Arsenal's signings provide Wenger the "men" needed to compete for the title

It is not every day you have the chance to introduce £52 million worth of new talent to your supporters, but in the form of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, Arsenal have precisely that luxury when they welcome Southampton to Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

It would probably be a stretch to describe this as a 'new-look Arsenal', especially considering the likelihood that centre-back Mustafi, a £35m signing from Valencia, and forward Perez, £17m from Deportivo La Coruna, will both start on the bench having only joined in training at the tail end of this week.

And yet, the significance of their arrival seems to go beyond their presence on the pitch. If Arsene Wenger is to be believed, at least, the two transfers have marked a watershed moment in Arsenal's delayed maturation -- a tipping-point has apparently been reached in an interminably long transitionary period, one that has blighted the entire second half of a reign which is creeping up on 20 years.

"I would say it's the most mature squad I've had for a long time, because they are men," Wenger said in his weekly press conference on Friday. "They are not 19 or 20 years old, they are 24, 27, 28 and the whole squad is quite mature. It's the first time for a long time that I've had a team of what you can call men ready to compete.

I always believe we have a chance, even when we had young players. Certainly I haven't had a squad of players [like this] for a long time, who have enough experience to compete."

It is a fairly startling assertion from the Arsenal manager. The immediate question which springs to mind is this: if Wenger is so aware of this important factor, why has it taken him so long to build a squad which has the necessary experience to succeed and to find the "men" required to put his plans into action?

It has been well over seven years since then Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra memorably described a match against Arsenal as "men against children". That characterisation, or variants of it, has repeatedly been used to explain why Arsenal have failed in the decade plus since "The Invincibles" were rapidly disbanded and left with a massive leadership void.

Is Wenger really saying this is the first time since embarking on his youth project to pay for a new stadium that he has the right materials at his disposal to mount a title challenge? It certainly reads like it. If so, Wenger's comments also remove a safety net, however worn it may be. The manager has long run out of firewalls to protect himself from criticism from supporters but to so boldly state that he now has "men ready to compete" means all possible excuses have been extinguished. It puts the onus firmly on this group of players to perform.

In Saturday's opponents Southampton they face if not an outright bogey team then a club who have caused them repeated problems. Since the Saints returned to the top flight in 2012, Arsenal have only won three of their nine meetings in all competitions against Southampton. The clubs drew 0-0 at the Emirates in February but on Boxing Day last season, the Saints exposed Arsenal as impostors in the title race in a 4-0 thumping at St Mary's. They were outmanoeuvred far too easily and fell apart up against Southampton's consistent pressure.

If Wenger is correct in his analysis, then the current Arsenal squad should be immune to such problems. It is a difficult claim to accept at face value.

The good news for Arsenal is that both Perez and Mustafi have "settled very quickly and very well" according to the manager, while Alex Iwobi is also available following injury. Alexis Sanchez is a late returner from international duty, though, so the man who this week said he possesses the "same abilities" as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may not crack the starting lineup.

It was a bold declaration from Sanchez, and one which likely only served to set him up for a fall somewhere down the line. It seems to have been the week for such claims at Arsenal.

Perhaps it is merely a psychological ploy to infuse his squad with belief, just at the moment it is remoulding itself and assimilating two new signings. But in what could be his final season as Arsenal manager, there's certainly no hiding place now for Wenger.