Wenger wants fast start
LONDON — Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes the strength of competition in the Premier League means his side cannot afford another slow start if it hopes to challenge for the title.
Arsenal has lost three of its past four opening games, with last term’s 4-3 defeat at home to Liverpool setting the tone for a campaign in which the club missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time since 1997.
Wenger’s squad launches the new campaign at home to Leicester City on Friday, and on Sunday he urged his players to harness the momentum from a promising preseason that culminated in victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield.
“We want to find a good balance between the confidence we can get out of these games and the urgency that every Premiership game demands,” Wenger said at Wembley.
“We had some bad starts in the last four years in the first game of the Premiership, but this year we had the intensity in our preparation games that is needed to be ready. So let’s go into the Premiership with the same discipline, the same spirit, and see where we can go.
“If you look at the Premiership, you have seven, eight teams who will say, ‘We can win the Premier League.’ That makes it very interesting.”
Arsenal beat Chelsea 4-1 on penalties to win the Community Shield for the third time in four years after the game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.
The Gunners were without Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, with the former still regaining fitness after the Confederations Cup and the other two nursing minor injuries.
Wenger said Ozil had “little chance” of playing against Leicester after taking a kick on the ankle in training and said Ramsey was in a similar position as he works to overcome a “little calf problem”.
Wenger also said there was “nothing bad” about the injury sustained by club captain Per Mertesacker, who had to come off after being accidentally caught in the face by Gary Cahill’s elbow.
Mertesacker’s replacement, recently signed Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac, impressed Arsenal’s fans with a series of shuddering challenges before canceling out Victor Moses’s opener with a headed equalizer in the 81st minute.
Morata ‘needs time’
Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal’s club-record $61 million signing from Lyon, had a more low-key debut, but Wenger was encouraged by his performance.
“Lacazette is stronger every week,” the manager said of the France international, who blasted a shot off the post midway through the first half.
“Today is the first time where you see that physically he’s ready. He still needs to adapt to the intensity of the game.
“In the first half he had very interesting movements. I believe he’ ll become stronger and stronger.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte cut a frustrated figure and said he was “a bit angry” with referee Bobby Madley.
Madley booked Blues midfielder Willian for diving and showed Pedro a straight red card for an ugly foul on Mohamed Elneny shortly before Kolasinac’s equalizer.
Conte defended his decision to allow Thibaut Courtois to take a penalty after the Belgian goalkeeper hoisted his effort over the crossbar.
“Courtois is one of the best players to kick penalties,” said Conte, whose side begins its title defense at home to Burnley on Saturday.
“If you have a player that shows you during the training sessions to be one of the best, you pick him to shoot the penalty. But don’t forget (Alvaro) Morata is a forward and he did the same.”
New signing Morata also miscued in the shootout, dragging his spot-kick wide of the left post to complete an inauspicious cameo appearance and allowing Olivier Giroud to net the winning penalty.
“Morata needs to work on that, but it’s normal — he’s been with us for only one week,” said Conte.