LONDON • Despite winning a third FA Cup in four years last season and the Community Shield on Sunday, there remains an air of unease around Arsenal heading into the new Premier League campaign.
Even their usual dominance in north London has been turned on its head, with rivals Tottenham Hotspur finishing above them last season for the first time in 22 years.
Arsenal fans were split on whether Arsene Wenger deserved a new two-year contract with the club in May, with the FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea the clincher.
But, though many fans will lament the absence of Champions League football this season for the first time in two decades, recent history indicates it may be the break they need to mount their most serious title challenge since they last lifted the trophy in 2004.
The previous two English champions, Leicester City and Chelsea, were unburdened by the pressure of European football.
Arsenal will be competing in the Europa League but will surely be tempted to give their younger players that stage to prove their worth.
In China recently, chief executive Ivan Gazidis spoke about how Arsenal were committed to letting their youngsters flourish.
• Sead Kolasinac (Schalke): Free • Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon): £46 million (S$81.8 million)
• Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus): £10 million
• Kaylen Hinds (Wolfsburg): £2 million
• Dan Crowley (Willem II): undisclosed fee
• Takuma Asano (Stuttgart): non loan
• Marc Bola (Bristol Rovers): on loan
• Emiliano Martinez (Getafe): on loan
• Yaya Sanogo (Toulouse): Free
• Chris Willock: released
Aug 27: Liverpool (away)
Sept 17 : Chelsea (a)
Oct 21: Everton (a)
Nov 5 : Man City (a)
Nov 18: Tottenham (home)
Dec 2: Man United (h)
Dec 23: Liverpool (h)
Jan 1: Chelsea (h)
Feb 3: Everton (h)
Feb 10: Tottenham (a)
Feb 24: Man City (h)
April 28: Man United (a)
"At Arsenal we're very much driven by our values, like giving young people a chance," he said.
Rest and recuperation for first-team regulars will be important too, especially given Arsenal's frequent injury issues.
The question whether Arsenal have strengthened enough is a difficult one to answer, with a fair amount of potential transfer activity still unresolved.
Perhaps, helped by canny acquisitions such as French forward Alexandre Lacazette and Bosnian left-back Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal can steal a march on their rivals.
Wenger proved last season, particularly in the 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final in May, that he is still a master tactician.
Knowledge such as his does not simply evaporate and, if he is heading into his final years at the club, he is not the type to leave meekly.
However, whether or not Arsenal will be in the title reckoning come next May could depend on what happens in the next few weeks.
Despite repeated assurances from Wenger that Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will be staying, the duo have still not signed new contracts. Their current deals expire next year.
Sanchez has been linked with a move to Manchester City and would be the bigger loss in a potential title challenge.
The Chilean scored 24 goals in the league last season, and provided 11 assists. He also attempted the most shots in the whole team, with 129.
Were Sanchez to leave, it would undoubtedly be for a hefty sum which could help secure the services of Monaco's young attacker Thomas Lemar, who has been linked with a move to the Emirates.
There is a common theme to many of Arsenal's silly season stories this summer. The majority of players linked with a move in, out or a contractual shake-about are attack-minded.
Add Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Ozil, and Arsenal are currently overstaffed in forward positions.
What all this masks is the area of the team that is arguably most in need of boosting. There were issues in central midfield last season, which settled only when Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey got a sustained run together.
But, with the much-missed sophistication of Santi Cazorla, ongoing doubts about Jack Wilshere, and Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny providing useful backup without ever looking like world beaters, it does seem that a powerful signing in the midfield heartland should be a matter of priority.
Tactically, Arsenal look set to continue with the back three who Wenger introduced late last season, a formation that made the whole team look more balanced and resilient.
Kolasinac offers a blend of physical presence and a keen eye for carving the game open high up the pitch. He promises to add qualities to match Hector Bellerin or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the opposite flank.
The shape and potential of Arsenal going forward does feel strongly linked to whether new man Lacazette will be used in tandem with Sanchez or as a replacement should the worst happen.
One season out of the Champions League may be too much for 28-year-old Sanchez.
However, the rest of the squad, with their average age of 26, may find it is the ideal time to upset the odds.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN