The best in England, but not yet in Europe, that was the self-assessment of Arsenal's footballers yesterday as they sought to put their championship triumph into perspective.
After clinching the Premiership with four matches to spare, following a record-breaking unbeaten 34-match run, Dennis Bergkamp declared: "I think there's so much distance between us and Manchester United and Chelsea. When you look at that everybody has to say we're the best team in the country. We've shown that over the whole season. For us it's important to do it again and I'm confident about that."
Thierry Henry was less dismissive of Arsenal's domestic opponents. "Chelsea have something like 10 more points than they got last season and Manchester United have more, so that means we have to come back even stronger."
But it was the Continental challenge which especially exercised Henry and his team-mates. "We are not at the level yet of Real Madrid or Milan, teams like that," Henry said. "They can win the Champions' League every year. It's the biggest competition in Europe and it will be a big challenge next year."
Patrick Vieira added: "The Champions' League is a target for us. It is the same for every one of us here because no one has won that competition. That is something really special because you are playing against the best. Losing in the quarter-final to Chelsea is still in our minds. We were so close."
Arsène Wenger had downplayed the merits of the Champions' League, dismissing it as "just a cup now" and comparing it unfavourably with league competition when it came to sifting merit. "All across Europe the best teams are top of their championships," he said.
Henry partially agreed. "In the cup things can happen," he said. "You can turn up on a bad day and you can go out. Deportivo La Coruña lost 8-3 at Monaco and they are still in it it could have been the day it was the knock-out stage and they would have been out. That's the way it is. You have to be good all the time on the day and it's not always easy to do that."
Back on the domestic front Vieira added: "Liverpool and Manchester United won the title three or four times in a row. That makes you great and we are capable of doing it. We have the hunger and the determination to do well. We want more trophies."
Bergkamp intends to remain around to compete for them. The 34-year-old is out of contract at the end of this season and a target for his former club Ajax, but he hopes to sign on for another year after enjoying a rejuvenation in form and a greater role than anticipated.
"The football I've played wasn't a surprise for me but physically you never know if you're going to keep it up all season," he said. "I felt fine through the whole season. I hardly missed a training session and just a few games. A lot of players who are coming towards the end of their careers are happy that it's finishing but it's going to be difficult to leave this team. When you really enjoy football, and this is football at the highest level, you want to keep doing it.
"Arsène Wenger asked me what I wanted. I said 'to carry on' and he said 'then we're on the same lines because I think you can do it'." Bergkamp added that he anticipated an early resolution to negotiations.Reuse content