Arsenal came excruciatingly close to winning the Barclays Premier League last season. If certain key players had not been injured for long periods of time and the Gunners had not been blown out by three key rivals, they could have closed the seven-point gap that separated them from Manchester City.
Part of their failure to win the title for the first time in 10 years was down to luck, part to poor management and part to a simple gulf in quality.
While no one could have predicted that Aaron Ramsey would be injured for almost half the season after lighting up the Premier League in the fall, an investigation into Arsenal's fitness practices clearly revealed a need for change.
Enter Shad Forsythe, a world-class trainer who previously worked with the German national team.
Arsene Wenger could have bought players more intelligently as well.
It was abundantly clear even during the season before last that Olivier Giroud could not bear the burden of being Arsenal's lone striker, yet the only new player brought in to assist him was the raw and grossly unprepared Yaya Sanogo.
No one expected Arsenal to engage in a real title push before last season—especially when the Gunners humiliatingly capitulated to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season. Yet they led the league for far longer than anyone else last season, and nobody can deny that they were true contenders.
This year, Arsenal are in even better position to have a real go at unseating Manchester City as the champions of England.
Much of their improvement lies, as it so often does, in Wenger's much more intelligent handling of the transfer market and his construction of a deep squad.
Though many of the Gunners' signings were reactive rather than proactive—that is, in response to a player in the same position leaving—they were nevertheless players of proven quality. There has been no cutting of corners, nor the sense that we'll see last-minute desperation at the end of the transfer window.
David Ospina can truly challenge Wojciech Szczesny for his spot as the starting goalkeeper. Calum Chambers looks to be a player with massive potential who can do an excellent job at centre-back or right-back. Mathieu Debuchy started ahead of Bacary Sagna as France's right-back and replaces him at the Emirates, while Alexis Sanchez adds bite and pace to an already stacked attack.
Sanchez's signing—Arsenal's biggest of the summer—was the only truly proactive move the Gunners made. It will pay dividends when the Chilean plays in every position in the front three and shreds defenses with the freedom he was not allowed at Barcelona.
Arsenal's core was almost good enough to win the title last season. Let's not forget that.
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker remain arguably the best central defensive partnership in the Premier League. Their relationship is almost telepathic, and Kieran Gibbs is also emerging as one of the premier left-backs in the country.
Though the Achilles' heel of the midfield coincidentally lies in its heel, the Gunners possess tremendous depth and versatility in the middle of the pitch.
Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky can all interchange and fill almost any position in the midfield three if necessary, and some can even play on the wing.
That is such a dazzling coterie of talent that Wenger's problem will be keeping everyone happy when they are fit and aching to play.
There is depth on the wings, too, and the beauty of having so many players is that each can fill a slightly different role based on what tactical strategy Wenger wants to employ against a given opponent.
Lukas Podolski is a direct goalscoring machine on the left wing, while Cazorla retains possession and passes better than his German counterpart. Sanchez combines the best qualities of the two, with Cazorla's fleet feet.
Theo Walcott is also about a month away from returning to the team. He tore his ACL after a scintillating season-and-a-half that saw him become Arsenal's top goalscorer while adding the blazing speed that no one else in the team contributed.
Though this new Gunners side can run at defenses more effectively—largely due to Sanchez's arrival—Walcott's return will make Arsenal a full-back's nightmare and give the team a dynamic combination of speed and technical precision.
Giroud can do a very good job up front, too, as long as he is well rested. With Sanogo's continued—albeit slow—development, Giroud will have more opportunities to breathe this season. Wenger has also expressed his desire to use Sanchez as a striker, according to Isaac Moore of Arsenal.com.
There is even a small group of hungry young players in Joel Campbell, Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem that will provide cover for cup games and keep the big names on their toes.
Some of Arsenal's biggest rivals have improved this summer, with Manchester City and Chelsea looking particularly dangerous. Liverpool, however, have lost the best player in the league, and aside from a new manager, Manchester United have not dramatically improved.
The opportunity, then, is there for Arsenal.
As long as the team remains somewhat healthy and Wenger rotates the squad effectively, the Gunners seem ready to really push the other contenders right up until the end of the season. Even if they suffer injuries, which is to be expected to some extent, they are better equipped to adapt on the fly.
That is extremely refreshing for fans of a side that has not competed at this high a level in many years.