for the Premier League crown is one of the hardest to predict.
“It is maybe more open at the moment because you have many teams that can compete for it [the title],” he said.
“When you look across Europe, maybe it’s the only country where, at the start, it’s very difficult to predict who will win it.
“That’s less the case in nearly all the other countries and that’s why the Premier League is more interesting.”
And Wenger thinks it will be a six-horse race this time around, admitting that Liverpool and Tottenham will be contenders.
“You have to consider every team that made over 70 points last year, that they have a chance.
“That’s a benchmark and if you make 70 points there’s not a lot of difference between them and the top.”