Arsène Wenger holds back from title talk as Arsenal mania hits Indonesia

Almost as soon as the first red tracksuit was spotted in the doorway of the charter aeroplane, the BREAKING NEWS banner went up and the footage spilled out live to the fourth most populous nation in the world.

It would be an exaggeration to liken Arsenal's arrival in Indonesia to some sort of Beatlemania but equally wrong to underestimate the sheer excitement that their presence here for the first time in 30 years has brought.

The evidence was plentiful amid the chaos of Jakarta, where the heat, traffic and security are intense, not least during the club's welcome press conference. Rammed into the room at the city's military airport were as many fans as journalists and elbows-out photographers and they gushed at the sight of Arsène Wenger, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, who did not need to work hard for their cheers. The thank yous for coming were effusive.

Wenger, having seen a garland of flowers draped around his neck, spoke of pushing new frontiers; the mission to bring happiness and an opportunity for his players to appreciate their popularity in far-flung parts. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, noted how Arsenal have more Facebook followers in Indonesia than in any other country and it was difficult not to become caught in the optimism. Pre-season is a time for such like, yet it felt more pronounced here and Wenger warmed to the theme.

He detects a freshness about the Premier League, driven by the managerial changes at the Manchester clubs and Chelsea and, more pertinently, an openness.

"It feels as though it should be more open," Wenger said and, as he pondered how "strange" it must be for Sir Alex Ferguson "not to start a season" at Old Trafford, it was clear that he intended to revel in the realigned landscape.

"Most of the leagues now are becoming like Scotland," he said. "In Spain, it's Real Madrid or Barcelona; in Italy, it's Juventus or Milan; in France, it will be Paris Saint-Germain or Monaco. At least in England, you have a few more clubs who have a chance at the start of the season."

Wenger feels that Arsenal are one of them, although he held back from any bold talk of the title. Perhaps the recent trophy-less years have scarred him but he was also realistic enough to acknowledge that he and Gazidis had not begun their summer transfer business. Only the France youth striker Yaya Sanogo has joined thus far. He has not travelled to east Asia, where the 16-year-old prodigy Gedion Zelalem was the most eye-catching inclusion. Thomas Vermaelen is ruled out through back trouble; Gervinho, whose days at the club appear numbered, by illness.

Wenger's confidence for the season is located in the club having emerged from the financial restrictions related to their move to the Emirates Stadium and their new-found ability to compete for the very biggest names on the market. He said that Gonzalo Higuaín, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suárez were "realistic targets, quality-wise", even if he did not want to be drawn into the specifics for fear of jeopardising potential deals.

The impression was one of a manager who believed that only a couple of injections of genuine quality were required to make his team competitive. "We have one thing in that we created the momentum at the end of last season [with 39 points from the final 16 league games] and for us, the purpose is to transfer that into the new season with a strong start," Wenger said. "That is the most important target and that will certainly decide how much we will be competing in the Premier League. The second most important target is to bring in players and strengthen the squad. I expect that.

"We have better financial resources than the years before and resources that we have created ourselves, which is massively important to us. For years, we were out of the race for the top-level transfers but we are coming back now. It was a very sensitive period, a very difficult period and the challenge was to stay at the top in the Champions League.

"But, of course, we want more and I hope in the next two to three years, the club will be competing every year for the Premier League. I also believe that even if we are in a stronger financial position, all of our values have to be the same. We must rely on the quality of our work, our style and the fact we develop our own players. We will only use financial resources to bring in one or two players who will give us something more."

Arsenal play an Indonesian Dream Teamon Sunday at the 88,000-capacity Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, before they push on to Vietnam and Japan, and the local temperature is rising, even if it barely seems feasible. The heat was on everyone's mind, from Walcott, who sweltered under a turban for a tour album snap, to Wenger, who remarked on it in Dubai, where Arsenal's plane had stopped for refuelling. "It was 38C at 3am," Wenger said, with the inference that Gulf was no place for a summer World Cup.

Arsenal plan to show they can take it.

Powered by article was written by David Hytner in Jakarta, for The Guardian on Saturday 13th July 2013 00.02 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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