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Football: Arsenal coach Wenger wary of Everton exam


Arsenal's coach Wenger is pictured during the first leg of their Champions League qualifying soccer match against Besiktas at Ataturk Olympic stadium in Istanbul. Photo - Reuters

London: Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal's status as serious contenders for the Premier League title will be given a stern examination by Everton on Saturday.

Wenger's side head to Goodison Park looking to lay down a marker after an unconvincing start to the season.

The Gunners needed a last-gasp goal from Aaron Ramsey to clinch a barely-deserved 2-1 win over Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener and then emerged with a hard-fought 0-0 draw from their Champions League play-off round first leg tie at Besiktas in midweek.

Arsenal repeatedly came up short in their biggest away matches last season, suffering heavy defeats at Everton, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

And victory at a top-four challenger like Everton would provide Wenger and his players with the perfect response to critics who claim the north Londoners are still too fragile to last the pace in the title race.

"Everton is always a good opponent that tells you where you are, and for us it is a good test," Wenger said.

"We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year.

"It will be interesting because Everton are a team now flirting with the Champions League places. We want of course to have a good result away from home."

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is also aware of the significance of on Saturday's clash as he assesses whether his side are capable of improving on last season's fifth place finish.

"I am pleased we are playing two of the best teams in the league now in Arsenal and Chelsea before the window closes," he said.

"That is going to give us a real opportunity to see if we have to do anything or help the players we have at the club."

Chelsea made the perfect start to the campaign with an impressive 3-1 victory at newly-promoted Burnley on Monday, but Jose Mourinho has warned his players not to rest on their laurels in Saturday's clash against Leicester.

Burnley stunned Mourinho's men with an early goal before new signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas helped get Chelsea off to a winning start and Blues boss Mourinho is aware Championship winners Leicester, who drew 2-2 with Everton last weekend, will believe they can claim a major scalp at Stamford Bridge.

"They are champions, so they come with that winning mentality from the previous season, with high expectations and motivations to play in the Premier League," he said.

"They know that every point is important in this league, especially for the teams that fight to keep in the division, so they are coming to try to get points."

On Sunday, Manchester United will go in search of their first Premier League win under manager Louis van Gaal when they travel to Sunderland.

If there was any doubt about the scale of the task facing the Dutchman at old Trafford, it was demonstrated by last weekend's 2-1 opening day defeat at home to Swansea.

With United having finished a lowly seventh in the table last season, former Netherlands coach van Gaal concedes it will take time to get the fallen giants back on track.

"Two weeks ago I was the king of Manchester and now I am the devil of Manchester," Van Gaal said.

"It shall be difficult in the first three months. I have said that to (executive vice-chairman) Ed Woodward and (owners) the Glazers.

"I am hired to build up a team and that is a process and that process needs time."

Argentine defender Marcos Rojo, signed from Sporting Lisbon this week, won't be available for his United debut at the Stadium of Light, but striker Robin van Persie is nearing full fitness and could feature.

Sunday also sees QPR manager Harry Redknapp aiming for revenge on his first return to Tottenham since he was sacked in 2012.

On Monday, champions Manchester City host Liverpool — the team they pipped to the title by two points — in the first showpiece fixture of the season, with the possibility that former City striker Mario Balotelli could by then be a Reds player if a reported £16 million ($27 million, 20 million euros) move from AC Milan goes through.

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