LONDON (AFP) –
Arsene Wenger launched a vigorous defence of his Arsenal reign at the club’s annual general meeting on Thursday as the Frenchman insisted it was more important to qualify for the Champions League than win trophies.
Wenger has failed to deliver any silverware since the 2005 FA Cup, but during that time Arsenal have remained consistent participants in the Champions League and the Gunners boss is adamant that is also a genuine form of success.
While Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, chairman Peter Hill-Wood and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke were all heckled at AGM at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger escaped with a relatively warm reception from an audience made up of the club’s shareholders and supporters.
The meeting came at a bad time for Wenger, who has seen Arsenal crash to lacklustre defeats against Norwich and Schalke in their last two matches to leave them 10 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and uncertain of progress in Europe.
But Wenger made it clear he regards simply being in the Champions League as a trophy of sorts given the tough competition for the top four places in the Premier League.
“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,” Wenger said.
“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 remains convinced his current team is capable of emulating the success of his previous sides, but he called on fans to accept that Arsenal’s policy of living within their financial means makes it hard to compete with mega-rich clubs likes Manchester City and Chelsea.
“My job is to deliver a team with the resources we have and I have never complained about that,” he said.
“I want a club to pay players from its own resources, there is no shame in that.
“If everybody is absolutely devastated when we finish third in the league, I promise you I will not be here if we finish 15th one day.
“We did not produce a good performance last night (against Schalke), but let’s not forget it was a first home defeat in the Champions League for 43 games – not many teams do that.
“It is always difficult after a defeat to take a distance with the result and look at the bigger picture.
“I believe this team can deliver and I am optimistic we will have a good season and the players will show I am right.”
Although Wenger was able to avoid too many difficult questions, Gazidis had to call order to get the AGM back on track after being accused by one shareholder of “ruining the club” with his financial policies.
Gazidis had earlier said that Arsenal would be able to compete with the world’s biggest and best clubs as UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations become more rigorously enforced.
“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,” he said.
Kroenke, who also owns several American sports franchises, was asked whether dividends were to be paid to Arsenal shareholders, meaning money being taken out of the club at some future stage.
The American tycoon said: “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.”