The Italian delivered the Premier League title at the first time of asking last season. Arsene Wenger sympathises with Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte over the size of his squad – but reckons the Blues have made their own problems by loaning out so many players.
Conte has spoken out several times during pre-season about what he perceives to be a lack of depth in his squad at Stamford Bridge.
But, despite spending in excess of £130million on fresh talent, his future has reportedly been up in the air as he is unhappy with the number of players at his disposal.
Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill echoed those sentiments after the reigning champions were beaten on penalties by Wenger’s Arsenal in the Community Shield last weekend.
Wenger has the challenge of trying to shift players from Arsenal’s bloated ranks, but he suggested Chelsea have made a rod for their own back after typically sending over 20 players on loan within England and across Europe in recent seasons.
Asked if he was surprised that Conte was complaining about his squad size, Wenger said: ‘Maybe, yes he has the opposite problem (to Arsenal) but if you look at the number of players that are out on loan, they can call a few back.
‘I have sympathy for him. But do I feel sorry for Chelsea because they don’t have enough players? Then no.’
Chelsea have recruited Antonio Rudiger from Roma, Monaco’s Ligue 1-winning midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko and also broke their transfer record to sign striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid.
Arsenal also shattered their previous record fee to bring in forward Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon. Wenger pointed to the goal ratio of his French compatriot Lacazette, who averaged a goal every 86 minutes last season.
‘With Lacazette it is simple,’ Wenger said. ‘He is an intelligent player who can integrate our game well as we have a game backed on mobility, technique. ‘After that we get the efficiency. His record in France is to score one in 80 minutes. If he can maintain that record that would be ideal for us. As a game is in 90 that would guarantee you a goal.’
While the challenge of scoring in Ligue 1 may vary from finding the net in the Premier League, Wenger wants Lacazette to use Zlatan Ibrahimovic as his yardstick. Ibrahimovic left Paris St Germain for Manchester United last summer and hit 28 goals before his season was curtailed by injury.
‘Goalscoring record is not necessarily transferable from the French League to the English league, that’s for sure,’ said Wenger. ‘But you could say that Ibrahimovic transferred an identical amount of goals from France to England. So that’s the target Lacazette should set.’
Wenger has spoken about the size of his squad and the need for trimming numbers – but said that does not mean the Gunners are finished recruiting. ‘We are still open,’ he said. ‘But of course at the moment I have currently 33 players and it is very difficult to manage on a daily basis such a high number.’
Arsenal start their Premier League campaign at home to Leicester on Friday night as they look to end a run of just one win from their previous seven opening fixtures. One player now highly unlikely to be moving to the Emirates Stadium is Foxes winger Riyad Mahrez – who was heavily linked with Arsenal earlier in the summer.
The Algeria international has stated his wish to leave the 2015/16 Premier League champions but Wenger insists Arsenal were never looking to land his signature.
‘We were never close,’ he added when asked about Arsenal moving for Mahrez. ‘I rate him as a player but we have similar types with Alex Iwobi, Jack Wilshere back. Mesut Ozil … we have plenty of the same type of players.’