Arsenal AGM reaction: Statesman Wenger restores order after directors come under fire

Read our reporter’s view of a bad tempered annual general meeting

Arsene Wenger stepped in to save his bumbling board members who were heckled by angry shareholders at Arsenal’s annual general meeting at the Emirates.

Chairman Peter Hill-Wood and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke bore the brunt of the supporters’ frustrations, although chief executive Ivan Gazidis saw a number of shareholders vote against him remaining on the board.

Kroenke, who spoke briefly but still didn’t entirely disprove his ‘silent Stan’ nickname, was embroiled in an embarrassing exchange in which he appeared to refuse to meet with members of Arsenal’s Fanshare group, as at one stage the normally formal meeting degenerated into a shouting match from the floor.

It was only when Wenger took the microphone that cordiality was restored. The Frenchman first apologised for the defeat to Schalke and then paid tribute to his former assistant Pat Rice, who retired in May, which generated warm applause from the floor.

But it was Wenger’s words that carried most weight and the Gunners boss looked far from happy with the acrimonious proceedings and overall tone of anger and frustration among those present.

“It’s important we don’t go overboard,” said Wenger. “We have started this season dynamically and impressively but we have hit the wall in the last two games in a bit of an unexplainable way.

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“But we have lost for the first time in something like 43 Champions League home games (to foreign opposition) and there are not many clubs who can say that, or in fact say that they have had 43 consecutive home games in the Champions League.”

Wenger then went on to tell an anecdote about a fellow manager he was talking to at the recent Uefa coaches’ forum in Geneva, who said that last season he was split between deciding whether to prioritise a Europa League semi-final game above a league game on which Champions League qualification depended.

“He came to the conclusion that for yourself, you would choose the Europa League, but for the club it would be the Champions League because that is what is important,” said Wenger, who stated that he felt that there were actually five trophies to aim for, and that a Champions League qualification place was included among them.

“Winning the Premier League is first, then winning the Champions League, then Champions League qualification, then winning the FA Cup, then the League Cup.

“A new player does not ask if you have won the League Cup. He wants to play in the Champions League.

“The first goal is always to win the Premier League. But the environment is difficult, competitive and challenging.

“My job is to deliver a team with the resources we have, and I have never complained about that. I want a club to pay players from its own resources, there is no shame in that,” added Wenger, who had watched on as the board members were given an ear-bashing by a number of frustrated shareholders.

Earlier, outside the AGM, the ‘Where Has Our Arsenal Gone?’ movement were handing out flyers with the headline ‘Lucrum Super omnia (profit over everything)’ and that was very much the tone of the attacks on the board. The feeling among supporters is that the balance sheet comes first, the playing field second, and seven years without a trophy has been the result.

Gazidis went to great lengths to explain the financial restrictions still felt at the club because of the move to Emirates Stadium, and the need to conform with Fifa’s new Financial Fair Play regulations were more at the root of the problem, but his comments largely fell on deaf ears.

“Ten years ago Arsenal Football Club took a bold decision to build a new stadium, and set out on a path of independence and self-reliance,” said Gazidis. “We hold a belief that we are stronger when we stand on our own two feet.

“Many other clubs try and fail to follow us. We have manageable, affordable debt on the stadium and no other debt. We are coming to the last stage of the stadium move.

“The landscape of football is moving in our direction. Financial fair play principles are gaining ground in Europe and in the Premier League. In the next two years Arsenal will have the financial basis to compete with the best clubs in the world.

“Arsene Wenger has done a superb job, up against the massive spending of our rivals. We are ranked as the sixth club in Europe, and have qualified for 15 successive years in the Champions League.

“These achievements are not the height of his [Wenger’s] or our ambition, but they are achievements that are often taken for granted.

“I have no doubt that we can and will return the club to winning trophies and new heights. It is our shared ambition, if we continue to be brave.”

Wenger also called for unity, and made a clear reference to the increasingly vociferous supporters’ groups who are making no secret of their turning against the board and some of the club’s policies.

“The modern world creates little communities within big ones,” said Wenger, with all the statesmanship of a would-be politician. “But we have to learn to live together, for the strength of the club. It is important we keep strong and united behind Arsenal.”

These are troubling times at Arsenal, but Wenger knows better than most that a turnaround of results on the pitch will be the most effective way of bringing all those parties together to a common goal.

However, as he has increasingly found over the last couple of seasons, that is proving harder and harder to achieve in the manner he did earlier in his reign.