Unai Emery admits he is unsure if his current Arsenal squad is better than what he had at his disposal last season – even after the club broke their transfer record during a summer of eye-catching signings.
Nicolas Pepe was the star buy of a busy transfer window, the winger joining from Lille for a fee which could eventually exceed £70million. We want to see him this weekend.
Experienced defender David Luiz came in from Chelsea on deadline day along with Scotland left-back Kieran Tierney.
The Gunners – who host Burnley in Saturday’s early kick-off – had already landed Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos on loan with 18-year-olds Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba coming in as highly-rated prospects.
Despite such a transfer splurge, Arsenal lost Aaron Ramsey to Juventus, Petr Cech retired and Laurent Koscielny got his wish of an exit to Bordeaux having refused to travel on the club’s pre-season tour in a bid to force through a move.
And that means Emery, who saw his side win 1-0 at Newcastle last time out, is in doubt as to whether he has an improved squad from his first campaign in charge.
“I don’t know,” he replied when asked if his squad is better than a year ago.
“Our idea is to improve on last year, to improve our work, improve our players, improve our challenge, to improve in achieving our target but I don’t know if we are better or not.
“I’m not more confident but I have more options. I think on Saturday I can have more options in some positions in the team to decide the first XI and the players on the bench.
“But really I could play the same players as last week or on Saturday I could play some who were less in the possibility to play last week because they trained less.
“This match on Saturday I will have more options, I will have closer some players giving us their best performance.”
Emery took his time in integrating new players into his side at the start of last season and none of his new recruits started the game at Newcastle.
Some need to improve their match fitness, while Tierney is sidelined by a groin injury and Saliba has returned to St Etienne on a season-long loan.
But Emery feels victory at St James’ Park with a side that included teenage academy products Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock means he does not have to rush any of his new faces into the team.
Asked if the win gives him time to ease in his recent acquisitions, the Spaniard replied: “Yes.
“It is the reason for me now for example, David Luiz is ready to play on Saturday, Pepe is closer to play in the first XI and really we are seeing that improvement in each training.
“Ceballos can be with more minutes if we need him and also training with us are Mesut (Ozil) and Sead (Kolasinac), it is more important to have more options and be competitive in the first XI and on the bench.”