The Arsenal Supporters Trust has demanded to know whether Arsène Wenger has been given all of the club's cash reserves to spend by the board, amid increasing disquiet at the team's direction this season.
In a financial paper issued at an AST meeting of record attendance last night, the trust stated the club has roughly £50m in available cash reserves. Given the frustrations with the limited transfer activity, the AST plans to put to the club the question of whether Wenger was allowed to use that money.
"Did the manager have the option to use all or some of these cash reserves in summer 2011 and January 2012?" the AST will ask, "or are resources being held back as a contingency for failure to qualify for the Champions League?"
The AST estimates the club would lose roughly £45m in annual revenues should they fail to qualify for next year's Champions League. They are currently ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea on goals scored. Television revenue, ticket sales and merit payments would all drop, with uncertain consequences for the club's financial security.
With Arsenal in fourth place in the league, and effectively out of all cup competitions, supporter disquiet is higher than it has ever been under Wenger. The club's majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, is expected to attend a routine board meeting at Arsenal on Thursday, along with Wenger. The AST will meet club representatives this week and its members very much hope to meet Kroenke, who said last year that he would engage with supporters' groups.
The trust is also expected to survey its membership for their views on Wenger's future as manager at the end of this season. This is likely to include more direct questions than have been asked about the Frenchman before, suggesting that a seventh consecutive season without a trophy risks exhausting the goodwill he has accumulated over the years.
Last night's paper also condemned Arsenal's wage spending as "inefficient": player salaries for the 2010-11 season totalled £124.4m, the fourth-highest in the Premier League and a 12.4 per cent rise on the previous year. "In the view of the AST," the paper ran, "there is clear inefficiency in wage spend evidenced by poor performances on the pitch and the number of players the club have either on loan (ie who can't be sold) or deemed not good enough to play in the first team."
AST claim there are 71 players on the wage bill. One-time first-teamers Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson and Carlos Vela are out on loan at Sunderland, Sao Paulo and Real Sociedad respectively. Andrei Arshavin, the record signing when he arrived in 2009, is now a fairly peripheral figure, having started just eight of Arsenal's 25 Premier League games this season.
The AST is clearly concerned: Tottenham, currently 10 points ahead of their local rivals in third place, posted a wage bill of £91m for the 2010-11 season, significantly less than Arsenal's figure. "Our wage spend is 40 per cent higher than the payroll at another club in north London and Arsenal are in danger of being overtaken more than temporarily by those who spend their wages more efficiently."
Should Tottenham finish ahead of Arsenal, it would be for the first time since 1994-95, before Wenger took over at Highbury, and when Tottenham were managed by Gerry Francis. Spurs could well seal that result when the two teams meet at the Emirates on Sunday lunchtime.