Arsenal star Santi Cazorla has praised Atletico Madrid after they broke the Real Madrid-Barcelona stranglehold to win the La Liga last season.
The Spaniard, who was linked with a move to the La Liga champions, was talking about Arsenal's prospects in the upcoming season. The midfielder feels Atletico have set a benchmark when they won the 2013-14 La Liga title, the first time a club other than Real or Barcelona have won it since Valencia in 2003-04.
"Atlético are a good example to follow. They had an incredible season last time out. A lot of people don't appreciate how hard it is to win the league when you're up against Barça and Real Madrid," Cazorla told Marca.
Cazorla is now keen to bring the Premier League trophy to the Emirates this season as Arsenal have not won the league since the unbeaten season of 2003-04.
"I have high hopes. The signing of Alexis Sánchez and Mathieu Debuchy shows that the club is building a team to challenge. Hopefully we can lift at least another trophy this campaign," the Arsenal midfielder said.
"Winning the FA Cup altered the type of pressure we'll be under this season. It unshackled us in a manner of speaking. After so many trophy less years, the tension was getting to the team."
Cazorla admits that Arsenal came up short last season due to the lack of depth in the team and multiple players being injured at the same time hampered the Gunners' ability to challenge the top teams.
"Last year maybe we didn't quite have enough strength in depth to win the league. We had to deal with injuries to important players, including Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Lukas Podolski, and I had niggling ankle problems. That meant that when push came to shove, we were unable to keep pace with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool," the Spanish international explained.
The 29-year old midfielder is sure of challenging for the title yet again, but expects it to be a very open race, with all Arsenal's major rivals strengthening their teams during the transfer window.
"I'm expecting a very open title race. City are the reigning champions; United are going to strengthen in a big way and, since they aren't in Europe, will be able to focus on the league; Chelsea have made great signings like Diego Costa, Cesc Fàbregas, Thibaut Courtois and Didier Drobga, while Liverpool have proven they are contenders," the Spaniard concluded.