Belfast Telegraph

Premier League the priority, Wenger tells Arsenal AGM

By Simon Rice

Arsene Wenger today addressed angry Arsenal supporters, telling them the Premier League title was the priority for the club and that the team would “give absolutely every drop of energy to achieve that”.

Wenger was speaking at Arsenal's AGM, which could perhaps have come at a more opportune moment than the day after defeat in the Champions League, a lacklustre display that followed on from a 1-0 loss to Norwich in the Premier League at the weekend.

The meeting at the Emirates Stadium was a hostile affair with Wenger among those to take to the stage to face questions. He immediately apologised for yesterday's 2-0 defeat against Schalke acknowledging there was a "lot of dissatisfaction", but said Arsenal fans should not "go overboard".

The Frenchman went on to say that the players bought in the summer, including Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla will be a success, that qualification for the Champions League was more important than winning the League Cup and FA Cup and told supporters: "We have to be united to achieve our goals."

Wenger said: "This team started in a very dynamic and promising way. We hit the wall in the last two games, which was a bit unexplainable, but the attitude and focus of the team every day is fantastic.

"We have some good news with players coming back.

"I believe this team can deliver and I am optimistic we will have a good season and the players will show I am right.

"My job is to deliver a team with the resources we have, and I have never complained about that.

"I want a club to pay players from its own resources, there is no shame in that."

Speaking about the importance of Champions League qualification over the need to end the trophy drought that has not seen any silverware return to north London since the 2005 FA Cup, Wenger said: "For me, there are five 'trophies' - the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup.

"I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask 'did you win the League Cup?', they ask you 'do you play in the Champions League?'."

Wenger ended his address with a call for unity: "We want first to win the Premier League, that is what we are here for and that is what we want to fight for - believe me will give absolutely every drop of energy to achieve that and will do that again this year.

"It is still important that we keep our strength and stay united for the good of Arsenal, sometimes you can forget that."

Wenger's speech, which ended with a rapturous round of applause, went more smoothly than that of chief executive Ivan Gazidis and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke.

Without a trophy in a seven years and with the summer departure of captain Robin van Persie to Manchester United, there have been questions asked over Arsenal's priorities - with financial success seemingly prioritised over success on the football pitch.

Yet Gazidis defended Arsenal's philosophy, arguing that it stands them in good stead ahead of the implementation of Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations which are due to start taking affect.

Gazidis said: "In the next two years, we will have the financial resources to sit and compete among the leading clubs in the world, which is an extraordinary achievement.

"Financial success is relevant because it supports our football vision... the money we make is made available to our manager and he decides how to invest those funds.

"Arsene has done a magnificent job against the spending of our major competitors."

Flanked by chairman Peter Hill-Wood and Kroenke, Gazidis added: "Our ambition is shared by everybody at this table, the whole board and by everyone in this room.

"It is all about football, to compete at the top of the game here and in Europe to win trophies and do it in a way which makes fans proud and reflects our values, and also protects Arsenal for the long term."

Gazidis faced a rough ride during his address with one shareholder accusing him of "ruining the club with your financial policies". Arsenal fans also called for more meetings with Kroenke, known as 'Silent Stan' for being very much in the background, and there were questions over the role of second-largest shareholders Red & White Holdings, backed by Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

With heated exchanges between the top bench and the floor Gazidis at one point needed to call for order and moved back towards pre-submitted questions.

Kroenke, an American tycoon, whose group also owns US sports franchises Denver Nuggets of the NBA, Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and NFL side St Louis Rams, addressed a question on whether dividends were to be paid to shareholders: "This club is run through the board. I have always been respectful of that process.

"Aside from that, as majority shareholder it is clear we have a record in sports around the world and you can look at our record with our other clubs.

"We have never put any debt on this club for acquisitions (during the takeover) and never said money was not available to spend.

"We acquire through our own resources."

Kroenke, who completed his takeover of Arsenal's parent holding company in 2011, added: "I have one regret with Arsenal and that is that I did not get involved earlier.

"We have a record of reinvestment in our other clubs and it is there for everyone to see."

Hill-Wood was the last to address the meeting and needed to deflect questions over why it costs £13.90 for fish and chips at the Emirates and the make up of the age and gender of the current board.

Belfast Telegraph


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