The first day of the Emirates Cup yesterday was a sell-out, a full house attracted to the two-day pre-season tournament by a strong line-up: Milan, Lyon and Celtic are all potential champions of their domestic leagues, or runners-up at worst. But how many of the 60,000 watching the action in Arsenal's Emirates Stadium seriously expect the hosts to challenge at a similar level in the Premier League this season?
One, at least: Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, retains his faith in a vision of a skilful young team, growing and developing into winners. This season, he is sure, will be the one in which the honours emblazoned around the upper tier of their palatial home can finally be joined by a trophy won since they moved over the road from Highbury four years ago.
Around 54,999 others – Celtic sold 5,000 tickets – remain hopeful but sceptical, unsure whether Laurent Koscielny, signed from Lorient for €12m, and Marouane Chamakh, who was out of contract with Bordeaux, have added enough defensive and attacking power respectively to allow Arsenal to contend with Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City and their ridiculous wealth. They want to believe that further signings are on the way, and that Cesc Fabregas, the captain, has not had his head permanently turned by Barcelona's blandishments. But they doubt it.
Wenger, though, does not. "You always go into a season wanting to win a trophy of course and I believe that we will give absolutely everything to achieve that," he said. "I am confident that we will do it. We have to remind ourselves that we decided to go with a very young team three or four years ago and we have developed this team. I believe that two years ago we were quite far but last year in April we were two points away from the top. Normally we should be closer again because that development is part of a young team.
"I know that in England when you do not win the championship it's always about buying, but what is important is that we improve individually and as a team because we are a very young team. We are not a team that is at the end of a cycle, we are at the start of a cycle. So our future will be decided not by who we buy or need but as well by how much we improve."
As Wenger admits, a sixth barren season since the 2005 FA Cup victory over United would be blamed by many on his failure to invest money that the club insists is available. He has not ruled out more signings before the transfer window closes, but notes that spending has been conservative throughout Europe this summer – with one notable exception.
"The transfer market overall is very quiet. Clubs are very tight with money. I don't think Man City reflects in general the financial state of international football. No matter what happens this season, the money will not be an excuse if we do not achieve our targets. We know the world we live in.
"By the beginning of August [when Fabregas and Robin Van Persie return from a four-week post-World Cup break] we will have the quality of players to fight at the top. You look at our squad and we have two international players in every position."
Unfortunately, so have many of their rivals, and Wenger expects a more open Premier League. "I feel there will be more teams fighting for the title. We saw that at the start of last season as well, all of the top teams lost points against the 'second part' of the Premier League. That trend could even become stronger this year."
The development that he welcomes least is the new rule that restricts squads to 25 players, eight of whom must qualify as "home-grown" – even if it is good news for the crop of young Arsenal players who would normally expect to appear only in the club's Carling Cup ties.
"I am not a big fan of it because it puts, first of all, many players without clubs. Secondly, it puts the clubs in a weak position most of the time in the transfer market because when you already have 25 players and [if] you buy another one you know you have 26 and now have to get rid of one. So when you buy a player you have to factor in how much it costs as well to get rid of a player because you are not sure if you will be capable afterwards of selling him.
"This is a disastrous decision for football and for the players. I was quite amazed that the union accepted that. The big clubs will always have 25 top players and you will not stop that by this kind of decision."
The Arsenal supporters will probably only care about the new rules if they help or hinder their club. Wenger, as you would expect, continues to back his 25 players against those of his rivals. "Have the other clubs more money or less money? It is not important," he said. "It is whether the players are better players or lesser players and I think we can compete with the players we have."