Arsene saves the day at the Arsenal AGM

I’m not really sure what I expected as I headed to the Emirates for the Arsenal AGM yesterday, but once things were over and I shuffled out of the stadium and into the drizzle I realised that what I should have expected is exactly what we got – a reinforcement of the clubs perennial message of self sustainability and determination to continue on it’s current course and precious little else.

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis began the meeting by discussing the change in ownership and Stan Kroenke’s dedication telling the crowd that the owner was not new to Arsenal and that during the three years he had been involved with the club the American had grown to understand it’s key values  and that his vast experience with sports clubs would help sustain security and stability.

Amongst the acknowledgements for the achievements of Laura Harvey and her treble winning Arsenal Ladies team, the success of the summer tour of Asia, the clubs community work, growth of Arsenal player and  global support, Gazidis paid tribute to the club’s ‘sound financial platform’ revealing that all bank loans had been paid off and any outstanding debt was related to the move from Highbury and building of the new stadium. Reassuring us that this debt was set at affordable fixed term rates he went on to speak about the new commercial partnerships with Betsson, Indesit, Carlsberg and Thomas Cook whilst revealing that the relationship with main sponsors Emirates and Nike were strong and that the club will continue to work closely in maintaining and improving its commercial deals.

Ultimately the CEO stuck to script and reiterated the importance of the on field achievements of the football team (being a force in the Premier and Champions Leagues), sticking to the core principals of the club and the role played by Arsene Wenger, saying we should be proud of our style of football and proud of our manager and the fact that he acts with responsibility and vision always putting the best interests of the club first.

He finished his speech by paying homage to the history of the club, that it had been built by extraordinary individuals who had vision, commitment and responsibility. Paying tribute to Ken Friar and Danny Fizsman and the part the two men have played in maintaining the clubs continued growth. Gazidis rounded off by saying that Arsenal Football Club was about more than football, that it is about unity, class and always moving forward and that all staff involved with Arsenal care passionately about the club and are obsessed with seeing its succeed.

It was now time for Stan to break his much reported silence. When PHW had stated in his awkward introduction that Mr Kroenke would be saying a few words there was a murmur that was somewhat akin to a mothers meeting learning a juicy bit of gossip.

The American began his address with an attempt at humour, and perhaps breaking the ice which has formed since he took control of the club, quipping that he was unsure why anyone was interested in hearing him talk.

I’m not sure it went down quite as well as he had intended it, perhaps matters had not been helped by the rumours that circulated whilst we all enjoyed ‘pre match’ tea & biscuits that the major shareholder had only arrived in the country earlier that morning. Personally I quite liked this attempt at humour but I think I may have been in the minority.

The address was kept relatively brief and again there was little said other than that which we would have expected to hear. Revealing that prior to become involved with Arsenal opportunities to invest in football clubs across Europe, including the Premier League, had been presented to him but that none of these opportunities had sparked his interest. It was not until he became involved with Arsenal, initially as a commercial undertaking he told us, that he had any interest in becoming involved with a football club and revealed the key elements of the club which saw his interest grow –

“The club has tremendous management at the top, a wonderful manager on the pitch who makes great decisions in regard to personnel, and a tremendous following with the supporters. With all those things in place, it was an easy decision to get more involved”

Kroenke went on to pay tribute to the late Danny Fizsman and the part he had played in the clubs growth and success in his time at the club before adding –

We are glad to be here, we are happy with the direction of the club and we are here for the long term. We love London and you better get used to seeing us”

So there was no outlined personal vision for the club only the reassurance that he was happy with the structure in place and was committed to the club. That wasn’t at all what the crowd had wanted to hear, the right things to say perhaps but not the impassioned call to arms and watershed moment that many had been waiting for and whilst I share that view to a degree I once again find myself unsurprised and forced to accept that we were never going to get anything more than we were given.

It was the Q&A which followed that really sparked the ire of the crowd. Peter Hill-Wood was to answer the pre submitted and approved questions and to say he did so with muted enthusiasm would be a massive over statement. In truth it was little more than a waste of time, no question was answered with anything more than a blunt and standard response.

Essentially Hill-Wood stated that the focus on self sustainability would continue, there would be no injection of equity capital, the fruits of the new commercial deals would come to fruition in next years financial results and the board will continue to deliberate it’s possible further  support of the Fanshare scheme…

At one point there came a call for PHW to stand down and for David Dein to return as Chairman, this was instantly batted away by Hill-wood who said “I have no intention of standing down, I regard it as an honour and a privilege to be chairman of this club. I am also a fan and I want this club to be successful“. It was at this point that Stan Kroenke stepped in to give Hill-Wood his backing telling the heckling crowd

“We’re all fans. Peter has our support. We’re with you, we’re fans too”

I must admit whilst I do agree that Hill-Wood should no longer be in the position, he is an old school chairman in every sense of the term, I did respect the fact that Stan stepped in. It would have been easy for him to remain silent at this point and let his chairman take the flack. What I don’t agree with is the continued calls for the return of David Dein, I’m not going to dismiss the work he did whilst at the club but we can’t live in the past, after all isn’t that what PHW is being accused of?

By this point things had become uncomfortable and the situation wasn’t helped by Hill-Wood claiming that the vote to see him continue as chairman was unanimous, when in fact it wasn’t, and then completely forgetting to call for the vote for Kroenke’s continued presence on the board and when the chairman refused to give a satisfactory answer to a question asking why Red & White Holdings (Usmanov) were not being invited on to the board there were cries of “Answer the question”

The only positive point to come from Hill-Wood’s time on the mic was the unveiling of a new bust of Ken Friar. Commissioned to commemorate the directors sixty years of involvement at the club the bust is to be placed in the stadium entrance alongside those of Wenger and Herbert Chapman.

It took a rousing speech from Arsene Wenger to bring an air of unity to proceedings. The manager spoke with passion and verve and not from a script. Beginning with a suggestion that the media don’t always give a true report of what he has said the boss spoke of his gratitude for the confidence that had been shown in him during his fifteen years at “This special club“.

He defended the values of the club and asked that despite the difficult start to the season we gave our full support to the team because they are “A group ready to fight for this club“. Admitting that he couldn’t predict where the club would finish this season he said that he hoped that we would be able to look back on the season with pride and that we can still qualify for the Champions League.

Speaking of last season and the disappointing finish he confessed to feeling at points that he was completely at fault because he had convinced his players that they could win all four trophies, but ultimately that progression in every competition meant that in November, December & January of last season the side had to play a total of 27 games. Ultimately he admitted, that level of commitment in conjunction with a difficult spate of injuries meant that by the time March and April came around there was not quite enough left in the tank to take the team over the line but we should look back now and see that the overall performance across the season was much better than the disappointing finish suggested.

The Frenchman spoke of the disappointment of loosing “More than two” world class players during the summer but asked that we celebrate the emergence of another world class star, Jack Wilshere, and that while he was always being put under pressure to sign a goalkeeper we have found a soloution to that problem buy showing faith in the ‘keepers we had and can now appreciate that stance thanks to Wojceich Szczesny.

Wenger urged the fans to be united and suggested that whilst he understood the fear and discontent he can see in the clubs support we must remember that only Manchester United and Real Madrid have been as consistent as Arsenal during the last fifteen years.

The boss ended his passionate address by suggesting that the number of sceptics surrounding the club was too high but the support shown by the fans during the last two games shows that there is trust in this team and that if that continues we have every chance to succeed.

I’m not quite sure what the mood would have been had Arsene not given such a speech, the reception he was given before he spoke was impressive but nothing like the ovation he received once he had finished.

It seems that a little of his spark and belief has returned of late, as well as his passion. Maybe they never went away in the first place? But the change in his demeanour is certainly noticeable, perhaps the disappointing end to last season took more out of him than we have previously appreciated.

We know, as well as Wenger does and yesterday admitted, that he doesn’t get it right all the time but if we want to see our team return to winning trophies then his passion and leadership is integral to our resurrection in that sense.

I’ll freely admit that I, like many others, may have forgotten that of late and while one rousing speech doesn’t fix everything it certainly shows how much the Frenchman still cares and that he still has the desire to compete and most importantly to win.

With concerns still lingering about Kroenke’s long term plans and involvement and the lack of support for the chairman ever growing it is heartening to know that we have a man who cares about Arsenal Football Club, perhaps as much as we do, in charge of our team and continuing to push it forward…

I must say a massive thank you to the Arsenal Supporters Trust for making it possible for me to attend the AGM  and for the huge part they play in making sure that the fans of Arsenal Football Club are represented and given a voice within the club. If you still haven’t joined them you should do so now…

Thanks for reading,

Paul.

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