Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has admitted he is surprised to be heading into this weekend’s fixtures with his side perched at the top of the Premier League standings.
An opening day home defeat against Aston Villa last month set alarm bells ringing for Arsenal supporters, but the mood has changed dramatically in the weeks since and the high-flying Gunners will head to Swansea on Saturday evening in buoyant mood.
“I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly,” was Wenger’s view of Arsenal’s rise to the top of the table. “The season is long and everybody at some stage or another had a bad result and that allowed us to bounce back.
“The group has shown a mentally positive response, which is expected, but I thought that some teams could have a perfect start. I think five or six teams can challenge [for the title]. The top four of last year, Liverpool and Tottenham, all these teams. It looks like more of an open title race this time.
"Of course, you want to be [top of the table], but it is a very early stage. There is a compact group of teams, but we want to stay there.”
Arsenal face a stiff test of their title credentials when they travel to Swansea this weekend, with Wenger full of praise for opposite number Michael Laudrup and his side.
“They are a team where the level of expectation is higher than the years before, so everybody wants them to be performing in the top seven or eight, which they have the quality to do,” Wenger said.
“They buy well, play attractive football, it’s a very, very good team. With Michu, they can play with one [up front] because he can play like a midfielder. I see him from a positional perspective like [Dennis] Bergkamp. It can be a 4-4-1-1, it can be a 4-4-2. They are difficult to play against.
"Laudrup has had an impressive start here in England. What he has done has been absolutely fantastic. I can tell you he was even more impressive as a player, but he is doing extremely well. He has been educated in Holland, in Denmark, where they have a very positive approach of the game.”
The positive vibe around Arsenal at the start of the season has been dented somewhat by the abdomen injury to midfielder Theo Walcott, with Wenger confirming his England winger is set for an extended stay on the sidelines.
“His surgery went as well as it can go, there was no complications, it was very simple,” Wenger confirmed. “Optimistically, he will be back in three weeks, realistically five weeks.”
Aaron Ramsey faces a fitness test ahead of the trip to his Welsh homeland, but Wenger is confident the in-form midfielder will recover to take his place in the Arsenal line-up at Liberty Stadium. Mathieu Flamini is also expected to start despite nursing a shoulder problem.