Premier League preview No1: Arsenal

If only, Arsenal's supporters say, they could sign one or two players of the highest order. It is the eternal refrain

Guardian writers' predicted position: 5th (NB: this is not necessarily David Hytner's prediction, but the average of our writers' tips)

Last season's position: 4th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 11-1

Arsène Wenger never really changes. "It's a bit like if you start the 100 metres and suddenly somebody buys Usain Bolt," he said, during Arsenal's pre-season tour of east Asia. "I don't know how quick you are but it will be a problem for you."

His club, to quote the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, have entered a new era of "financial firepower," due to renegotiated commercial contracts, and they have the ability to compete for the very biggest names on the market. But there is still a part of Wenger that finds it all a little crass, somewhat artificial and against the general spirit of things.

Deep down, the manager has reservations about plundering the footballing equivalent of Bolt, a turbo-charged individual to turn heads and hold the key to glory. He continues to bang the drum hard for the values that he has always held dear; to talk down the great expectation of transfer market largesse.

It is even possible to imagine him smiling that mischievous smile, which conceals raucous laughter, and explaining, on 3 September, how his squad is good enough as it is, how a top quality addition would merely have been a bonus. The players' character is outstanding. The young ones have tremendous potential. And Abou Diaby will be like a new buy when he recovers full fitness.

"It takes a little bit something out," Wenger added, on the subject of quick-fix mega-signings. "Because it doesn't give a chance to somebody who works well in the club and develops people and players, and focuses on the quality of the game."

And yet, the bloody-minded Wenger, who is about to enter his 18th season at Arsenal – his obsession, his life's work – has still come to realise how badly he needs this signing, this statement. It felt as though Gazidis was leaning on him when he made his bold mission statement in early June and the club's directors are not the only ones that are keen to the point of desperate to see him spend big.

During the tour, it was hard to find any player or member of staff that did not want a morale-boosting, high-class and yes, very expensive, purchase and then, there are the supporters. Quite simply, there stands to be mutiny among them if the club were to end this transfer window without a major signing. Wenger, whose contract is set to expire next June, might find himself on the back foot without an expensive new arrival, and a related narrative could develop involving his longer-term future, at least until he signs the new deal that Gazidis has suggested is or will be on the table.

The bottom line is that Arsenal finished 16 points off the title pace last season for a reason – the lack of world-class quality – and, particularly as their rivals strengthen, they sorely need a shot in the arm. Everybody knows it; everybody says it. The issue has become all-consuming, and it has even undermined the tick-boxes for optimism.

There is the momentum from the form at the end of last season; the lack of a damaging summer departure; the fantastic spirit; a fit Jack Wilshere; the scope for players to improve and the sense that this is a team that can beat anybody on their day. The all-conquering Bayern Munich would attest to that.

And so Wenger, Gazidis, the negotiators and the contacts on the payroll have poured everything into an unprecedented coup. Nerves have been tested, especially as, so far, the club have added only the 20-year-old striker Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer from Auxerre in France's Ligue 2. In many respects, the French-African is the classic old-school Wenger signing: unheralded but with plenty of potential. He even has a chequered injury history. Wenger says that Sanogo "will surprise you … he is top-class," and he has not hidden his exasperation that the player's arrival has barely registered due to the lack of a transfer fee.

Arsenal's summer so far has been shaped by a high-stakes gamble, which came after they had reached agreement in principle over personal terms with Gonzalo Higuaín for the Argentina striker to join from Real Madrid.

"We managed to get permission from Real to negotiate face-to-face with Arsenal," said Jorge Higuaín, the player's father and agent on 4 July. "Fortunately, I will soon be able to watch my son play in the Premier League." It should be noted that there was no agreement between the clubs.

But Arsenal hesitated. They thought that they could upgrade to an even better striker - Liverpool's Luis Suárez, who, they were told, had a clause in his contract that allowed him to move for £40m. Well, a little over £40m, to be precise. They were also told that Suárez wanted out of Anfield for Champions League football. Higuaín became a fall-back option but Arsenal still thought that they could turn to him if required. Then Higuaín joined Napoli, and fate decreed that his debut for the club would come against Arsenal at the Emirates Cup last Saturday.

It has come to feel like all or nothing on Suárez; Arsenal would love to take Wayne Rooney but, if the striker was allowed to leave Manchester United, he would prefer to join Chelsea. Wenger has been besieged by Suárez-related questions and the issue has polarised the fans. There are those that cannot countenance a player with Suárez's disciplinary previous wearing the club's shirt; others, who are happy to leave their reservations at the turnstile. They focus on how Suárez's God-given talent would galvanise the team.

Can Arsenal get the deal done? Will fortune favour their bravery? Their second offer for Suárez of one pound over £40m to put pressure on the clause in the Uruguayan's contract incensed everybody at Liverpool, where it was not only the club's owner, John W Henry, who wondered about Arsenal's cheek and the excellence of their weed dealers. Battle lines have been drawn and Wenger's comment last Friday about wanting things to be "amicable" with Liverpool was wishful thinking.

Wenger's transfer policy has shifted in the past two years towards the recruitment of more seasoned internationals. There were Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker in 2011; Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and the excellent Santi Cazorla last summer. But the club has never paid more for a player than the £15m that they spent on Andrey Arshavin in 2009 – the Russian was released on 30 June (a bad omen?). The push for Suárez has catapulted them into thorny new territory.

The situation already feels messy. There have been arguments over the strength of the clause, with Liverpool maintaining that it does not entitle Suárez to enter into negotiations. Given that the contentious bid was submitted two weeks ago and there have been no official talks between the player and Arsenal, his employer would appear to be on firm ground.

As an aside, it is remarkable how a supposedly watertight clause that is written in plain English should have been the subject of such differing interpretations. A legal challenge from Suárez has been mooted, together with him submitting a transfer request. With Real Madrid concentrating their efforts on Gareth Bale, Suárez has come to consider Arsenal as his likeliest destination, if he leaves.

Liverpool say that they will not sell, particularly not to Arsenal, who occupied the final Champions League spot last season upon which they have designs. Arsenal, meanwhile, are torn between waiting to see how their offer plays out and making a higher one, which is the real-world call. Wenger has suggested that it could go to the wire. "It's very difficult to predict if something will be sorted out before we play in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier [on 20 or 21 August]," he said.

The problem for Arsenal is that a new centre-forward is not the limit of their requirements. With Thomas Vermaelen out for at least six weeks with a stress fracture to his back and Johan Djourou loaned to Hamburg, a centre-half is a priority, while it would also be encouraging to see reinforcement in midfield, however well Aaron Ramsey finished last season and has performed during pre-season. Wenger has a long standing interest in Everton's Marouane Fellaini.

The goalkeeper is a discussion point, with Wojciech Szczesny erratic last season; capable of maverick misjudgments. Wenger has been urged to sign a new No1 but he will also consider the merits of Lukasz Fabianski, who has a better chance than ever to establish himself. Szczesny makes the entirely valid point that no goalkeeper lasts the season without mistakes and, at only 23, he has plenty of scope for development.

It is a big season for Wilshere, and not only because there is the World Cup at the end of it. The England midfielder is still not 100% fit, according to Wenger but he has had his first pre-season since 2010, which has fired the optimism. Wenger will have moments when Wilshere will need a breather, possibly as important games approach. Can he be strong enough to stand him down? He has admitted in the past that he has been guilty of over-playing Wilshere, which might have contributed to his foot injuries.

Wenger says that a "special bond" exists between his British players and the club, and it permeates to the rest of the squad, helping to set the right tone. Wilshere, Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson currently stare down from a giant billboard outside the Emirates Stadium and there are exciting young players ready to follow them from the ranks, albeit not British, with Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem the hottest prospects. The club's Capital One Cup ties will be worth watching.

It is an uneasy time, in many respects, with hope undercut by fear. Arsenal are the only top-four club not to have changed their manager, and the stability could give them an edge. If only, their supporters say, they could sign one or two players of the highest order. It is the eternal refrain. The next four weeks, which contain both legs of the Champions League play-off, stand to determine everything.

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