Arsenal loan returnee targets first-team place

Defender Kyle Bartley is back at the Emirates and aiming high

While the transfer speculation continues about which big-money defender will be arriving at the Emirates before the start of the season, a centre-back has returned to the club almost unnoticed.

Kyle Bartley, 20, spent last season on loan at first Championship outfit Sheffield United and then north of the border with Rangers, but has linked up with the Gunners at London Colney again this week.

An FA Youth Cup winner in 2009 alongside Jack Wilshere, Bartley is now hoping that he can follow his former team-mate into the first team this season, after a year that saw him play more than 20 games for the Blades and play a part in Rangers’ Scottish Premier League and League Cup winning campaign.

“If I’m honest, I don’t think I was anywhere near the level to play for Arsenal last season, but I’ve come back, I feel really strong and I feel that I am ready now,” said Bartley, who moved from Bolton Wanderers to Arsenal as a 16-year-old in 2007.

“I learned the demands of being at a top football club who are trying to win things and how important it is to be a champion and a winner. Every time you step on the pitch, you are going out there to win so there is a lot of pressure on you.

“I am a little bit different to the other centre-backs. I like the physical side of the game and I see myself as a leader. If Arsene decides that he wants me in the first team, that will be fantastic.”

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Bartley remained in London while his team-mates went on the Asia tour as he recovered from a medial ligament injury sustained while at Ibrox last season.

However he is back in full training this week and is hoping to be involved in the trip to Germany to face Cologne on Saturday.

“I spoke to the boss on the Friday before they left [for Asia] and he told me that they had four centre-backs [going on the tour] and obviously I wasn’t fully over my injury yet. It’s just one of those things.

“It was always the aim to get back for the start of pre-season because it’s an important time of the year.”

Bartley is fully aware that defensive reinforcements have been a priority for Wenger this summer, with a new name expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

However, the longer that search remains unsuccessful, the better the chances of Bartley perhaps having a bigger part to play at the club as back-up to the quartet of Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci.

“He [Wenger] has said he doesn’t want me going on loan yet and he hasn’t made his mind up,” revealed Bartley. My hopes are the same as every year, to be an Arsenal first-team player. Hopefully, this year, that will happen.”