Almunia targets fast start
Manuel Almunia maintains Arsenal must focus right from kick-off when the new season get underway if they are to make an impact on the Premier League title race.
The Gunners squad returned to London Colney for the start of pre-season training today, although those with a busy summer of international duty, like captain Cesc Fabregas and England U-21 duo Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs, have been given some extra time off.
It was a slow start to the last campaign - with five defeats from the first 14 matches - which all but ended Arsenal's championship ambitions. Arsene Wenger's men eventually did recover form to eventually finish fourth, reaching the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, but goalkeeper Almunia insists the same mistakes cannot be made this time around.
"Overall we needed to be more focused at the start of the season," the 32-year-old said in the July edition of the official Arsenal magazine. "If we had all been more involved with the mission at the start of the season, it could have been a better year for us. In the last half of the season I think everyone realised what was required and you could see the results.
"I think sometimes something has to be said to make things work right and when certain things were spoken about, it proved to make people focus on things. The second half of the season showed what we can do, but you have to be fit mentally and physically from the start and be fully involved with the project of the boss."
Almunia added: "That is what we need to do from July this year, from the minute we get back for pre-season. We need to make sure the group is together and focused after the break and to show our total commitment. I am sure that because we have the quality, next season will be much better than the one we have just finished."
Arsenal will kick off their preparations for the new season with the now traditional trip to Barnet on 18 July before a training camp in Austria and a return to London for the Emirates Cup on 1 and 2 August, ahead of a final warm-up match in Valencia.
After the new domestic season starts with a trip to Everton, the Gunners then face the first leg of their Champions League play-off, which could be against the likes of Celtic, Stuttgart, Atletico Madrid or even last year's opponents at the same stage, FC Twente, managed by former England boss Steve McClaren.
By then, Wenger hopes to have further strengthened his squad. So far, Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen, 23, is the only major summer signing, although the club have moved to tie youngsters Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to long-term deals.
Netherlands international Robin van Persie, last season's top scorer, is expected to agree terms on a new contract shortly. A holding midfielder would appear to be top of Wenger's shopping list. While target Felipe Melo has pledged his future to Fiorentina, a deal could yet be done for the Brazilian, who has a £21million release clause in his new contract.
The Serie A side have already indicated they would consider Emmanuel Eboue as part of any deal. Meanwhile, the future of Emmanuel Adebayor remains uncertain, despite claims from his agent the Togo striker was set to stay at Arsenal this season.
AC Milan, who were close to landing the 6ft 3in forward last summer, are said to be ready to table another £20m bid, rumoured to also include a return to Emirates Stadium for midfielder Mathieu Flamini - a package which could free up funds for Wenger to land Bordeaux's Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh.