It has been a tough week for Arsenal. The optimism and buoyancy which preceded the international break now seems a million miles away after consecutive defeats in disappointing circumstances.
Manager Arsene Wenger fully expected the Gunners to bounce back from last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Norwich City with a win in the Champions League against Schalke at the Emirates Stadium. A win on Wednesday evening would have meant Arsenal had one foot in the last 16 of European competition – a feat they have achieved every year since the turn of the century.
But after a dismal performance, in which the Gunners managed to muster up just one shot on target (and that from young winger Serge Gnabry in added time), the Germans left North London with the spoils after goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay.
Arsenal could not have timed this miserable slump in form more inappropriately. 12 hours after the Schalke surrender, Arsenal kingmakers, including majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and Wenger himself suffered and stuttered at the hands of a worried and pessimistic support at the club’s annual general meeting.
Prior to the event, Arsenal supporters handed out sardonic leaflets mocking those in power at the club. In a six-point job specification, the leaflet appealed for potential new board members to, among other requirements, ‘ensure the best players are sold each summer’ and ‘punish the fans in the pocket’. It also portrayed the Arsenal board as gambling by ‘placing all eggs in the FFP (Financial Fair Play) basket, with no plan B’.
True to form, Gazidis told those in attendance that Arsenal will be able to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea – but within two years, as UEFA’s FFP regulations are imposed across the continent. The regulations will see Europe’s governing body for football tighten up the nonchalant flashing of cash at many of the top clubs.
Speaking at the AGM, Gazidis told fans and shareholders Gazidis
“Financial success is relevant because it supports our football vision… the money we make is made available to our manager [Wenger] and he decides how to invest those funds.”
There is no arguing that Arsene Wenger has done marvellously well to keep Arsenal at arm’s length of the top Premier League teams despite strict financial caution. But with his contract up at the end of the season, will he still be around in two years to reap the rewards which Gazidis believes Arsenal will be due because of their prudence?
Wenger himself spoke at the AGM. But there was not the same defiance and assertion that he exhibited 12 months previous. He still showed a confidence that the club would progress in the medium to long term but was more measured than last year. He also reasserted the fact that finishing in the top four of the Premier League is the priority over FA Cup or League Cup silverware – a belief which still irks many supporters.
It is now seven years and counting since Arsenal had something to add to their trophy cabinet. Regardless of Financial Fair Play and the future of Wenger, supporters’ patience while they wait for silverware is wearing particularly thin.
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