Arsene Wenger pleasantly 'surprised' by rise to the top but insists Arsenal face a battle to stay there

The Gunners boss claims there is more competition than ever for the title and issues a reminder that it is still very early in the season

Arsene Wenger is surprised at how Arsenal have fought their way to the top of the Barclays Premier League table after making such a terrible start - and knows it will be another battle to stay there.

Only two points separate the leading five sides heading into this weekend's matches, which will see second-placed Tottenham host Chelsea, while reigning champions Manchester United may be eighth but remain only five points off the summit.

Arsenal have produced the perfect response to their 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa on the opening day, chalking up seven straight wins in all competitions, and progressing through a penalty shoot-out at West Brom in the Capital One Cup earlier this week.

But Gunners boss Wenger knows the biggest challenges lay ahead in maintaining such form.

Ahead of Saturday afternoon's game at Swansea, he said: "I thought some teams could have a perfect start, but as you have seen everybody at some stage or another has had a bad result and that allowed us to bounce back.

"If you have a choice, that's where you want to be [at the top]. It is a very early stage, but there is a compact group of teams.

"[I believe] five, six [teams can challenge for the title]. The top four of last year, Liverpool, Tottenham, all these teams, yes.

"If you look at the quality of the games, the whole season looks to be very promising."

Former Cardiff midfielder Aaron Ramsey will have a fitness test on a thigh problem, as will Mathieu Flamini (shoulder).

England forward Theo Walcott, meanwhile, faces more than a month of rehabilitation after undergoing minor surgery on an abdominal problem.

Teenage winger Serge Gnabry could again be thrown in at the deep end against Swansea.

"We have some other boys who have the technical quality to play in the Premier League, but are not resistant enough yet to compete physically, but he [Gnabry] has that," Wenger added.

The French tactician, meanwhile, has received the full backing of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke as his young team look to deliver a first trophy since 2005.

The London club are embarking on what they hope will be a new chapter backed by increased financial resources, which helped secure the record £43million signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.

"I am very grateful to this club because during the 17 years we had ups and downs," Wenger added.

"They have always shown a big faith in me and they always let me do the job like I thought it had to be done, and if I am still here today it is because I got that consistent support from inside the club.

"Honestly, I would love to be here forever because that would mean I would be immortal! I am (though) not naive enough to believe that.

"What I would like to do as long as I am here is give my best for this club because I love this club, of course."

Wenger, whose current deal expires at the end of the season, added: "I am very honoured to have the support of Stan Kroenke. That he thinks I can help the club is a huge confidence vote.

"That is something for me that is very positive."

PA

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