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After ending trophy drought, Arsenal needs consistency in Premier League to win trophy again

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LONDON - For nine torturous years the absence of a trophy eluded Arsene Wenger. That burden was lifted when Wenger celebrated in May after clinching the FA Cup.

It was a joyful moment, but still tinged with what-ifs. Arsenal spent longer than any side at the top of the Premier League but still ended up in its familiar fourth place after struggling against its title rivals.

A Champions League spot for a 17th successive year was a minimum achievement — how Manchester United would take such predictable consistency now — but still Arsenal is without a Premier League title since 2004.

"The only thing we need to improve is our away record against the so-called bigger teams," said Aaron Ramsey, whose intelligence and influence in midfield was a defining dynamic of last season. "If we had managed to nick the odd point or win in those games it would have been a lot closer last season, and maybe even we would have won."

For once, though, Wenger has been laying the foundations for Arsenal to stay the course in the title race by investing in the squad — and early. The images of Wenger playing footvolley on the beach in Rio de Janeiro and commentating for French TV at the World Cup were mistakenly perceived as overlooking his Arsenal duties.

But Wenger was wrapping up early deals for once, spending $50 million on bringing Chile forward Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona and a similar amount to bolster the defence with Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle and Calum Chambers from Southampton. It comes a year after the $65 million-plus club-record signing of playmaker Mesut Ozil.

Having sustained top-four finishes while funding the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal is in financially sound position and sure it can now retain top talent rather than it being picked off by rivals.

"We are less vulnerable now, that is for sure," Wenger said. "In the last two years we bought Ozil and Sanchez — five years ago we would have lost Ozil and Sanchez."

Striker Robin van Persie, and midfielders Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas were among the players to exit the Emirates prematurely after being sold at their peak. Although captain Thomas Vermaelen was allowed to join Barcelona for $25 million last week, frugality no longer appears to be Wenger's philosophy.

"We have more money available to buy today than we had five years ago," Wenger said. "We can compete better. For years we have lost top players without the ability to replace them because of financial management."

The Premier League's longest-serving manager, Wenger would hope for no more humiliations like the 6-0 drubbing by Chelsea last season in his 1,000th match of charge.

At least this season began brightly. Another trophy was added to the sparse Emirates trophy cabinet — the Community Shield — by overwhelming Premier League champion Manchester City 3-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The emerging English core to the squad was on display: Chambers, who was assured on his debut in central defence, winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and midfielder Jack Wilshere.

Now they have to show they have what it takes to win English football's ultimate prize.

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In: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Calum Chambers (Southampton).

Out: Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Thomas Eisfeld (Fulham), Nicklas Bendtner, Park Ju-young (both released).

___

Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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