Fans frustrated with ‘not breaking the piggy bank’ Arsenal
Arsene Wenger claims qualifying for the CHampions League is more importnt than winning silverware in the national Cups
LONDON, England ● Frustrated Arsenal fans and shareholders accused the board on Thursday of “putting profit before performance” after enduring another trophyless season at the Premier League football club, the departure of striker Robin Van Persie and the latest losses against Norwich in the Premier League and in the Champions League against Schalke04.
Arsene Wenger earlier had hit back to the angered fans and the media with claiming qualifying for the Champions League was more important than chasing the famous Mitre footballs to win the Capital One Cup or playing for a sell-out crowd during the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
“For me, there are five trophies”, Wenger said.
“The first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, third is to qualify for the Champions League, fourth is the FA Cup and the fifth the League Cup.”
“I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask ‘did you win the League Cup?’, they ask you ‘do you play in the Champions League?”, Wenger continued.
“If everybody is absolutely devastated when we finish third in the league, I promise you I will not be here if you finish 15th one day.
“We did not produce a good performance last night, but let’s not forget it was a first home defeat in the Champions League for 43 games. Not many teams do that.”
In the board room chief Executive Ivan Gazidis told some shareholders that soccer’s “pointless spending race” was ending and tried to reassure them that Arsenal would have the financial resources in the next two years to compete with the best.
“We can and we will return the club to winning trophies and drive it to new heights,” said Gazidis, flanked by manager Arsene Wenger and American owner Stan Kroenke at a fractious annual shareholder meeting at the Emirates Stadium.
The north London club have failed to win a trophy since 2005 and slumped to a 2-0 defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday against Germany’s Schalke 04, their first home loss to a foreign team in the competition since 2003.
Arsenal are the envy of many clubs off the field thanks to their ability to generate a profit. Gazidis said that new financial rules designed to force European clubs to cut their losses would play into their hands.
However, fans are angry that Van Persie, who joined Manchester United in August, has been allowed to move after the club lost captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona a year ago.
Wenger, who has been at the club for 16 years, told the meeting that Arsenal had “hit the wall” in the last two games, the defeat to Schalke and a loss to Norwich City in the Premier League last weekend.
“I believe this team can deliver,” he said to applause from several hundred shareholders. “I am personally optimistic we will have a good season.”
Wenger described qualification for the Champions League as a trophy in itself, saying it was higher on his list of achievements than winning a domestic cup. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 15 years in a row.
One shareholder clashed with Kroenke, the owner of a number of U.S. sports teams including NFL’s St Louis Rams, over whether he had honoured commitments to meet fans.
“I’ve met with the Arsenal Supporters Trust and other fan groups,” Kroenke said before he was interrupted from the floor by his questioner.
Arsenal fans have dubbed Kroenke “Silent Stan” for his low-profile ownership after he became the club’s largest shareholder in April 2011.
Kroenke, who owns almost 67 percent of the club, said he had a record of investing in his sports clubs and defended his involvement with Arsenal.
“I have never put debt on the club, I have never said in any meeting that money wasn’t available,” Kroenke said.
“My one regret with Arsenal was that I didn’t get involved earlier,” he added.
The board has been at loggerheads with shareholder Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born billionaire who together with partner Farhad Moshiri owns a stake of almost 30 percent.
Usmanov has accused the board of under-investment and some fans questioned why he did not have a presence on the board.
Gazidis tried to play down talk of splits between the two major shareholders.
“I think this issue of conflict is vastly overstated,” he said.