Arsenal will be taking on a Singapore Select XI on Wednesday night, but they already have Chelsea on their mind, according to star midfielder Santi Cazorla.
The Gunners face the Singaporean line-up and then either Stoke City or Everton on Saturday as part of this year’s Barclays Asia Trophy.
It is an important part of Arsene Wenger’s preparations for the new season, but the intensity will rise immeasurably for Arsenal’s first real test of the new campaign – Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley on August 2.
The Gunners could have an advantage in more ways than one in the shape of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has made the rare shift across London from the Blues.
Not only is the veteran stopper odds-on to be the new Arsenal No.1 when the season gets underway, he could also give his teammates some insights into the Chelsea way of doing things.
“I’m not sure if he will give us any tips,” Cazorla said with a laugh during an interview in Singapore. “But it’s great to have him on our team now and we’ll see what happens in the competition.
“I’ve spoken to him, but not about Chelsea. The most important thing is to speak about Arsenal, about how he is fitting in and making him feel comfortable for the new season.
“For us it’s really important to prepare for the Community Shield. We need to get back into playing football and the objective is to be prepared for that Chelsea game, the first official game of the season.”
The Gunners need only look to last season if they want a reminder of how not to start a new campaign. It all looked on track when they thrashed Manchester City 3-0 in the Community Shield to get their hands on the first piece of silverware for the year.
They picked up three points with a season-opening 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace, but then quickly fell off the pace. Over their first eight games, Arsenal managed just two wins.
They lost 2-0 to Chelsea and also suffered through five costly draws. It left them well off the pace set by frontrunners Manchester City and the Blues, ground they were never able to recover.
The Gunners were excellent across the second half of the campaign, but the damage had already been done.
“It’s true that the second part of the season was really good from the team and that should now be the benchmark for the entire season going forward,” Cazorla said.
“We really want to capitalise on that and if we play like we did in the last part of the season, we’ll have a chance for the title. As a club, Arsenal have been really consistent and playing in the Champions League for 16 or 17 years.
“But now we need to make that step up and it’s up to the team to start really well and stay at the top of the league and have chances to fight for the title at the end.“
Cazorla linked up with Arsenal from Malaga ahead of the 2012-13 season and has since made 106 appearances, scoring 23 goals from midfield.
His shift from an attacking position into more of a holding midfield role last season was a catalyst in the Gunners’ stunning form over the back half of the year. A fan favourite, the Spaniard is hoping to remain in Arsenal colours for some time yet.
“I’m really happy at the club and you can feel the confidence from everyone,” he said. “I feel loved and it’s clear to me I’m staying for as many years as I can.
“While it stays like this, I really want to stay.”
One of Cazorla’s biggest disappointments last season was the defeat to Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League.
The Gunners were made to pay for a 3-1 home defeat in the first leg, ultimately losing the tie on away goals following a 2-0 win in Monaco.
The 30-year-old believes Arsenal have learned their lesson and understand that costly lapses must be avoided at all times.
“It was a big disappointment for the team and we felt like we could have beaten Monaco,” he said. “But we made mistakes that you can’t make at that level and we hope that result will help us in the future to not make those mistakes again.
“In the league, there are a lot of teams that will be aiming to do well – Chelsea, City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham – and that’s the beauty of the Premier League.
“It’s what makes it the most difficult league to win probably in the world. Let’s see what happens, but I hope that we can fight until the end in all competitions.”comments