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Premier League: Wenger needs to find Arsenal's missing jigsaw pieces

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After securing Champions League football for the 16th season in a row, Ralph Ellis takes a look at Arsene Wenger's task next season...

"The problem came against the other top four sides where they collected just two points from a possible 18. Manchester City collected 11 while Manchester United and Chelsea both got ten. It tends to suggest that while Arsenal can pull lower teams apart with their slick passing, when it gets to the crunch games they don’t have the one player who can do something exceptional."


After 27 years, and 28 trophies, it wasn't hard to smile indulgently at the crazy 5-5 last day of Sir Alex Ferguson's 1,500 matches in charge of Manchester United. So they blew a three-goal lead? Twice? Whatever.

The man who has been the ultimate competitor saw his team take their foot off the gas and go into party mood 20 minutes too soon. Nobody really cared, not even Fergie. It was still a celebration.

A year from now Arsene Wenger may well take his turn to wave goodbye. He is now the last great management pillar of the Premier League era, a man whose near 17 years at Arsenal dwarfs those around him. Tony Pulis has done six seasons since winning promotion with Stoke - the most anybody else can muster of unbroken top flight service with one club is the two and a half years of Alan Pardew at Newcastle and two seasons for Martin Jol at Fulham.

Will Wenger, if he chooses to walk away when his contract runs out next summer, be treated with the same indulgence by Arsenal fans if his season ends in a barmy 5-5 draw? You suspect only if, like Fergie, he's already put the Premier League trophy, or at the very least the FA Cup, in the cabinet.

All of which makes this a huge summer for Wenger as he approaches his 64th birthday. The last day drama of winning at Newcastle protected his record of 16 seasons of unbroken qualification for the Champions League. But Wenger needs more now.

This summer he has to find players who can make a difference in the games that matter. For the first time in a few years Arsenal are approaching the summer without a will-he won't-he saga about which of their top stars might move on. It happened with Thierry Henry, then with Cesc Fabregas, then last year with Robin Van Persie. This time it seems like the key men of his current side are all settled, leaving the big question over who he can add to improve them.

Arsenal need a sprinkling of stardust. They already have top players, some stats from the Premier League's final facts prove that. No team played more passes than their 21,111. And they had little trouble bullying the basement clubs - taking 32 points from the 36 on offer from the bottom six.

The problem came against the other top four sides where they collected just two points from a possible 18. Manchester City collected 11 while Manchester United and Chelsea both got ten. It tends to suggest that while Arsenal can pull lower teams apart with their slick passing, when it gets to the crunch games they don't have the one player who can do something exceptional.

"The last three months is a springboard for next season," Wenger said of his team's startling late run of 26 points out of 30. "We need stability and to strengthen. Is it spending a lot on one player or buying many players?"

Gunners fans will hope it is the former. Arsenal are fourth favourites at [15.5] in the betting for next season's Barclays Premier League title, but even that price won't be worth backing unless Wenger can find the missing piece of his jigsaw.

Arsenal's manager deserves a final flourish and to go out, like Fergie, leaving them wishing for more. What he does this summer will decide if it happens.

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