Yesterday Arsenal Holdings Plc held its Annual General Meeting at Emirates Stadium and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. I had been to one before, in 2008, and there were noticeable differences between the two. Firstly I would like to point out that Arsenal and its advisers are doing an outstanding job in their ‘Arsenalisation’ programme. I am sure most readers will understand what this means but for those who do not, the club has used the term ‘Arsenalisation’ to describe the work it is doing to make the stadium feel more Arsenal-like. Those of us who attended games back in 2006 when the stadium opened will remember it as being a big slab of grey concrete. The only thing ‘Arsenal’ about it was the red seats. Since then they have added some stunning artwork to the stadium’s exterior showing classic players in the club’s history. They have brought the famous clock back and have added a bigger replica which sits high and proud above the newly-named ‘Clock End’.
Inside the stadium the grey walls have been decorated with all different sorts or artwork, facts and so on. Where I enter the stadium for home matches in entrance ‘J’ one wall has all the hat-tricks ever scored by Arsenal players chiseled into it. In fact, each week I go to the stadium I notice something new. The Arsenalisation of the stadium was one of the points raised by Ivan Gazidis (Arsenal CEO) in his opening speech to the floor. Credit where it’s due, they are doing a fantastic job. I uploaded some pictures yesterday to my twitter account which Dev has linked to in yesterday’s ‘AGM Update’ which gives glimpses of the kind of things they have done.
I am sure we are all aware of the unique financial position of the club compared to our Premier League rivals and this was reiterated once again. A point to note is that the Chairman acknowledged that our impressive profits in recent years were substantially a result of sales at Highbury Square, which would diminish over the next two to three years. Nonetheless I believe that we are set for continued profits after this period and we really should be grateful to be in the financial position we are in. Can Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool fans talk about their clubs’ future financial prospects with the same pride and confidence?
The Chairman was asked about Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s shares and her continued search for a buyer, as well as the intentions of Stan Kroenke who was in attendance. He completely avoided answering both queries claiming he did not know the answer to either, and added that even if he did he would be prevented from disclosing such matters by Stock Exchange Regulations. The situation regarding Lady Nina’s shares has gone quiet for some months now. I wonder whether she is waiting for the lock-down agreement to expire (in April 2011?) so that she can sell to a non-existing shareholder.
Moving on to the stuff that matters most, the football, Arsene Wenger gave one of his typical speeches, pushing the hunger, desire, spirit of the team to succeed this season. Something atypical about this speech compared to others was that he acknowledged the flaws that have existed in recent years. Normally he defends his position and that of his players fervently. I was therefore surprised when he openly admitted that our defence was ‘not good’ last season. He cited this as the reason for wholesale changes in the centre-back positions in the close-season. He even went as far as acknowledging that we are overly offensive at times and that his coaching staff are working extra hard on the defence this season to try and find a fruitful balance.
He went on to say something that many Gooners, and indeed the floor, were delighted to hear – that we will be fighting for the FA Cup and League cup this season in addition to the big two. One of the biggest problems the manager has faced in recent seasons is retaining the services of the club’s best players. Many players have left to join European rivals in search of trophies. I inferred from his tone and his words that he realised that players, such as Fabregas, are ambitious and need their ambition to be matched by their club. That if Arsenal won trophies then players like Cesc will be happy to stay at the club. One shareholder asked if this means he will be playing Cesc at Newcastle next week. He politely reminded the shareholder that Cesc was not on the pitch against Sp*rs but that we will be going for all trophies with the resources available to us. In relation to Cesc, the manager said that he deeply loves the club and that he would have been sold if this was not so. He believes Cesc will be with Arsenal for a few more years.
The matter of injuries was then raised and he admitted that it continues to be a problem that baffles him. He said that we have been unlucky with injuries and that those suffered by Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey were unforeseeable and unfortunate. He added that once a player obtains an injury he is more likely to have recurrances. I suppose we should look at the decent and injury-free form of Tomas Rosicky this season to give us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
One thing that has bothered me personally since we moved to the Emirates is the below-par standard of our ball-boys in returning the ball to the pitch when it goes out of play. When you consider that many teams come to the Emirates and time-waste, it infuriates me when I see the lethargic efforts of the ball-boys in getting the ball back to the touchline. If they were more efficient at their job then it could create anything up to a few minutes’ extra football in open play over the course of the 90, which could be vital against the time-wasters whose primary tactic is to wind down the clock.
In La Liga a new ball is thrown back on to the pitch almost before the outgoing ball has left it. Why can’t we adopt a similar approach at the Emirates? After the AGM was officially concluded I was able, and privileged, to raise the matter personally with both Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis. Ivan Gazidis noted that at one point against Shaktar there were three balls on the pitch, suggesting that the ball boys were overenthusiastic if anything. In the champions league they do appear to be much more efficient and are actually given a ball each, ready to throw on to the pitch when the active ball leaves it. However they are not afforded the same luxury in the Premier League and it is in that competition that we suffer most from time-wasting opponents. Arsene Wenger said it was a domain that he hadn’t ever considered before and he took on board my argument that better-educated ball boys could help us achieve more playing time over the course of 90 minutes. I really do hope they act upon the idea because I am certain that it could make a difference throughout the season.
That pretty much sums up everything there is to say about the AGM. I would like to thank the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust for providing me with a proxy to attend yesterday. The AST are a group of hardworking and dedicated Arsenal supporters, like you and I, whose objective is to maintain a healthy relationship between the supporters and the people who run the club. It costs a measly £2 per month to be a member of the AST and I would strongly urge all WOA’s readers to join them and support the excellent work they do. As for Arsenal, it’s onwards and upwards we go. Next stop is Eastlands on Sunday and I’m sure Dev will be providing us with an in-depth preview over the weekend. I hope yours is a good one.