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Wenger: Gunners must take points off close rivals

Manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his Arsenal team to raise their game against direct title rivals and deliver a first Premier League crown for a decade.

The Gunners host managerless Crystal Palace this evening, and are out to make a flying start to the new campaign, with morale high following last weekend's 3-0 win over a makeshift Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley.

After ending their nine-year barren run with an FA Cup final victory in May, Wenger is confident Arsenal - boosted by the £30million summer signing of Chile forward Alexis Sanchez - have the platform on which to mount a sustained assault on the championship.

"I believe we have a chance because we were a long time top of the league last year," Wenger said.

"It is difficult to know how much better the other teams will be. We have some challenges we have of course to face that we did not face well last year, and that means we have to take more points from the top teams.

"That will be our real challenge this year and also to keep the consistency against the teams who do not fight for the championship. We finished fourth last year and made 79 points. Man City won it with 86, so it was very tight in the top four, that is one or two games.

"If you win against them, they have three points less and you have three points more, that means it is down to one game. So it is very difficult to predict. The only thing you know is that it will be tough."

Wenger added: "With the confidence (of winning a trophy) there is a little bit of weight off the shoulders that is for sure, but we want to show that and transform that into efficiency in our performances."

Arsenal are, of course, not the only side to have brought in more firepower this season.

Wenger feels "six or seven teams" could offer a genuine challenge.

He said: "The favourites you have again Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Man United and us. Then you have Everton, they were very dangerous last year as well and could be candidates. How well will Tottenham respond?"

Meanwhile, Per Mertesacker has decided to retire from international football.

The former Hannover and Werder Bremen defender made 103 appearances for Germany, scoring four goals.