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Manchester derby tale of the tape


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Wenger: My hardest season yet

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits last season was the most difficult of his career but remains confident it is his squad's ''destiny'' to win the Premier League title.

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Wenger's team lost the Carling Cup final to Birmingham in February and were then dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona before slipping to fourth in the Premier League. It all added up to a sixth straight trophyless campaign for the north London club, and Wenger found it a bitter pill to swallow.

''The last part was the toughest season in my career,'' he said. ''Emotionally, it was very difficult because we were on a low and then you could see the last three or four weeks were very difficult.''

Wenger believes his young side will bounce back, though, and pick up their first piece of silverware since the 2005 FA Cup in the coming campaign.

Speaking in China, ahead of their friendly against Hangzhou Greentown on the club's pre-season tour of Asia, he added: ''I believe that the real destiny of this team is now there. They know as well as I know that we were very, very close last season.

''You say, 'Okay, we missed our chance', or you say, in our position, 'Let's show everybody that we can do it and come back stronger' - which is what I think we can do because we are a young team and we can only be better.

''It demands the strength of character that the champions have. That's what we want to show.''

Despite leaking 43 goals as their title bid fell apart last season - 10 more than rivals Manchester City and Chelsea - Wenger insists major surgery is not needed ahead of the forthcoming campaign.

''I don't think we are weak defensively, but we are an offensive team. Sometimes that exposes our defenders a bit more than other teams,'' said the Gunners boss, who has been linked with moves for both Bolton's Gary Cahill and Germany international Per Mertesacker, currently at Werder Bremen.

''I believe we have quality defenders. One is Thomas Vermaelen and he did not play last year.

''In open play, we were one of the better defences [last season], but we conceded too many goals on set-pieces and that is where we want to improve this season.''

Meanwhile, Robin van Persie believes a strong start is essential to Arsenal's hopes of success next season.

Arsenal open the 2011-12 Premier League campaign at Newcastle, with a crucial Champions League play-off sandwiched between games against Liverpool and Manchester United. And Van Persie knows the Gunners cannot afford to be slow out of the blocks.

''Hopefully a good pre-season can give us a good start because we need a good start,'' he said. ''Almost everyone has had a good break of at least a month. It's very important. We didn't have a World Cup or European Championships, so we will have good preparation.

''We will have more than a month, I think five or six weeks, before the start of the season so we can prepare well.''


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