• Arsenal manager seeks victory in London derby
• Frenchman wary of threat posed by Juan Mata
Arsène Wenger has always talked a good game and he was at the peak of his powers at the Arsenal AGM on Thursday, banging the drum for unity, faith and values. When he sat down, he did so to a swell of applause. The manager is painfully aware, though, that powerful oration pales in comparison to Premier League points. In the eagerly awaited derby at Chelsea, the actions of his players must convince.
"We have to change people's opinions by the quality of our performances and by the quality of our results," Wenger said. "I can talk here and talk here but if we win [at Stamford Bridge] or not will be more important than all my speeches."
The Chelsea fixture has often been seen as the acid test of Arsenal's credentials and this time it will offer a perspective on the extent of Arsenal's revival. After the dark days of their start to the season, Wenger's reconstructed team have taken seven wins in eight matches and he feels that they have shown signs of becoming a coherent unit. Confidence, so quickly shattered and laboriously difficult to rebuild, is returning.
"I feel we are on the way up," Wenger said. "This is now another test for us, another hurdle, and one for us to show that you can take us seriously again … and to convince everybody that we have the quality. A win would install us among the top teams in the league. But what is very important is that it would strengthen the belief inside the team."
The game pits Wenger against André Villas-Boas for the first time. Wenger said he had been surprised that Chelsea had appointed such a young manager but his admiration for Villas-Boas was plain, and not only because the Portuguese has demonstrated the courage to speak out against perceived injustice, even if he risks being fined by the Football Association in the process. "I am scared that he will contribute to pay for Wembley with his statements," Wenger said, with a smile. "But you have to go through that learning process in England."
Wenger is happy that that Villas-Boas sets his team up to attack. There is little he hates more than opponents that park the bus. There will be no Didier Drogba, so often the scourge of Arsenal,, due to suspension, which might feel like a bonus but Fernando Torres is available and, according to Wenger, "back to what he was before". And then there is Juan Mata.
Wenger tried to sign the Spanish midfielder from Valencia in the summer, only to be beaten by Chelsea, and he suggested, a little uncharitably, that Mata "doesn't necessarily tell you the truth" when he says that he opted for Chelsea as they were a more realistic bet for honours. Wenger's suggestion was that money had played a part.
"It looks to me like Chelsea attack a lot," Wenger said, "although I cannot say that Carlo Ancelotti was a defensive coach. I like him as a man and as a manager. But maybe Chelsea have a bit more creative potential than last season. Mata combining with Torres makes them a bit more creative. I like Mata, for his final ball."
Wenger has repeatedly tried to file away the rough edges from Arsenal's start to the season and he argued again that "the numbers, the statistics" had reassured him that his players had not been "completely terrible." He maintained that scorelines such as the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United had "no meaning" because there were "special circumstances" behind them.
Arsenal are definitely stronger than they were earlier in the season and they have been boosted by the return of the central defender Thomas Vermaelen. The mood is more positive. A result at Chelsea would allow optimism to soar.