Arsenal must improve, says Vermaelen

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The Independent Football

Thomas Vermaelen has learnt to sing off the Arsenal hymn sheet in his solitary season, warning his team-mates yesterday they cannot let down their guard for one moment if they are to mount a serious title challenge.

The Gunners open the quest for a first championship since 2004 at Liverpool on Sunday, where the Belgian centre-half could well be captain should Cesc Fabregas not be deemed match fit. Arsène Wenger's men failed to stay the distance in the last campaign, with lapses in concentration proving costly. Points which would have kept them in the hunt were thrown away: a last-minute equaliser at Birmingham City and then defeat at Wigan Athletic having been 2-0 ahead.

Vermaelen, though, insists the Gunners are wiser for the experience. "You have to look at all games which we lost, and each one had its own story," Vermaelen said. "In football, it is really difficult to perform at a high level in every game – and that is what we have to do every year. We are one year older now, more experienced. I have learnt a lot last year and I hope I can improve.

"I feel the same pressure as I did last year, that is to be as good for the team as I can, to perform the best I can and to win some things. The difference now is that everything is not new to me anymore, but sometimes the second season is more difficult than the first."

Despite all of the summer speculation surrounding the future of their captain, Barcelona target Fabregas, the Gunners enjoyed a decent pre-season which included victory in their Emirates Cup tournament. Vermaelen, who settled quickly after his £10m arrival from Ajax last summer, maintains the players cannot wait for the action to start again. "We are all very positive and have had a good pre-season," said the 24-year-old. "We have trained hard, are motivated and are ready for the first game against Liverpool."

Arsenal had most of their first-team squad away on international duty this week. It remains to be seen whether Fabregas – who was given extra time off after playing in the World Cup final – returns from Spain's trip to Mexico in any shape to face Liverpool. Robin van Persie, though, could be in contention as he was not included in the Dutch squad for their game in Ukraine.