Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Arsenal must be at their best: Vermaelen

Thomas Vermaelen has warned Arsenal cannot afford to be off their game for one moment if they are to mount a serious title challenge once again.

The Gunners open the quest for a first championship since 2004 at Liverpool on Sunday, where the Belgian centre-half could well be captain should Cesc Fabregas not be deemed match fit.

Arsene Wenger's men failed to stay the distance in the last campaign, with lapses in concentration proving costly. Points which would have kept them in the hunt were thrown away in conceding a last-minute equaliser at Birmingham and then inexplicably losing at Wigan having been 2-0 ahead.

Vermaelen, though, insists the Gunners are wiser for the experience.

“You have to look at all games which we lost, and each one had its own story,” he said.

“In football, it is really difficult to perform at a high level in every game — and that is what we have to do every year.

“We are one year older now, more experienced.

“For myself, as an individual, I have learned a lot last year and I hope I can improve.

“I feel the same pressure as I did last year, that is to be as good for the team as I can, to perform the best I can and to win some things.

“The difference now is that everything is not new to me anymore, but sometimes the second season is more difficult than the first.”

Despite all of the summer speculation surrounding the future of their captain as Arsenal successfully fended off Barcelona, the Gunners enjoyed a decent pre-season build-up which include an eye-catching victory in their Emirates Cup tournament.

Vermaelen, who settled straight into the team after his £10million arrival from Ajax last summer, maintains the players cannot wait for the action to start again.

“We are all very positive and have had a good pre-season,” said the 24-year-old, who was away in Finland with the Belgian national team this week.

“We have trained hard, are motivated and are ready for the first game against Liverpool.”

It remains to be seen whether Fabregas — who was given extra time off after playing in the World Cup final — returns from Spain's trip to Mexico in any shape to line out for action at Anfield.

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