Despite speculation that the Frenchman would walk away when his contract ran out at the end of last season, Conte revealed that he was not surprised when the 67-year-old agreed a two-year deal shortly after Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final in May.
“I consider Arsène Wenger one of the best coaches,” Chelsea’s manager said. “I think it’s right. He is a really good coach. He had a lot of time to build his team and squad. It is the right choice for them. I am not surprised; he is one of the best in the world. Arsenal is one of the best teams in the world.”
Conte will face Wenger at Wembley in Sunday afternoon’s Community Shield and he believes Arsenal are capable of mounting a strong title challenge despite failing to qualify for this season’s Champions League. He is impressed with the signing of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon.
“I think Arsène has a really good squad,” the Italian said. “He has the same potential as last season. Last season they were preparing to play in the league, the Champions League, the FA Cup. They didn’t lose players. Now they have bought Lacazette and they have improved. They have kept the same squad as last season. Remember they have players like [Alexis] Sánchez and [Mesut] Özil. A lot of really good players. For sure, they are a really good team.”
While Conte sees progress at Arsenal, he often sounded less optimistic on Friday about his team’s chances of successfully defending their title. Chelsea have bought Tiemoué Bakayako, Álvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger this summer and acquired Willy Caballero on a free, but they have been frustrated in other areas. Nemanja Matic has moved to Manchester United, who beat the champions to the signing of Romelu Lukaku, while interest in Leonardo Bonucci came to nothing and Alex Sandro has yet to be prised away from Juventus.
With Diego Costa no longer part of his plans and a target for Atlético Madrid, Conte is conscious of Chelsea’s need for more signings. He knows that, while his squad lacks depth, his rivals have strengthened. “In England you win the title and the others prepare next season to fight you with all their strength, to go in the transfer market to try and improve,” Conte said. “In England it’s very difficult to repeat the win.
“To be coach of a great team in England is great but also it gives you a lot of responsibility. You know when you arrive in England you must be ready to fight with big teams, players and coaches. This league has made me better than before.”
Asked whether Chelsea are capable of matching Paris Saint-Germain’s £198m purchase of Neymar from Barcelona, Conte replied that their priorities are different. “I think now is not the right moment for Chelsea to spend so much money on one player,” he said. “We need many players. It’s important to divide this amount of money for many players.”
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