London: If Arsene Wenger was hoping the summer would bring respite after a testing end to last season then the Arsenal manager will have been very disappointed.
A failure to bring in the clutch of big name signings demanded by the club's supporters and the growing belief that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have played their last games for the club means pre-season optimism has been thin on the ground at the Emirates Stadium.
Instead Wenger and his players travel to the opening game at Newcastle United - the scene of the four-goal capitulation that was cited by many as the moment their campaign floundered last time around - knowing they have much to prove if they are to retain their standing in the top four.
Barcelona's long-standing pursuit of Fabregas appears to be nearing its end while Manchester City, the side that pushed Arsenal into fourth place last season, are believed to be closing in on Nasri.
The double sale would significantly boost Wenger's already handsome transfer budget but whether the manager would then spend freely is a different matter altogether.
Gervinho has been brought in from Lille for around Â£11 million and has already made a good impression but the purchase of teenage winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a similar fee from Southampton brought a mixed response from supporters anxious to see experienced, quality players introduced to strengthen the first team.
Having already endured the sound of boos from home supporters following the pre-season draw with New York Red Bulls, a good start is essential and Thomas Vermaelen believes the team is ready.
"We have worked hard and I feel we are ready for it because the fitness is good in the team and we feel good," Vermaelen told the official Arsenal Magazine.
"We have had a good pre-season over the past few weeks. In pre-season, the most important thing is training hard and getting your fitness back.
"We worked really hard in Germany, as hard as we did in Austria, so that was a tough week for us to get our fitness back. I think that week was really important and we were very pleased with that."
Newcastle have endured a turbulent summer off the pitch with the sale of former captain Kevin Nolan to West Ham in the wake of a contract dispute, in addition to a public falling-out between the board and Joey Barton, the influential midfielder.
Add to that a far from smooth pre-season tour of the United States which saw players hit by visa troubles and a gruelling flight schedule, and the north-east club kicks-off the campaign in far from ideal circumstances.
Alan Pardew hopes to sign Erik Pieters, the PSV Eindhoven full-back to replace Jose Enrique, who has finally completed his protracted move to Liverpool, though the Dutch international will not arrive in time to play on Saturday.
Pardew will make a late decision on whether to include Barton given the uneasy truce he has called with the 28-year-old, although it seems unlikely the former England international will be in the starting line-up.
"Joey's position hasn't changed," Pardew said of the player who has been told he can leave for free rather than seeing out the remaining 12 months on his contract.
"If he commits to us he will definitely be involved. If he decides he wants to go, then he'll go."