Arsene Wenger: Arsenal more adept at handling the Premier League pressure
Published 23/10/2015 | 22:41
Arsene Wenger is confident a more mature Arsenal side can now handle the pressure in the Barclays Premier League title race, led by Mesut Ozil in his "golden age".
The Gunners head into Saturday's late kick off against Everton on the back of an impressive 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
With leaders Manchester City taking on rivals United at Old Trafford on Sunday, Wenger's side could move to the top of the table with victory over the Toffees.
Arsenal last led the league heading into the weekend of February 8, 2014, before they were blown away 5-1 at Liverpool in a nightmare lunchtime encounter.
Wenger, though, knows his players have come a long way since then - now more battle-hardened and driven on by the endless energy of Alexis Sanchez and tenacity of club-record signing Ozil, backed up by midfield enforcer Francis Coquelin.
"We have strengthened our belief with our run last season, from January 1 - you could feel there was really a change in our stability," said the Arsenal manager, whose side ended the league campaign well before winning a second successive FA Cup.
"We have shown that we can handle the pressure. What is the most important for me is to continue to develop as a team, to feel that we grow in the quality of our game.
"We have maybe a better discipline. People reproached us many times: 'okay, Arsenal play football, but they are a bit fragile.' Before, maybe, when we were not dominating completely the game, we were a bit insecure."
Wenger continued: "We are more mature, for sure.
"Two years ago, we were a long time top of the league. After, we lost one or two players and we lost one or two big games, that was the killer for us.
"I feel today we are better prepared. We know, as well, the competition will be long.
"We have played nine games, there is a long way to go, but let's make sure that we can produce week in, week out. For me, that is the most important (thing)."
That is something Ozil is doing, having grown into his role as Arsenal's 'number 10' since joining from Real Madrid for £42.5million in September 2013.
The German World Cup winner scored in the 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United and capped a fine display against Bayern with a goal in stoppage time.
"Ozil is 27 now," Wenger said. "It is the golden age of a football player, 27 to 31 or 32, the age when you know your job.
"When you are under 25, you think you can last for ever. Once you get to 27 you realise it is time to capitalise on what you have learned and efficiency takes a little bit over the playing mood.
"You realise suddenly that it is not only important to play, it is important to win as well."
Wenger added: "Mesut is focused on his job. Talent wise, I think deeply he is a very, very collective player.
"He is a very respectful guy. If you tell him to do that, he will do it for you.
"Mesut plays in the link between the low midfield and the striker, he is the vital part in that.
"When he has the ball in the final part of the pitch, he has the most assists.
"Sometimes I think he sacrifices himself for the team, and I think his talent is exceptional."