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Gunners bask in autumnal optimism

SoccerNews in English Premier League 27 Sep 2008

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It has not taken long for Arsenal to banish the gloom which threatened to overwhelm the English Premier League club during its turbulent summer.

The departure of a host of experienced players, the failure, or perhaps reluctance, to make any big name signings in the transfer market and the strengthening undertaken by their title rivals led to the north Londoners being written off by many pundits.

But there is an air of defiance at the Emirates stadium.

Arsenal enter Saturday's home encounter with Hull City sitting proudly at the league summit, having amassed 12 points from a possible 15, and well clear of last season's champions Manchester United.

One limp defeat at Fulham notwithstanding, it has been an exceptional start, enhanced by progress to the Champions League group stage – where their campaign opened with a useful point at Dynamo Kiev – and a six-goal annihilation of Sheffield United in the League Cup, with a team boasting an average age of just 19.

Arsene Wenger will not allow complacency to set in – Arsenal were similarly imperious at the start of last season before crumbling in the final straight – but his team's fine form has given the most thrilling vindication to his frugal summer spending policy.

“I believe that this is the best squad of young players we have ever had at this football club,” he said. “I hope we have answered some of our critics now and I hope people understand why we resisted making lots of signings in the transfer window. We didn't want to destroy the work that we have done with the young players. There is no restriction to their ambitions.”

Almost forgotten amid the welter of goals Arsenal have rattled past their bemused opponents this term – the tally currently stands at 24 in nine matches – is their watertight defence. The Gunners have yet to be breached from open play at home or abroad and that record is unlikely to be threatened by newly-promoted Hull, despite their impressive start to the new campaign.

“We have defended very well,” Wenger added. “It has not been noticed yet but we've only conceded two goals from two corners. In open play we are quite solid. That, for me, is a good response and a good explanation for the team attitude in the squad.

“What makes me happy at the moment is that we have a good combination of defensive balance and offensive efficiency. Sometimes when you work on defending better you lose a number of goals. But at the moment we are combining the two and it means when everyone puts the effort in we still can be very dangerous going forward.”

The prospect of a trip to north London with Arsenal in this form would be daunting to the most seasoned Premier League veteran, so Hull, making their top flight bow this season, have every right to feel jittery.

But while the Humbersiders will arrive in the English capital as certified underdogs, their displays so far this season suggest they will not harbour an inferiority complex. The Tigers have been humbled only once – by Wigan, curiously – and have impressed on their travels, taking a point at Blackburn and beating Newcastle.

“We're going to have to defend well, no doubt about that, but hopefully we can pinch a goal or two,” Hull defender Michael Turner said.

“They've probably watched us a few times to see what we can do, but it's going to be a very tough game away at Arsenal, it always is.

“I feel comfortable here. I've enjoyed the first few games. You're coming up against all these players that you've been seeing on television. It's the place where we all want to be playing against the best players in the world.”

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