Soccer

Wenger sees discontent, says skepticism too high

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LONDON (AP)

Arsene Wenger acknowledged that there is skepticism and discontent among Arsenal fans, but asked a stormy shareholders' meeting Thursday to continue trusting in his team despite a seven-year trophy drought.

''Not many people at the moment are behind us,'' Wenger said at one of the most heated annual general meetings of his 15-year reign following Arsenal's worst start to a season in more than 50 years.

But before trying to allay fears over Arsenal's lack of competitiveness, Wenger's vision did receive the full backing of Stan Kroenke in the American's first comments at an AGM since his takeover.

Wenger was described by the sports tycoon as a ''wonderful manager on the pitch who makes great decisions in regard to personnel, and (has) a tremendous following with the supporters.''

But even Wenger, who has won the three Premier League titles, has seen support draining in recent weeks.

''I can see a lot of fear, even discontent amongst you and I can understand that because we live in a world where we fight with people who have extremely high resources,'' the 62-year-old Wenger told shareholders inside the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's last major titles came through the Premier League in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2005 - two years before Kroenke began investing in a team he now controls.

The Gunners have been spending sparsely and seen the departure of key players including Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas, while the gulf with Manchester United and now Manchester City has grown.

Wenger's side is already 13 points behind leader City after nine matches.

''I would just like personally to turn around the skepticism that is surrounding this club at the moment - for me it is too high,'' he said. ''And if I just would like to achieve one thing today it is 'Trust us, this team has qualities, this team will fight.'''

Wenger said he takes ''full responsibility'' for Arsenal retaining its self-sufficiency model.

''The way we can compete is to try to be intelligent but as well to be united because it is very difficult to be consistent in football,'' he said. ''We have been more consistent than anybody else in the world in the last 15 years. To stay at the top, top level, we have to be united. That doesn't mean I am not to be criticized. I accept that is part of my job and that the board has been criticized.''

In fact, one shareholder called for Peter Hill-Wood to be removed as chairman - 29 years after succeeding his father - but was rejected.

''Peter has our support and we are with you,'' Kroenke said. ''We are fans too.''

There was also no appetite to bring back former vice chairman David Dein, who was instrumental in transfer negotiations, or to give the second-highest shareholder, Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, a place on the board despite owning almost 30 percent of the club.

Kroenke has been under pressure from shareholders to speak publicly about his plans for Arsenal in recent years but he has waited until after taking control by raising his stake to more than two-thirds of the shares.

The Denver-based Kroenke, who also owns the NFL's St. Louis Rams, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids, only spoke briefly.

''Arsenal has all the elements that you need to have success in this kind of business,'' Kroenke said.

''We are glad to be here, are happy with the direction of the club and are here for the long term,'' he added. ''We love London, you had better get used to seeing us, because we will be around.''



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