Cape Town - Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta is confident his side's opening Premier
League fixture against Crystal Palace on Saturday will mark the start of
a sustained challenge for the title.
The past 10 years have seen Arsene Wenger's team achieve a top-four
finish on every occasion, but not once have they been strong enough to
pip either Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City for pole
position on the final day.
Yet Spanish midfielder Arteta believes that could change this season.
The arrival of marquee signing Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, coupled
with an impressive pre-season that culminated with a 3-0 victory over
reigning champions City in the Community Shield last Sunday, has
generated a wave of optimism at the Emirates Stadium.
Three squad members - Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski
-won the World Cup with Germany, and although the trio will not feature
against Palace, their success adds to the feelgood factor at the club.
The recruitment of Chile forward Sanchez was further proof that Wenger's
reluctance to spend large sums on a single player has disappeared; the
previous season he had spent a club record £42.5 million (53 million
euros, $70.9m) on Ozil and before that Santi Cazorla had been recruited
to give the Gunners an extra dimension.
Arteta, appointed captain following Thomas Vermaelen's sale to
Barcelona, is sure those additions to a squad also boasting young
British talent in the shape of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,
Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere can add up to a potent brew.
"In the last three seasons, we've signed 'X-factor' players," he said.
"When Santi came, I think fans got really excited because he was giving
us something really special.
"With Mesut it was something very special. Now we have Alexis - but you
forget about Theo, who missed six months last year and was superb when
he was fit.
"Then there's Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack and Rambo (Ramsey), who was unbelievable last season.
"Suddenly you're talking about six or seven really good players that can
make a difference in a game and that's what you want to win trophies."
Wenger is looking to bring in a top-quality replacement for Belgian
centre-back Vermaelen, and an £8 million deal for Olympiakos defender
Konstantinos Manolas could be completed soon.
And Arteta says his arrival would complement the earlier sterling work done by Wenger in the transfer market.
"We've done our business early this season so we can start from the off and that's what we want," he said.
"We want to set a marker and we don't want to miss that opportunity.
We've got experience now, we are able to win - we have the qualities to
"We have the structure, the fans, the club and the desire to do it.
"Last season was a big step forward. To compete in the most tough and
difficult league - where you are facing five or six opponents ready to
win the Premier League - is not easy to find anywhere else in Europe.
"When you're playing and you look at the bench, and you see that we have options to change the game.
"If we make the right decisions, I'm sure we will be there."
Palace's preparations are in complete contrast after reports emerged
late Thursday that manager Tony Pulis had left the club by mutual
consent in a shock move prompted by disagreements over transfer policy.
The former Stoke City manager kept the Eagles up by overseeing a series
of impressive results after succeeding Ian Holloway last November.
But it is understood he became frustrated at a perceived lack of backing in the transfer market from owner Steve Parish.
Cardiff City striker Fraizer Campbell, former Fulham defender Brede
Hangeland and Liverpool full-back Martin Kelly have all been recruited,
but Pulis saw a number of other targets, including Gylfi Sigurdsson,
Steven Caulker and Michu, join other clubs.