Friday, 18 October 2013

Arsène Wenger has title in his sights but Arsenal fans unhappy at AGM - The Guardian

Arsène Wenger has promised Arsenal fans he is targeting the title this season as the club emerges from a period when its finances were constrained by the move to the Emirates Stadium.

At an annual general meeting that was noticeably less stormy than in recent years, partly due to early-season success on the pitch inspired by the £42.5m signing of Mesut Özil and partly because the format was more tightly controlled, Wenger unveiled a three-point plan to return the club to trophy-winning ways.

"We have a huge ambition to win this league again and that is the target of the season, but I still believe our policy has to be based on three different levels and we want to continue that with success," said Wenger who did not discuss his own future in his address to the AGM, which was also attended by the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke.

Wenger sought to reassure fans that the club was prepared to shell out large sums where necessary. "I am quite happy that we have shown to you that we are not scared to spend money when we think the players have the quality and we have the funds available to do it," he said.

But the Arsenal manager said that the first priority was to "defend our philosophy of play and our values" by developing young players. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis,said an immediate focus would be to recruit a successor to Liam Brady to lead the club's academy. "The second level of the development of our club has to be based on the intelligence of our eye. That means players who are unknown and who can become big players here, through our connections, the quality of our scouting, through the quality of what we have seen in them and how they could develop," said Wenger, citing Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud.

"The third part of our development and ambition is to scout and buy recognised world-class players. This season, for example, we have bought Özil. You don't need any scout to buy Özil. You just need money!" Wenger conceded the club had been destabilised by the departure of Robin van Persie on the eve of last season, which created "a lot of unrest and scepticism", but said that now it had come through a "restricted period financially" it was primed for future success.

Sir Chips Keswick, the Arsenal chairman presiding over his first AGM after succeeding Peter Hill-Wood, and Gazidis referenced the recent £150m renewal of the Emirates sponsorship deal as evidence of the club's increased firepower.

Wenger also returned to the familiar theme of the huge investment poured into Arsenal's European rivals by overseas benefactors and the way in which it had increased competition. "The competition you face on an international level, financially, has become bigger than before. Even if you look at the Champions League, before you had four of five clubs who could win it, today you will have 10," said Wenger, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

In a rare public appearance, Kroenke spoke briefly at the meeting and Gazidis dealt with questions on everything from the club's transfer policy to the lack of rain cover in the front rows at the Emirates. But supporters' groups complained that the new format for the AGM, with questions displayed on big screens rather than asked in person, robbed them of the ability to hold the board to account.

Gazidis dismissed concerns aired by the four main fan groups in a letter to Kroenke that claimed the owner had reneged on an agreement to meet with them "formally and informally". Gazidis said he was mandated to meet them on Kroenke's behalf and that Arsenal engaged with its fans more fully than any other big club in England.

"Clearly, appearing at a statutory AGM is not fulfilling a commitment to meet formally and informally with supporters," said a spokesman for the Arsenal Supporters' Trust. "It was a very sanitised and controlled meeting. The AGM as a forum to engage with supporters has been watered down."

The club also refused to answer questions on the future of the Fanshare scheme once lauded as an ideal model for supporter engagement but now struggling through a lack of available shares, saying only that meetings would be held in due course.

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