A reaction to the Arsenal AGM

Arsenal manager Arsene WengerArsenal’s annual general meeting today generated much debate and talking points to pour over as the club’s hierarchy attempted to justify the sale of star striker Robin van Persie in the summer, the subsequent lack of investment in the squad and the team’s continued struggles out on the pitch, so let’s take a look at what came out of it.

It was clear from the off that the likes of Ivan Gazidis, Peter Hill-Wood and Stan Kroenke were going to be faced with a tough line of questioning, particularly given that the club have slumped to two consecutive defeats against Norwich and Schalke which rendered just two shots on target in total. Satirical leaflets were handed out beforehand aimed at the increasingly unpopular Gazidis and it appears as if the main gripe was the club’s gamble that Uefa was going to uphold Financial Fair Play (FFP) to the letter.

Since work began on the Emirates Stadium back in 2002, it’s become abundantly clear that the club were going to pay in the short-term for long-term sustainable growth and that in order for them to stand on their own two feet and with sound financial footing, that cut-backs were going to have to be made.

Arsenal have spent £250.75m approximately over the past 11 seasons since then and have brought in 273.45m for a net spend of  – £22.7m. The cries of the club being predominantly a selling club are certainly true to an extent, but going right back to Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka being sold to Barcelona and Real Madrid between 1999-2001, the same could be said of them, so it’s hardly a trend based solely around the stadium move rather one which has been accelerated by it.

Hill-Wood left himself open to ridicule at the function by absurdly trying to claim that van Persie was sold for footballing reasons, in a re-run of last year’s timid and flawed defence of the Cesc Fabregas sale arguing: “We undertake our transfers for football reasons and not FFP. Money is available to Arsene.” The truth is that van Persie did leave the club for ‘football reasons’, but not the ones which Hill-Wood would state, namely an inability to compete for silverware.

Gazidis backed this up with the following: “Our ambition is all about football – to compete at the very top of the game here and in Europe. To win trophies, it’s important we understand our off-field journey if we want to understand our football future. The club is increasingly well positioned to take advantage of its excellent global reputation. Within the next two years Arsenal will have the financial resources to sit and compete with the biggest clubs in the world.

“I have no doubt we can and will return club to winning trophies and drive it forward to new heights. Financial success is relevant because it supports our football vision, the money we make is made available to our manager and he decides how to invest those funds. Standing together we can make Arsenal one of the leading clubs in the world. We have outperformed that spend every single year for 15 years. An extraordinary record of consistency. We do make the money available for re-investment of the team, but that doesn’t mean in every window we spend everything we have. Manchester City and Chelsea won’t be able to spend forever.”

Of course, the sensible approach that the club is taking requires a long-term viewpoint and in this day and age when fans are increasingly reactionary and knee-jerk, it goes against the grain somewhat. Nevertheless, seven years and counting without a trophy is not a statistic that looks like changing any time in the near future and the most worrying thing is the company line that finishing in the top four in the league is tantamount to a piece of silverware.

Wenger told the AGM: “For me there are five trophies: Premier League, Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is the FA Cup and the fifth in the League Cup. A player does not want to know if you’ve won the League Cup. I know there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction and I can understand but it’s important we don’t go overboard. We hit a wall in the past two games in an unexplainable way, but this team can deliver. I am optimistic. Would like to say every club uses money from its own resources. Our policy will stay the same; to produce 60-80% of our own players. My job is not finances its to deliver a team.”

We all understand the financial implications that missing out on the Champions League can have on a club, particularly one which spends only what it makes, but placing fourth in the league above the FA Cup is distorting what qualifies as success in the extreme. This near constant obsession with planning for the future isn’t healthy and at some point you have to govern your decisions on the here and now. Only Arsenal would consider bringing on an untested 17-year-old to try and turn a game around in Europe at home, as they did last night with Serge Gnabry against Schalke, which in itself highlights a much larger problem.

Wenger made a reasonable point that despite their struggles in recent games, making a mockery of those that tipped them for the title just over a month ago, that the defeat to the German club was their first on home turf in 43 games in the Champions League. They are not quite a fading force just yet and the Frenchman has done well to still make them competitive while others all around them have invested heavily, but they look as if they face an uphill task this term to finish in the top four.

Arsenal fans can often be found ranging from ‘those that indulge the Wenger Out’ hysteria to other that are entrenched FFP idealists and the supporters seem fairly split on several contentious issues. The praise dished out to assistant Steve Bould, which was ridiculously over the top to say the least given the opposition, has dissipated now given that they haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last nine games and while they’ve scored 24 goals in 12 fixtures this season, 12 of those came in just two games against Southampton and Coventry, so there’s clearly some serious work to be done at both end of the pitch.

While the rise in ticket prices were given a deeply condescending answer from the incredibly patronising Hill-Wood and pretty much dodged by Gazidis, as he looked set upon answering an altogether different question rather than actual give a reasoned response as to why Arsenal fans pay on average more than any other club in Europe.

The shtick that the aim is still to win trophies has all been heard before by Arsenal fans but there’s been no real improvement and they count for little more than empty platitudes aimed at staving off the masses for another year. Selling your best players every year is a systemic problem and the root causes simply haven’t been addressed, but the worrying thing is that in public, everyone involved at board level just pretends as if nothing is going on and that it’s business as usual.

For a club the size of Arsenal, merely taking part and being happy to be one of ‘the gang’ so to speak simply isn’t good enough. It was stated that the club are now in the final phase of their stadium process which will see them expand their commercial revenues which coupled with the introduction of FFP should not only see them meet the requirements but get the best out of them, but at the moment that all purely theoretical.

As with every AGM meeting at Arsenal these past few years, the image that the board portray of the club is completely different from the one the fans know and it’s this crucial disconnect which is most troubling. The club has gone stale and by putting all of their eggs in one basket, Gazidis, Hill-Wood and Wenger are taking one hell of a major gamble, for if it doesn’t come off, there may be no reversing the trends which they have played a part in setting in motion.

Are Arsenal suffering from a lack of ambition? Or should they stick the course? Have your say below.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

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