Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he will focus on bolstering his team's defense in the current offseason, believing that is the key to challenging for the English Premier League and Champions League titles in the next campaign.
In an interview with The Associated Press while visiting Beijing, Wenger said on Saturday that Arsenal had scored as many goals as first place finishers Manchester United, but conceded more than any of the other top four teams.
Five defeats in the first 14 games ensured they had a steep hill to climb, but the players came through stronger, he said. "The last season was very interesting because we had a sloppy start and then we became stronger and stronger. It has been interesting as well because it is a very young team ... but they have been tested mentally," Wenger said. "The defensive record, that's an areas that we want to work on and that we want to improve."
Assessing his rivals for next season, Wenger welcomed Carlo Ancelotti as Chelseas's new manager, noting that the deep pockets of owner Roman Abramovich meant they are a perennial title challenger. "They buy players they want and they have the managers of top caliber but it doesn't change a lot no matter who comes in," Wenger said.
Wenger mentioned big-spending Manchester City and north London rivals Tottenham as clubs that could potentially crack the well-established top four.
The French manager had come in for criticism over his transfer policy, usually buying talented but developing talent and rarely purchasing English players. Wenger rejected nationalistic calls for more English players, saying the Premier League had outgrown that approach.
"If the Premier League is the best league in the world, it means the players of the world play in England. So it would be a coincidence that all the best players in the world would be born in England," Wenger said.
Wenger was on a two-day visit to Beijing to evaluate young Chinese footballers on behalf of Castrol Football, saying more effort need to be made to uncover promising youngsters. China's poor showing in international football has been a constant source of frustration for Chinese fans and those who follow the international game.
Despite topping the gold medal tallies at the Beijing Olympics last August, China and its famed sports schools have failed to produce much football talent, with country ranked No 97 in the FIFA standings and already eliminated from 2010 World Cup qualifying. "I refuse to believe that a country as big as China ... cannot be one of the best countries in the world," Wenger said. "It's difficult to imagine that you can't find 11 stars."