Arsenal FC: Promises from Arsene Wenger, Board Sound Comforting but Ring Hollow

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Arsenal FC: Promises from Arsene Wenger, Board Sound Comforting but Ring Hollow
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The disconnect grows ever stronger at Arsenal.

Almost eight years in the making, the dissonance between the bottom line and the touchline has never been more pronounced. After back-to-back defeats and an annual general meeting that seesawed between the irritating and the exasperating, it's unclear when or how the trend might stop.

Much will be made of Arsenal's last two losses, most of it panicky. Still more will be said of Thursday's AGM, most of it negative. The board will draw criticism, the manager's performance will be debated and dozens of theories will be put forth to bring Arsenal back to the forefront of English football.

Gooners will quibble over the details there, but on the next two points, there can only be near-unanimous agreement.

First, to be an Arsenal fan these days is to be frustrated.

Second, the club should do something—anything—about it, and now.

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More than seven years have passed since Arsenal last lifted silverware, a sad fact that has become so ingrained and widespread in English football that reciting it almost serves as the default response to any Arsenal success of any kind.

Those seven years haven't been all bad. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League in each of the seasons since that 2005 FA Cup title. And taken as a whole, manager Arsene Wenger's 16-year tenure is the most successful in the club's history.

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That's just it, though.

For all the success of the Wenger era, Arsenal have stopped moving forward these past seven-plus years. Whether it's because of player greed, lack of ambition, extensive foreign investment in opposing clubs or just plain bad luck, the fact is that Arsenal have fallen behind multiple Premier League rivals.

Coupled with ugly losses to Norwich and Schalke in the past week, those factors have now produced a new level of frustration that on Thursday threatened to boil over.

The AST is the Arsenal Supporters' Trust, and its members were right to question the club's ambition and motives. Selling Robin van Persie to Manchester United in the summer sent the wrong message to fans, players and opponents, even if it did help the club's bottom line.

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The RvP sale wasn't the first time in 2012 that profit seemed to overshadow on-field concerns. In February, the Daily Mail quoted Wenger as saying he liked Eden Hazard—then a Lille player available for transfer—but was limited by his requirement to turn a substantial profit for the club.

To be fair, Wenger came off positively in Thursday's meeting, despite equating Champions League qualification with winning a trophy (via Daily Telegraph). Wenger's words are almost always worth reading, and his speech at the AGM is no exception.

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His full speech is available at Arsenal.com. It's worth a read in its entirety.

But while Wenger did his best to reassure, the board mostly just enraged. Supporters lobbed accusations of relentless profiteering (via Daily Mirror), and chief executive Ivan Gazidis seemed to underline their point indirectly when he claimed that Arsenal will thrive under UEFA's new Financial Fair Play rules (via Daily Mail).

And while Gazidis denied charges that he is "ruining the club" (via The Guardian), club chairman Peter Hill-Wood reportedly treated fans with open contempt.

The atmosphere at Arsenal is toxic, and with each new day, the club's decision-makers are testing the fans' already-weary patience. Perhaps the best expression of this frustration came from Arseblog after Wednesday night's loss to Schalke, before Thursday's AGM:

It’s all well and good talking about 2014 but new commercial deals rely on us having a full stadium and a team that can compete for the biggest trophies in football—last night we had neither of those things. The empty seats around the stadium were obvious from kick off, embarrassingly so at the end, and that’s not a true reflection of the support, it’s a reflection of the manager and the team.

In other words, success builds more success, and while balancing the books is good for the financial health of the club, it has failed to produce trophies for seven years and counting.

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With that said, Wenger is, of course, right to an extent. Qualifying for the Champions League holds immense value, both in strictly financial terms and in recruiting new players.

Prospective players really do care about playing in the Champions League more than the club winning the league cup. That's the reality of modern football, whether or not it's palatable to fans.

He's also right that fans should not “go overboard” in their criticism. This much, though, seems fair.

Seven years—soon to be eight—without a trophy is much too long for a club that considers itself elite.

The question is: Does anyone else call Arsenal elite anymore?

 

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