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Will Arsenal's owner please stand up?
Dear Stan Kroenke,
You won't know me, although I have seen you around a few times. The first time I saw you was quite memorable. It was at the Arsenal Annual General Meeting a couple of seasons ago, and word had got around that you would speak publicly for the first time.
There were a few hundred Arsenal supporters - all shareholders who, like you, had put their money in their pockets to have a stake - and a handful of reporters in the audience and there was considerable anticipation about what you would say about your plans for the club. "Hey, it's great to be here," you began. But the main impression that lingered from your five-minute speech was that you seemed to have no idea why people would want to hear from you at all.
As English sports fans, not entirely familiar with the U.S. model, there was a very keen desire to understand some basics. What's the plan? What do you want from Arsenal?
But we were left none the wiser. At the end of a very brief speech about how you came to invest in the club and why it appealed to you, you joked that we had better get used to seeing you around.
The thing is, we have barely seen you since. There was another AGM visit last autumn, which was spiky and at times unusually hostile. Arsenal's minority shareholders appeared to be increasingly worried about the club's direction. There was even a protest outside, and the general concern was that financial gain is being prioritized at the expense of sporting ambition.
The English sporting fan is not completely stupid. Although it took some getting used to, we realize that in the modern world sport is business, the sums are supposed to look good. But what seems unfathomable is the wisdom in letting an attractive asset lose the sheen that makes it financially strong. You want Champions League millions, high end sponsorship, luxury price match tickets? It makes sense that more money flows in when a team is successful.
This week Arsenal are expected to announce another set of rock solid financial results. Whoopee! But the trouble is, results on the field are worryingly shaky.
Mr. Kroenke, your Arsenal are in a pickle. The team is struggling in a way it never has before under this manager, Arsene Wenger. Wenger has enjoyed considerable success in the past, but the pressure has really cranked up. This is his worst-ever Premier League points haul at this stage of a season. The team's 1-0 defeat to Blackburn at the weekend means they have been dumped out of both cups to lower league teams for the first time in decades. There is little reason for optimism in the Champions League against a Bayern Munich side which looks far superior. The regular end of season sale of the best players to rivals has taken its toll.
There is a crisis going on, but heads seem buried in the sand. Somebody needs to make a big call or two. But who? The trouble is, there is nobody inside the club who appears to have the power to make these big, difficult, decisions.
Arsenal are not a million miles away from having a team that could be a contender. So is Wenger struggling because he is not getting the backing he needs in the name of profit? Or is he unwilling to invest in the team? Either way, it's a problem that has been fudged for too long. It needs fixing. To be faltering whilst there is a small fortune sitting in the club's accounts demonstrates something is wrong with the current philosophy.
The club talks a good game about how Arsenal are responsibly managed and in a good position to push on if, and when, the effects of new rules to ensure Financial Fair Play in football are felt strongly enough to deter the most lavish spenders. But PR spin about what might happen in the future is being drowned out by alarm about what is happening now.
What Arsenal needs is leadership, direction and inspiration from the very top. Instead we have something that feels like a void, like a lack of interest and enthusiasm, and like an owner that is content to sit back and welcome healthy revenues without due attention to the fact the company is failing in its primary concern – winning games on the field. It’s not really helping.
Mr. Kroenke, what is your strategy? Is it asking too much to ask for a demonstration that you are keen to do what is necessary to turn things around and take Arsenal to a point where they can again compete at the highest level?
A couple of years on from your first public declaration the fundamental questions remain. What's the plan? What do you want from Arsenal?
A clear answer is really needed now.
Amy Lawrence is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since USA `94, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer.
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