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FOOTBALL: WE WON'T LOSE ONE MATCH; Wenger: I am not arrogant and I'm not frightened to say it.. Arsenal can go through whole season unbeaten.

Byline: Martin Lipton CHIEF FOOTBALL WRITER

ARSENE WENGER last night set his Arsenal players the ultimate target.

In a statement of intent that mixed supreme confidence and an awareness of the impact it will have, the Highbury boss told his squad that he won't just settle for a Treble this season - he wants it achieved without a single defeat.

No team has gone through a domestic season undefeated since Preston won the Double in 1889 but Wenger insisted: "It's not impossible.

"I know it will be difficult for us to go through the season unbeaten. But if we keep the right attitude it's possible we can do it.

"It was done by Milan in Italy (in 1992) and I can't see why it's shocking to say that we can do it this season.

"Every manager says it. Do you not think that they say something similar at the start of the season at Manchester United or Liverpool or Chelsea?

"They think exactly the same but they don't say it because they're scared of looking ridiculous.

"If we lose, people will turn to me and say 'you have a big mouth.' But I can only be honest.

"If I say I've no confidence in a team that's gone 27 games unbeaten you'd call me a complete liar.

"It's everybody's dream to go through a season without losing so let's give it our best shot. If it doesn't happen it's not the end of the world.

"We just want to improve and enjoy what we're doing. But I have a great belief in this squad and the team."

Wenger is firing a psychological blast across the bows of Sir Alex Ferguson and Gerard Houllier, cranking up the mental advantage his players appear to hold.

Last season the Frenchman upped the ante in the Double run-in, taking every opportunity to insist that his players would not crumble under pressure.

Howler

As the wins kept on coming, it was not only the Arsenal players but also their opponents who began to believe him. This season he has just started early.

Wenger accepts privately that such a goal is unrealistic. After all, it would take only one off-day over a nine-month campaign, one bad decision, a goalkeeping howler, or just a match where the fates conspire against them to end that dream.

But David Seaman was a cornerstone of the George Graham side that lost just one League match - at Chelsea of all places - in 1991. That is not ancient history, and this is a far better Arsenal team.

Wenger knows that such target-setting will open both himself and his side up to big-game hunters, starting with Bolton at Highbury today.

Yet there is a growing swagger and assurance about Arsenal - soon to be boosted by the return of midfield pair Robert Pires and Giovanni van Bronckhorst - and Wenger maintained that his views were based on conviction rather than the arrogance he knows he may be charged with.

He added: "I'm not arrogant. I'm just confident in my players and I'm not frightened that what I say will rebound on me. It is about faith in the players and a normal ambition. I feel there is no difference at the top level between us and the rest of Europe - and if there is one, it's in our favour.

"We want to be respected and loved by our fans and play the sort of football that means other people can still respect us even if they want us to lose.

"Neutrals like us because of the way we play but I would love us to be so good that we were seen as arrogant!"

Wenger, without the suspended Patrick Vieira today, smiled as he said that, aware that commitment to artistry backed by a physical presence have made the Gunners the team to beat.

What has made his Arsenal side so refreshing to watch is their attacking zeal, equivalent to Kevin Keegan's 1996 Newcastle side but with the steel and resilience that wins silverware.

Wenger added: "I think trophies are the consequence of the quality of the game you play. I feel that I can only be good if I am faithful to how I think football should be played, so I am determined to stick to that and try it and see if it works. Even if it doesn't work, at least I will have tried.

"When I see this team playing, there are moments when I think to myself that I would pay to watch them."

What is evident is that Wenger has never been more at ease with the players under his command.

He added: "I feel the vibes coming out of the team are positive and you can't cheat people with that. They feel that the unit is there with great team-work. I'm relaxed when I send the team out because I'm confident. But I wasn't ever nervous even when we were lying second in the table last season.

"Last September or October I felt we had the potential to win the title but we didn't really believe enough in ourselves.

"We'd been frustrated for a few years by finishing second. It can become something you accept but I had a true belief that the team was fed up with finishing second and that the potential had to come out.

"One turning point came when we lost at La Coruna in November. A few days later were 1-0 down at half-time against Manchester United but won 3-1.

"In that game we had the mental strength to change things and reverse the situation."

When United boss Ferguson suggested before the start of the season that Highbury skipper Vieira had wanted to move to Old Trafford, the Frenchman said it was too early for mind-games.

It seems it isn't any longer and he clearly wants his words to reverberate around Old Trafford and Anfield, to see what impact they have.

Wenger will decide tomorrow whether to ask Dennis Bergkamp to travel by land to Eindhoven for Wednesday's Champions League game, although the signs are that the Dutchman will not be returning to his homeland.

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WINNING SMILE: Arsene Wenger is confident that Arsenal can stay unbeaten
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 21, 2002
Words:1033
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