Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Arsenal AGM will yet again highlight divisions between supporters and club's ... -

Hill-Wood had certainly set the tone with his dismissive responses. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis and majority owner Stan Kroenke could have been more expansive with some of their answers but some of the angry reaction was also over the top.

Recent results inevitably frame the mood from the floor but Arsenal were, and still are, among the better run clubs in the country and any crisis has always been relative to the standards that have been set under 17 years of Arsène Wenger.

There are certainly some things that they could do better but, basically, Arsenal is run in a way that most neutral fan would surely support.

They have never been impatient or unrealistic with the manager, they are stable, they are financially healthy, they give young players a chance and, for a generation, they have played the most consistently progressive football in the Premier League. They have also not won a trophy since 2005 and, in that basic fact, is the fundamental reason for most of the frustration.

A strong start to the season coupled with the marquee signing of Mesut Özil had ensured that the atmosphere will be more cordial tomorrow.

There is, however, still an underlying but very definite friction between some of the club's various fan groups and the board of directors. A letter went out last month to Kroenke from four fans' groups – the Arsenal Supporters' Trust, Arsenal Independent Supporters' Association, Red Action and the Black Scarf Movement – requesting a personal meeting with Kroenke.

They believe that he made a commitment to meet after completing his takeover in 2011. At the time, the takeover document said "Mr Kroenke has made it a priority to meet with supporters and fan groups in formal and informal settings".

Should that statement be taken in the past or present tense? Some fans will again ask for a meeting at tomorrow's AGM. The AST will also request backing for their much praised fanshare scheme – and specifically a proposal to release 125 new shares – for fans. The ageing make-up of the board will be challenged, as will the club's summer transfer strategy.

The suggestion that Kroenke has not engaged significantly with fans has caused significant frustration at Arsenal. He met various fan groups in Denver before becoming majority owner, he will attend and take questions at tomorrow's AGM, his key aides, particularly Gazidis, also have regular talks in person with fans.

He has also given several in-depth interviews about his plans for the club. Although there has not been a personal meeting between Kroenke and fan groups outside of an AGM over these past two years, Arsenal can rightly point out that he has been far more accessible and visible than comparable billionaire owners in the Premier League, such as Joe Lewis at Tottenham, Chelsea's Roman Abramovich or the Glazer family at Manchester United.

Beyond meeting fans and perhaps bringing some younger 'football' faces onto the board, it is hard to know what most fans would actually want Kroenke to do differently. He is clearly not at Arsenal for reasons of profile or short-term profit.

His philosophy is to appoint what he believes are good people and let them run the club. He has a very positive relationship with Wenger and he is ready to offer him a new contract. He has also made all of the clubs naturally generated revenues available to the manager for squad strengthening.

Yes, it is true that he has not given supporters the definitive commitment that some demand over never awarding himself dividends or some form of profit.

Yet it is also true that he has never taken any money out of Arsenal during his five years on the board and clearly has no intention of selling the club in the short or medium term.

It is quite possible that Arsenal will be run by his family for a generation or more. Kroenke will not shift from his previous outlook for Arsenal at tomorrow's AGM when the issue of Wenger's contract – which expires next summer – is likely to prompt the most interesting responses.

After last year it is doubtful whether the Arsenal directors are especially looking forward to a meeting with the club's minority shareholders.

Yet even if they are subjected to another grilling – albeit more friendly – it should be remembered that it is still a strength rather than a weakness of Arsenal that they have so many well-informed fans who are repeatedly prepared to shine a spotlight on the club's inner workings.

And, as Wenger and his fellow Arsenal board members look down from the top of the Premier League at the other 91 clubs in the country, it is also fair to say that the club has been getting much more right than wrong since they all met 12 months ago.

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