Arsene Wenger is hopeful his Arsenal squad have matured into a title-winning force.
Wenger last lifted the Premier League trophy in 2004, with dazzling performances undermined by untimely slumps in form over the subsequent decade of near and not-so-near misses.
But the long-serving manager believes his current vintage, bolstered by the purchases of Germany defender Shkodran Mustafi and Spanish striker Lucas Perez before the transfer window closed, now have the steel to match their style after amassing years of top-level experience.
“It’s the most mature squad I’ve had for a long time because we are men,” he told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home match against Southampton, where Arsenal will seek to improve on four points from their first three games of the Premier League season.
“We are not 19, 20. The players are 24, 27, 28 and the whole squad is quite mature.
“It is the first time for a long time we have had a team of what you call men, ready to compete.
“We have to show we are good enough to beat everybody else.
“I always believed we had a chance [to win the title], even when we had young players, but certainly we have got the squad of players with enough experience to compete.”
Wenger will welcome winger Alex Iwobi back from a thigh injury, although Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) remains sidelined for his manager’s reunion with Claude Puel.
Southampton boss Puel played under Wenger during the latter’s time in charge of Monaco and took his combative midfield style on to the training ground at all times.
“He is a guy who has a great will to do well and has very good knowledge of the game,” Wenger said. “I believe he is equipped to have a big impact in the Premier League.
“Puel was well known in training to be a good tackler, even on the morning of a cup final and even if it was the manager – no problem!”
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