Pre-season is the time for fans to dream. Part of the fun of being a football supporter is the fact that every new campaign offers a clean slate and a new realm of possibilities. Arsenal fans are no different, and a good many of them will have spent much of the summer trying to convince themselves that this could be the year when everything finally clicks and Arsene Wenger reclaims the Premier League title.
If any Arsenal fans were feeling a little cynical about the club's chances next year, the Community Shield victory on penalties over Chelsea on Sunday will surely have them planning their trophy celebrations for May.
In this piece, Bleacher Report attempts to throw fuel on the fires of optimism that now rage around the Emirates Stadium by finding five reasons why Arsenal really could win next season's Premier League.
They finally have a natural goalscorer
Although Sead Kolasinac was the new boy who made the scoresheet and the headlines against Chelsea, Alexandre Lacazette is the summer signing you'd expect to find the net more regularly over the course of 2017/18.
Bought for a club-record fee from Lyon, Lacazette has been signed to bring a clinical edge to the Arsenal attack. He's effectively a more accurate Danny Welbeck—someone with the speed and mobility to bring dynamism as well as deadly finishing to the Arsenal attack.
Lacazette scored 37 goals in 45 games for Lyon last season, and Arsene Wenger will be eager to see him bring that prolific form to England as soon as possible. The Gunners boss seemed happy with Lacazette's adaptation thus far after the Chelsea game, per arsenal.com:
"Lacazette is getting stronger every week, and I believe today it's the first time that you've seen that physically. He still needs to adapt to the intensity of the game, but overall in the first half he had very interesting movements, and I believe that from what we see today, he will become stronger and stronger."
The French forward has already scored twice for Arsenal in pre-season. He'll now be desperate to get off the mark on his Premier League debut against Leicester on Friday. If Lacazette hits the ground running, Arsenal could have a new striking sensation on their hands.
The new formation
This is the first time in years that Arsenal start the season with a new formation. For the past decade, the Gunners have effectively played a variant on 4-3-3, but this year they will line up with three at the back.
Wenger adopted the formation towards the end of last season, with spectacular results: Arsenal won nine out of their last 10 fixtures, including victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Add in the Community Shield, and it's clear this is a system that can deliver Arsenal results.
In pre-season, Wenger intimated that he would alternate between a back three and a back four. However, the classic back four has only been used sparingly. It seems manager and team are committed to the new approach.
Of course, it's unrealistic to expect Arsenal's new formation to continue delivering results at this remarkable rate. The element of surprise has now been lost—opposition teams will arrive expecting Wenger to field three centre-halves.
However, Arsenal fans don't know how a season will play out with this new-look team. There is curiosity—and plenty of optimism. For years Arsenal have been searching for a solution to make them more secure defensively. In the back three, Wenger may finally have found it.
No Champions League
Arsenal will be sad to be absent from the Champions League. They have become accustomed to facing off against Europe's elite, and the Europa League will feel like a step down.
However, perhaps it will free Arsenal up to focus on a Premier League challenge. Per Goal, Wenger suggested he is planning to leave out his stars for Europa League fixtures:
"I will always play a team that has a good chance to win the next game. In the Europa League, if we can afford sometimes to rest some players, we will do it."
Midweek breaks will allow Arsenal's players to be fresh for domestic games. If Wenger can stick to his rotation policy, Arsenal ought to have an advantage over the teams fighting on two fronts.
The improvement of Granit Xhaka
After a mixed first season in English football, Granit Xhaka is primed to play a major part next season.
In an ideal world, Wenger would have had time to bed Xhaka into the Arsenal team. His plan was presumably to slowly introduce the Switzerland international with Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin holding the fort in the midfield.
Instead, injuries to Cazorla and Ramsey forced Wenger to throw Xhaka in at the deep end. Initially he struggled with the pace of the game, while his reckless tackling also left him open to censure from referees.
However, that period of adaptation appears to be over. By the end of last season, Xhaka was revelling in his deep-lying playmaker role. Another man-of-the-match performance against Chelsea suggests he is primed to make a massive impact in 2017/18.
Although he is a powerful player, Xhaka tends to control the midfield with his outrageous range of passing. Few can match his ability to pick out his team-mates with perfectly clipped passes from inside his own half.
Midfield was a huge problem for Arsenal last season. However, Xhaka looks ready to be the solution.
They have kept their stars
This may be the most crucial point of all: Arsenal have managed to hold on to their two marquee players, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
With both men now under a year away from the expiry of their contracts, it looked as if Wenger faced an uphill task to keep them at the club. However, Wenger has been bullish about his desire to keep his key men, and so far he has been successful.
Convincing Alexis and Ozil to sign new deals may prove a bridge too far. However, Arsenal are a stronger side with that pair on the pitch.
A front three of Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette is one of the strongest the Premier League has to offer. With that trio in tandem, the Gunners might well have the firepower to mount their most serious title challenge in years.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base.