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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When I grow up…. I want to be a Football Agent

John-Marc Bosman has a lot to answer for doesn’t he?

With a bit of hindsight, I wish I’d found out what qualifications a Football Agent needed when I was at school. I would have done it, because now (at age 31) I think I could have retired – Let’s face it; I was never good enough to be a professional footballer, so surely becoming a rich man on the back of them is the next best thing.

The Bosman ruling came into force in 1995, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the effect it (plus the increase in TV and Champions League money) would have on the value of a player’s contract.

We have seen this summer (with Samir Nasri) that when you get to a certain stage of your contract, the player holds all the cards. I won’t bleat about this! Let’s face it; we have been the beneficiaries of such situations in the past. Obviously most people won’t be too overjoyed how we benefited from Bordeaux with Marouane Chamakh, but let’s not forget our ultimate scoop in getting Big Sol from behind enemy lines. We have also made the most of this country having a differing employment law to that of the continent, being able to offer players full-time contracts before the country of their origin (you know who I’m talking about).

The issue we have now, is that a few of our first team squad will be in the same position as Nasri was this summer unless they sign a new deal in the next 6 months. More importantly, our captain and vice-captain are included in their numbers.

Overall, I don’t criticise players for wanting to get the best deal for themselves, but there is definitely a limit to where my empathy will go. What a lot of us fan’s struggle to come to terms with, is that everyone in the first team squad is on more money a year then we will earn in a lifetime (*if this doesn’t apply to you then congratulations). Therefore, why are they being so greedy? The thing is, it’s all relative. We may consider £30,000 pa a decent wage. For a footballer, that’s the weekly for their first decent contract. I don’t like it, but the money’s in the game, where else is it going to go?

Before I discuss the players in question, let me first admit that I have no links with the players and the club. My knowledge of their contracts comes purely from what I think is common knowledge, and what a basic internet search tells me. If I’m wrong, then please feel free to put me right in the comments section.

From what I can make out, Thomas Rosicky’s contract is due to expire at the end of this season. I think many people will reluctantly say, ‘thank you and goodbye’ to the Czech. From a move that promised so much when he signed just before the 2006 World Cup, he has disappointed in the last few years. Granted, injury’s have taken their toll, and robbed him of some of the prime years of his career, but it’s time to say goodbye.

The players that are more interesting are those who contracts expire at the end of 2012. There may be more, but Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Andre Arshavin are the focus of this article. I put them in this order intentionally too, as it is (in my opinion) their order of importance to the club but.. I’m going to look at them in reverse order starting with Andre Arshavin.

The diminutive Russian has flattered to deceive for many Arsenal fans in the last three years. We have been treated to moments of brilliance, but they have been too few and far between. After his heroics at Anfield in 2009, we all thought we had signed a world beater, but that would prove to be a flash in the pan. My main problem with him is his work rate. The formation we play means that it leaves our full-backs extremely exposed, and this is amplified when the person playing in front of you doesn’t work hard enough. He would argue he should have been given more of a chance playing centrally (in the midfield), but I don’t think Wenger can trust him in there due to his lack of physicality. With respect to his contract, he is going to be 31 at the end of this season. How much money would we get for a 31-year-old player with only a year to go in his contract? The answer should be not much, but with some of the silly money rolling around in Russia at the moment, we can’t be too sure. If both Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala are interested in the Russian captain, there is a chance we might get a few quid for him. If that’s the case, I definitely think we should cash in. If they are not too interested, then I would be inclined to hold onto him and let his contract run down.

Theo is a totally different kettle of fish to Andre. Firstly, he will only be 23 at the end of this season. Secondly, he is English! Theo is a very frustrating player for Arsenal. He is capable of turning a game on its head with his pace, but just as capable of looking like he has never seen a football before let alone kicked or controlled one. We understand, however, that Chelsea made an inquiry for him this summer. Reports out in the continent suggest that Juventus are also interested in the speedster. His pace is such a threat that it scares teams to death, they defend deeper, and that creates more space on the pitch. We need to hold onto Theo in my opinion. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is looking for some element of assurance that he’s going to be given a chance as a central striker – For this to happen on a regular basis, I think we need to change our formation. I can’t see our manager doing that, so Wenger’s silver tongue will be needed to convince Walcott of his future. This isn’t as so when the manager’s own future is being brought into question. My initial inclination is that Theo will sign a new deal, even if there is a clause in it that he can leave for X amount of money for a Champions League club (presuming we do not make it).

The missing link for us last season, and the start of this one, could arguably be Thomas Vermaelen. He has been fantastic since he signed for us two years ago. The partnership he built with William Gallas looked as solid as we’ve had here for a long time. As the song went at Craven Cottage at the end of last season, ‘we missed him all year’ last year. He has also been the most quiet about his future, and so it is hard to gauge what his stand point is. There have been no rumblings from other clubs, and hopefully that is because is agent isn’t agitating for movement. That fact is though, teams throughout Europe will be interested. There is a massive linchpin in Thomas’s situation though, and that’s how he returns from his latest injury. All parties (Arsenal, Thomas, his agent & prospective buyers) will be looking to see if he can regain his form of 18 months ago. If he gets a few good months under his belt, you will start to hear noises from other clubs. My view is, we should try to tie him down before he looks the finished article again. Then, hope our faith and loyalty will be reciprocated by the player. It’s a very difficult one to gauge but I’m hoping he will stay, and provide what we’ve been missing for the last year or so.

Finally, and most importantly we have our captain – Robin van Persie. For obvious reasons, he has been the most talked about player. All reports (the validity of them could be questioned though) suggest that Robin is looking for assurances that we are going to compete on the pitch. Unfortunately, on this season’s evidence, we haven’t really put much weight behind our argument. Maybe he is waiting to see what Ivan and Arsene have up their sleeves for the January transfer window? Many Gooners would argue (me being one of them) that the amount of time he’s spent in the treatment rooms in the last 8 years warrants a little bit more loyalty than his current posture is perhaps suggesting. I know loyalty is becoming rarer and rarer in football, but I’m a romantic and think there could still be a place for it the modern game. Saying that, I don’t really blame our club captain for asking questions about where the club is going. Let’s face it; we’ve been doing the same thing recently. We will be asking him to sign a (minimum) four-year contract. Who knows what sort of position we will be in then? I don’t think you can underestimate how important Robin’s commitment is to the short to mid-term future of the club. What message does it send out to the current squad, and prospective imports, if your captain and talisman’s future is uncertain? One of the worrying factors is Robin has moved to Darren Dein for his agent services, a man who has previous for engineering players moves away from North London. I hope it doesn’t set a precedent. I’m going to lead with my heart rather than my head on this one, and predict that we convince Robin that his future lays at the Gunners. Fingers crossed.

You will notice that I haven’t talked about wages for the four players in question. It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t think that money will be the ultimate motivation for their departure or stay. I think Thomas, Theo and Robin will be given their desired pay deal (even if it involves breaking the current wage structure).

These are pivotal months for the current playing squad. You cannot replace players like this very easily. That said, we are Arsenal, we will continue to be a big club even if they do all go. This is not going to be a rarity in the future. Every season we will have similar battles to retain our top stars. It’s not just an Arsenal issue; every team around the world will have the same problem. Thanks a lot John-Marc Bosman…

Thanks for reading.

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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