Gunners begin last season without Vieira

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> After a disappointing 2004-05, Arsenal is looking to find a way back to the top of the Premier League.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:54 IST
  • Total Shares


The last season at Highbury. The first in nine years without Patrick Vieira. After a disappointing 2004-05, Arsenal is looking to find a way back to the top of the Premier League. "We are not in the same position as this time last year because we had been unbeaten for so many games," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "But we are in a good position." Unbeaten streak The Gunners started last season by extending an unbeaten league streak that eventually stretched to a record 49 matches. The streak ended with a loss to Manchester United in October, and so did the team's title challenge as Chelsea ran away with the championship. Arsenal then recovered to finish ahead of Man U in second place - 12 points behind Chelsea - and beat United on penalties in the FA Cup final. But the Gunners failed again to get past the quarterfinals in the Champions League. Arsenal will wear special burgundy shirts for their final season at Highbury, modeled on the ones worn when the team first moved into the stadium in 1913. Next season, Arsenal will move less than a mile away to its new 60,000-seat, 357-million-pound (US$631 million) Emirates Stadium. That financial burden has severely restricted Arsenal's transfer budget over recent seasons. Wenger, famous for moulding inexpensive players into world-class stars, isn't in a hurry to spend the US$24.13 million gained from selling Vieira to Juventus. "I'm a little cautious about just buying players," Wenger said. "We have good young players. I want to integrate them into the team. I am at a stage where I have to make a place for them in the team or I will kill what I did." So far, Arsenal's only new signing has been midfielder Alexander Hleb from Stuttgart. The club missed out on Sevilla striker Julio Baptista, who moved to Real Madrid instead. Playing without Viera Arsenal's biggest task this season is to play without inspirational midfielder Vieira marshalling the midfield. Vieira had been at Arsenal for nine years and helped the Gunners win three league titles and four FA Cups. "Now we have to find a different way to share the responsibility," Wenger said. Star striker Thierry Henry has taken over the captaincy. Arsenal's other forwards are 36-year-old Dennis Bergkamp, who has signed a year-long extension, Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin van Persie, who is still under investigation on rape allegations in the Netherlands. Van Persie spent two weeks in a Dutch jail in June. "He has come back good and showed a lot of strength, humility and desire to do well," Wenger said. "It was a big trauma but he is recovering." Arsenal has also made an uneasy peace with defender Ashley Cole after a bitter inquiry over his meeting with Chelsea officials to discuss a transfer in January. Cole was fined US$175,000 by the Football Association in June, but signed a year-long contract extension with Arsenal a month later. "I want to forget about everything in the past year and concentrate on the coming season," Cole said. "I think it can only make me stronger and more willing to learn and more keen to win silverware. Yes we made mistakes last season, conceding goals at crucial times and that cost us. But we can bounce back. We are really focused on winning the league." England defender Sol Campbell has an Achilles problem and will miss the start of the season. Questions on goalkeeping Midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg signed a contract extension until 2009, but Robert Pires will decide in January if he'll extend his contract. Goalkeeping also remains a question mark. Jens Lehmann played throughout Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten streak but was replaced by Manuel Almunia. Lehmann won back the job at the end of the season. Arsenal has also given a tryout to Uruguay goalkeeper Sebastian Viera of Nacional Montevideo. Arsenal's season starts Sunday with the Community Shield against Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Arsenal beat United 3-1 last year's traditional preseason warmup. (AP)