FOR a group of players who have claimed three of the domestic game's last four major prizes with some of the most bewitching football in modern memory, Arsenal could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved for their pre-season billing as impoverished also-rans.
Not when a master stonemason has spent the summer updating the wall of fame outside the club's sumptuous London Colney training complex with confirmation of another FA Cup success. Not when a £130mil, 10-year kit deal with Nike buoyed Highbury spirits on Friday.
Not when a coach of the calibre of Arsene Wenger outlines the team's quality and ambition.
“Chelsea buy one player per day and we buy no player per month so I can understand that we look a little bit poor or out of shape,'' smiled Wenger.
“Chelsea have won the Lottery and we cannot compete financially so we try to compete in a different way. What's important is what happens on the pitch and you will say that on the pitch we are good. To write us off just because we have not spent £100mil is too easy.''
The refusal to resist any surge for the lifeboats is understandable when Colney's plush corridors buzz with excited whispers of uplifting comments from Patrick Vieira, Arsenal's talismanic captain who leads the team out against Manchester United in today's Community Shield. Vieira insisted that he expects to commit his long-term future to the club next week and Robert Pires will follow.
“I hope I will sign on Monday or Tuesday,'' said Vieira, who also has the option of signing pre-contract with a club like Real Madrid on Jan 1 for a Bosman-endorsed golden hello fee that would make even Roman Abramovich tremble.
Relaxed despite the oppressive heat weighing on Arsenal's drill-field, Vieira was keen to explain the delay in tying himself to the club which re-galvanised his career.
“I want to get the best deal for myself and the club want to get the best deal for themselves so we want to find a solution in the middle. I want to stay because I believe the club want to win everything but this club would not die if one player left.
“I have been here seven years and the relationship I have with the manager, the players and the fans is really good and I could never have found that anywhere else. This is one of the reasons why I want to stay. I am really happy coming into training every morning. I find I improve every session. What really matters to me is happiness and I have many friends here.''
The engaging Frenchman, who along with Real's Claude Makelele is arguably the best holding midfielder at work in world football, insisted that it was not financial considerations slowing the ink flowing from his Mont Blanc onto the proffered Arsenal contract.
“The money has been sorted out,'' stressed Vieira. Neither was it the protracted process of Arsenal re-locating themselves from Highbury to Ashburton Grove.
“That has not been part of the discussions but if you want to fight with the best, you need a better stadium. I hope everything goes through to get a better stadium.''
Nike's millions are earmarked for ensuring the Ashburton project goes through, although the Football Association are dangling Wembley as a bait in front of Arsenal (as well as Tottenham Hotspur).
As for Vieira, Wenger believed his main midfielder will sign on.
“We are very close but I have a few shadows over me! I am positive. We have to find an agreement; the players (Vieira and Pires) basically want to stay that is why I am so optimistic.''
Vieira laughed at the suggestion that free-spending Chelsea would covet a player like him.
“It's quite exciting for Chelsea but the big question is it going to work? We know that as individual players they (Juan Sebastian Veron, Damien Duff et al) are fantastic but it is different as a team. You need more than individual quality. When you buy these sort of players you expect to win the league, so there is big pressure on Chelsea to do well.''
An astute analyst of the English game, Vieira was not looking further than a familiar tussle between Arsenal and United. – The Daily Telegraph