Arsene Wenger may be confident Arsenal can climb the "two stairs" necessary to win the title this season but they are likely to have to start their ascent at Liverpool on Sunday without Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
"I believe we have a good chance [to win the title]," Wenger said yesterday. "The most important thing is that we have that belief. We finished third last season, so we have two stairs to climb and I am confident that we can do it."
Arsenal's pre-season preparations, which ended with a thrilling 6-5 victory at Legia Warsaw, have been satisfactory despite the constant speculation over captain Fabregas' future and his prolonged absence.
Neither the influential midfielder nor key striker Van Persie have played since their extended post-World Cup breaks, with both missing the training camp in Austria as well as the successful Emirates Cup tournament.
This week's international schedule has hardly helped matters in terms of preparation either, with Fabregas having to travel to Mexico with Spain.
Wenger is grateful Van Persie will not be involved for Holland against Ukraine but he will still leave it to the last minute to decide whether to rule out two of his most experienced players from the Anfield trip. "They are a lot behind," he said. "Cesc goes to Mexico so he will not be able to practise, and comes back on Thursday night or Friday, so we will have to see. I hope Van Persie will have a good week of preparation, but I think he will be short as well."
Andrei Arshavin is expected to shrug off a minor muscle injury to play at Liverpool but Wenger will also be keeping an eye on his England trio of Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere, who are in line to feature in the Wembley friendly against Hungary tomorrow night.
The Frenchman's other key concern is squad strengthening. The goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is under threat, with Liverpool's Jose Reina and Manchester City's Shay Given and Joe Hart said to be targets. In defence, Bosnia captain Emir Spahic, Stuttgart's Serdar Tasci, Everton's Phil Jagielka and Germany international Per Mertesacker are potential signings.