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Sunday 19 September 2010

Castrated Shareholders Q & A

I'm sure that in this age of instant Twitter news as it happens, by now plenty of reports of the Shareholders Q & A will have long since surfaced on the Interweb, with Gooners everywhere aware that sadly one last bastion of interaction with our beloved club has bitten the dust, as a result of this event no longer being an open forum for questions from the floor.

It would seem that in response to the exaggerated media reports of last season's event, where Arsène flew off the handle in response to a single question and a couple of hundred shareholders were incorrectly described as having started a full-scale revolution (when in fact the evening followed it's customary polite and above all grateful course), the club have exercised their inalienable right to exert their complete control, by turning the evening into an equally sterile occasion as the annual AGM, by only accepting questions submitted in advance.

My own instincts are that the number of questions they were received were so limited that they were forced to use them all, as otherwise, not only do I suspect that the odd (sadly all too rare) contentious question might've been omitted, but surely we wouldn't have been forced to listen to some of the more bizare queries - like the shareholder who took Arsène to task over the number of goals conceded immediately after scoring and who wanted to know what le Prof planned on doing to force the lads to focus on the task at hand. Doubtless this shareholding party pooper is determined that all post-goal merriment is made a capital crime and is not prone to teaching his grandchildren the dance steps of some of the more funkier celebrations?

Or the statistically minded bod who demanded an answer from our footballing focused manager, as to why the Arsenal at 34% per cent have the lowest dependence in the Premiership on TV revenue? Doh! Even I can work out that with 60k every game, £4.5k seats, £190 per head restaurants, £200 memorial stones (can I transfer mine to Bushey cemetery when I shuffle off this mortal coil), £40 for 28 character plaques etc. etc. etc.

In fact, so many of what proved to less than 20 questions turned out to be so incredibly inane that those of us present should be duly grateful to Bob Wilson for making it worth our while turning up, by requesting some of the evening most relevant answers. With all due respect to Uncle Bob (who seems such a kindly sort, he'd have to be everyone's favourite uncle) who's grown quite adept at chairing this annual event over the past few years. Despite being in thrall to the besuited paymasters at the club, dear old Bob is undoubtedly a Gooner at heart and is not afraid to ask those questions that are at the forefront of the minds of your average Arsenal fan. Although as a sometime Arsenal employee, obviously Bob's perhaps more inclined to back up Arsène's answer than to press him any further.

Obviously, as far as I'm concerned Arsène's such an enigmatic geezer that I'm only too delighted for any opportunity to sit and listen to him speak in person. Nevertheless, as far as getting answers to all our most important concerns, apart from Bob's brief interrogation and a far too limited smattering of interesting queries, the evening was pretty much a complete non-starter and other than the opportunity to sit at le Prof's feet and listen to him preaching, the principal reason for turning up was the post-event buffet, the extremely rare opportunity for the Gooner equivalent of a "free lunch".

Considering that this was a gathering of some of the Arsenal's more affluent fans - let's face it, with a single share valued these days at something like £10k, they are already worth more than many of us - it soon became evident how adept many of them are at acquiring their affluence, if the height of the gratis grub piled upon their plates was anything to go by :-) But then I have to admit that even if Arsène wasn't present for this occasion, in light of the fact that I only live around the corner, I'd still turn up, as considering how much of my hard earned moolah I've given the Gunners over the many years, I certainly can't resist any opportunity to get a free nosh up out of the Arsenal (or Azenal as Chris Waddle insisted on calling us to my increasing frustration on his ESPN commentary from the Stadium of Light!)

Wasn't it at last season's Q & A (or the AGM?) where Arsène actually made the mistake of promising us some silverware last season? Having failed to live up to this promise, I'd have loved to take him to task on when actually he expects to come good on this commitment, as in truth on the evidence of what I've seen so far, I believe our best and perhaps only chance of some sort of tangible return by way of tin pots, is if the competition hands it to us on a platter, by proving to be even less committed.

So taking into account the fact that this small privileged selection of shareholders is unlikely ever to express the concerns of the vast majority of average Gooners, what, if anything, was said of interest on the evening (and you'll have to forgive me if my all too fallible memory fails me and I misinterpret my garbled notes made on my phone, as from experience of press-conferences in the past, I always regret not having a dictaphone recording of an accurate account, as unless one is blessed with 140wpm shorthand or typing skills, if you got your head down tapping away on an iPhone making lengthy notes, you are inevitably going to miss the most relevant words, whilst noting down the minutae of all the bullsh*t answers).

Well in his opening salvo, Bob Wilson referred to the fact that Arsène had recently put pen to paper on his new contract, I believe seeking reassurance from le gaffer that unlike the majority of star players nowadays, Wenger's contract might prove worth the paper it's written on and that four more years truly means four more years. But then whatever your opinion of our glorious leader at present, I can't believe there are many Gooner who can imagine Arsène as the sort of person likely to dishonour such a commitment?

Naturally Bob then referred to the frustrations of so many Gooners about Arsène's transfer dealings (or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof?) and the fact that so many of us were left feeling unhappy. As a fully paid up member of the goalkeeper's union, I don't think Bob actually referred to Arsène's failure to sign a keeper, but the implication was sufficiently obvious for AW to respond accordingly.

And this wasn't the only time that the awkward subject cropped up (which was more evidence as far as I'm concerned that there weren't sufficient questions for the Arsenal's own Politburo to redact any awkward queries), as after Bob's reference to the failure to address the keeper was issue was raised again only three questions in - with it being the most pressing concern for the vast majority of Arsenal fans. But as my mate at the Q & A commented, Arsène is caught between a rock & a hard place when it comes to commenting on this subject.

Having failed to follow through on the reported efforts to secure Mark Schwarzer and with us now being stuck with our current all too timid triumvirate for the forseeable future (definitely until the winter transfer window), Arsène's unquestionably loyal attitude towards all of his players, even when they're in the wrong, or when their performance demands more than a little doubt, means that he can do little more in public than to give them his complete and staunch backing, by offering us his reassurance that we have "remarkable keepers" at the club, in response to Bob Wilson.

Then when the subsequent goalkeeping question referred to the significant matches last season in which keeper errors cost us so dear, Arsène came to the defence of Almunia. Fabianski and Mannone, by pointing out the fact that while ultimately it's often the keeper who's deemed culpable for the vast majority of goals conceded, in truth, according to our glorious leader, you can invariably point to at least four or five mistakes by the defending side, in the build up to virtually every effort that ends up in the back of the net.

Basically, the fact that the media linked the Gunners with virtually every keeper on the planet during the summer and following the long drawn-out saga with Schwarzer, where at some stage I'm pretty sure Arsène publicly denigrated his three keepers, by commenting on our need for a new goalie, AW's been left having to backtrack big time, in an effort to try and reaffirm his faith in Almunia'a ability, so as to try and restore the Spaniard's own self-confidence because this must've taken an inevitable battering amidst all the speculation.

In between these two inescapable references to the keeper issue, Bob Wilson followed his comments on our transfer dealing frustrations, by enquiring as to le Gaffer's own aspirations for his four more years. My note about Arsène's response refers merely to the "second stage", where I believe AW spoke about keeping the club at the top level, while ramping things up that notch that we have all been waiting for since we moved to the new stadium.

Arsène referred to the fact that having managed to negotiate (somewhat miraculously, in my humble opinion) that difficult period of transformation, as the club coped with the astronomic financial implications of a new stadium project which was accomplished on such a vast scale (considering all the various subsiduary real estate aspects), while at the same time maintaining the Gunners elite status at the Champions League top table, when in fiscal terms Wenger had both hands tied behind his back, he implied that we have now reached that "Promised Land" of milk and honey, where our elite status should be assured by having the financial muscle, both to fend off and to outbid some of our money-bags opposition.

Perhaps I'm guilty of the oft-made media mistake of reading far too much into a mere couple of words, or perhaps that fact I sacrificed so much of my own, very personal Arsenal history, in the departure from THOF means that I've been waiting so impatiently for the day when we begin to witness a tangible return on the pitch (rather than in the £4 million Club Level transformation, which appears to have been made merely to add more profits to the Arsenal balance sheet, by bringing in more high-rollers to the extremely haute priced cuisine) for all that additional matchday revenue and as a result, I'll grasp at the slightest suggestion we've finally arrived. But this was my own personal interpretation of Arsène's reference to "the second stage"?

Although Wenger did qualify this with his answer to a subsequent question, where he discussed our new found financial clout as having put us in a position where the Arsenal never have to sell a player, either alluding to, or possibly referring specifically to the fact that we were able to resist Barca's summer-long efforts to encroach upon the club's greatest asset.

The first question from a shareholder must've also referred in some form to Arsène's aspirations, for the remainder of his contract, as the comment I noted down was "to win with style", where if I'm not mistaken Arsène was referring to his personal vision of what we come to glibly refer to as "Wenger-ball", as if to intimate that it might be acceptable for other, more desperate, more industrial opposition to bite, kick & scratch their way to a first tin pot in their fans lifetime, but Arsène has been there and done that and it seems that success these days will only be achieved the Wenger way, by means of the the beautiful game's highest possible art form?

Those amongst us who've spent far more than a mere five seasons, in a silverware starved wilderness might not be as impatient as other for success. But as I mentioned in last week's missive, as someone weaned on the resilient, workmanlike ethics preached by the likes of Bertie Mee and Don Howe, I believe that there's room for both sets of ideals, amongst a combination of the eleven footballers who make up a team, or the twenty five that comprise a squad nowadays. Perhaps more importantly, on the evidence of the past five seasons, one might conclude that an amalgam of beauty & the beast is an essential ingredient in any successful side and that Arsène is shooting for the moon, if he truly believes that style alone can endure over the course of a marathon campaign (if they don't end up kicked off the park in the process!).

I can't honestly believe Arsène is the sort of idealist who subscribes to this ideal in some kind of slavish fashion. After all, most of AW's success at the Arsenal to date has been founded on the sort of chemistry in the dressing room, which produces that crucial catalyst to inspire the beauty from the beast and the beast from the beauty.

Nevertheless, in the face of the incontrovertible evidence of events at the Stadium of Light yesterday evening (including that gut-wrenching 94th minute equalizer), Arsène continued to respond to various other queries at the Q & A, by espousing his belief that in the likes of Song and Diaby, the Gunners have strong defensive midfield options and by asserting his notion that this squad have been together long enough to have matured into an experienced outfit.

In what was possibly the last question from a shareholder before Bob Wilson brought events to an end with a couple more queries of his own, which I believe related to injuries, Arsène referred to the fact that perhaps players with injuries are less likely to play nowadays and I guess we witnessed this against Sunderland, when our skipper limped off in what was rumoured to be merely a precautionary measure.

Myself I can't help but wonder if Cesc wasn't in the frame of mind where he knows he's out the door sometime soon, on his way back to Spain, he might have soldiered on against Sunderland? Surely Fab's impending departure must impact on some level, even if only subconsciously on our captain's preparedness to put himself on the line for the Arsenal's cause. As a result I have to suspect that his willingness, or lack thereof, to perform in the same committed fashion of seasons past (if he's started to suspect that success and the achievement of all his ambitions will only be achieved elsewhere) could end up having the opposite effect of a lead by example captain, leaving the likes of Wilshere or Chamakh wondering why they should be risking all, chasing down lost causes, when our skipper has already chosen to remove himself from the fray?

Obviously Arsène can't be seen to be expressing any such doubts and without having the opportunity to press him on some of his answers, with ad hoc questions from the floor, it was easy enough for him to continue reiterating the strengths of his own convictions. Wenger's a wily old fox and I'd be amazed if any humble shareholders would've been able to test his beliefs, to the extent that he might admit his own fallibility (and more significantly the weaknesses of any members of his squad). But perhaps we might've been able to read a little more into his answers, if someone had raised Arsène's choler by questioning his response, rather than letting le gaffer off with such an easy going evening.

Having arrived there early, to bag a pitch in the front row, for the benefit of my short-sighted pal, we were a little put out when the Q & A was about to start and we were approached by one of the minions, to request that we moved because they'd neglected to reserve the front row for an impressive double-figure turn out of Arsenal suits, including the ever present Ken Friar, Ivan Gazides and Stan Kroenke, whose presence at these shindigs might suggest the Septic's keen interest in the club, or perhaps (cynic that I am - does Kroenke live or does he spend much time in the UK?) is merely indicative of the fact that while we are tucking into sausages, mini-lamb burgers and a quirky cup full of fish & chips, the suits only turn up because of their being an opportunity to indulge in a proper slap-up dinner, with all the trimmings, including the rare delicacy of sideplate audience with le Prof (as I can't envisage Arsène being particularly keen to indulge in regular evenings out with this exclusive gaggle of high-flying Gooners?).

Gazides actually got up at one point during the Q & A, to assist Arsène in a finance related query (perhaps the 34% TV revenue poser?) and there was another question, perhaps coming from someone from the Supporters Trust about Wenger's attitude towards the fanshare scheme, where AW made a point of expressing his complete lack of interest in the movement of Arsenal stocks and shares, informing us that ownership of the club was not his business, so long as he continued to be able to do his job (without any interference, was the implication).

As I believe has been reported in the national media, he did refer to the fact that like most other top clubs, he's under some pressure to take the Gunners on a potentially lucrative and market expanding, pre-season tour, but that to date he's managed to resist all entreaties from above, at least as far as World Cup and Euro Championship seasons are concerned, because apparently under FIFA rules every player is entitled to four weeks off. Apart from not wanting to interfere with what has now become the club's traditional pre-season preparations, not only would it be wrong to encroach on the holidays of those involved in International tournaments, but the club would be obliged to involve a sufficient number of the Arsenal's star turns as part of the contract negotiated to sell tickets on any potential foreign tours to countries like the USA and China.

However, perhaps for the benefit of the some of the Arsenal's money men, sitting directly in front of him, Arsène did concede that he would continue to investigate ways in which they might make such outings happen. While I'm sure this might be of interest to some of those geographically challenged Gooners who don't get to see the Gunners play live very often, from a purely selfish point of view, I will continue to look forward far more to the traditional curtain-raiser at a ramshackle Underhill and a sadly all too rare opportunity for local kids to achieve the highly cherished ambition of a photo with an arm round one of their heroes, or the hastily scrawled autograph, than the prospect of the Gunners playing LA Galaxy, putting in another ant-like appearance in some foreign concrete superdome.

Wenger wasn't going to escape without taking at least one question on the national team and the ingredients contained therein, which led to further discourse on the subject of the aggression level of the game in this country, compared to the less physical brand of football played elsewhere. Unlike the calls for more protection which ended up backfiring at the Stadium of Light with Alex Song's sending off on Saturday, Arsène's more diplomatic response related to his belief in "passion, not violence".

Le gaffer was also requested to hold forth on his opinions about the 25-man squad rule, which he felt had not been thought through to analyse the full impact, as not only did he talk about a potential for paralyzing the transfer market, but also about the possibility of it being an artificial rule which might be to the detriment of all those clubs that can end up involved in twice as many games as some of their opponents over the course of an entire season.

Another question, perhaps relating to the character attributes of some of the Arsenal youngsters, provided Arsène with an opportunity to explain that the club explore this facet of the nature of their employees with scientific aptitude tests. But then in light of Jack Wilshere's recent fracas on Kensington High Street (and not being a reader of the tabloids, I've little idea of what Jack's been accused, suffice to say that the youngster's inability to know any better than to be out on the razz in the capital, doesn't exactly bode well for his future).

And I'm reminded of what I believe was a previous revelation by Ivan Gazides, during a similar encounter, about the GPS gadgets being used to analyse our players' "load" (an amusing term for more salaciously minded Gooners, used to describe the amount of pressure on his feet during his time on the training ground / pitch), in order to establish their propensity to incur injuries. Well according to the way in which the squad is currently falling like ninepins, I'm hardly sold in this particular appliance of science.

Considering that most modern day young footballers (seemingly with the sole exception of the far too sensible Theo Walcott and in whose case most Gooners wouldn't mind Theo's personality acquiring just a little "edge") appear to lose the necessary hunger and appetite to able to achieve the blinkered focus necessary to fulfill their prodigious potential, from the moment they sign their first mega money contract, believing they've little left to prove, or achieve, once their agent has rewarded their latest money spinning contributor to their Florida retirement home, with a trip to the nearest supercar showroom, I'm somewhat sceptical about Arsène's aptitude tests.

When posed a question soon after about the potential for obscene salaries to spoil some of our more immature stars, Arsène replied that money can't possibly be a player's only motivation, as a basic love of the game must be the principal driving force. Nevertheless, in my most humble opinion, I've always felt that similar principals seen in boxing, are also applicable as far as the beautiful game is concerned.

Perhaps the fact that Theo has to date survived the absurd rollercoaster ride of media mayhem and all the adverse impact of being thrust into the spotlight of glamour and fame at such a tender age, is related to some extent to the fact that he comes from a relatively grounded, somewhat middle-class background, compared to so many of his peers. As it seems to me that in the modern era, any half-talented youngster from these shores undergoes such a meteoric rise to the sort of glamorous lifestyle, with all the sort of trappings of fame and fortune that most can only dream of, that it's almost inevitable that this will have some sort of detrimental impact on their personality, their hunger to achieve that childhood dream of perhaps captaining their country and holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy and their appetite for the game, by way of their propensity to continue working their socks off on the training ground and demonstrating their commitment to a single club's cause, when their agents have already mapped out their career moves, leading their clients to believe they've already cracked it.

Hopefully Arsène's aptitude tests will prove me entirely wrong about the latest crop of Brady Boys rolling off the Arsenal production line?

With the whiff of the food being prepared nearby in his nostrils, Bob Wilson brought the curtain down, by encouraging Wenger to have a whinge about the fact that we face five away trips in the Premiership following our six group stage matches in the Champions League, providing le Prof with an opportunity to remind us how important it was for them to get off on the right foot with a decent performance on Wearside, following our 6-0 pumelling of the Portuguese Arsenalistas, which now seems all the more poignant, considering how many of them failed to turn up on Saturday (and sadly I'm not just referring to the lame and the blind).

Although Arsène didn't need an excuse, Bob also offered him an opportunity to revel in the ravishing football witnessed in Barca's performance earlier in the week, whilst at the same time assuring us that our squad has developed sufficiently since last year, for us not to have to suffer similar embarrassment against the Spanish champs as we endured last season.

But I guess I should end by offering my own personal prize for the most pertinent shareholders questions and the one which caused the most merriment. Considering the makeup of an audience that's accustomed to the all too rare privilege of being able to enjoy some interaction with Arsène and the players at events like the Q & A and high-priced charity dos, it was quite refreshing to hear someone stand up and ask why (in a world of electric fences and gates to keep the riff-raff out of London Colney) it's no longer possible for the rest of us plebs to have the slightest contact with any of our heroes and why we no longer have the sort of more accessible events, like the annual end of season awards evenings that your average fan was able to attend in the past.

Arsène explained apologetically that with all the clubs charity commitments, it's hard to find suitable dates for such occasions and I suppose the massive increase in the Arsenal's number of core supporters in recent years (where were you when we were sh*t?) would make it that much harder to accommodate all those who wanted to attend nowadays. Still even if attendance ended up a lottery, considering the club's focus on catering for all the Club Level and Exec Box high-rollers in recent years, providing memorablia and facilities dedicated to relieving them of their substantial amounts of disposable income, it would be most appreciated if the club made some effort to prove that the support of so many of the hard core punters who have paid the club's wage bill for all those decades prior, when football was still an affordable hobby for working class punters, isn't now being taken for granted (but then I guess it's naive of me to believe that it was anything but ever thus!)

As for the loudest laugh of the evening, this was in response to the answer offered by Arsène to a question which suggested that he might be missing a trick, in his failure to work on the weaker foot, of some of our player's who like Van Persie, are disadvantaged by a "chocolate leg". Considering an event for a couple of hundred shareholders doesn't rank as the most emotive Gooner gathering, it was perhaps more of a giggle than a guffaw, but Arsène definitely raised a smile when he suggested "I'd like to be as bad with my left foot as Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere"

Enough of my far-too long-winded waffle as I'd better defer to the Gaelic advice to "hold yer whisht" before I get on to whinging about the Sunderland game, in order that I might at least save something to say in this week's Examiner piece (rest assured I'm never short on a moan or two!).

Here's to four more years of Arsène's fantasy football and if it's not too much to ask for, just a glimmer of silveware to show for it?

No matter the number of increasingly vocal critics, at the end of the day we all need to bear in mind that there is still "only one Arsène Wenger"

Big Love

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PTangYangKipperBang said...

You may be right but some of the views and insults I see banded about on the blogosphere are a disgrace. I would certainly be very upset if someone was allowed to publicly insult, mock or disrespect our dignified manager.

Anonymous said...

In the Q&A session, Arsene said he would not spend money the club does not have. I took that to mean he is working with in the budgets of the club and not the stories on the internet or Newspapers that Arsenal has a 50 million war chest.

Folks, Arsenal is still trying to pay the debt off, we will be handcuff for a long time, we might as well put our faith behind our Manager and the kids he is grooming.

Unknown said...

Do you still write for the 'Examiner'?

Anonymous said...

so at the end of the day blah blah blah.
We, the supporters have no say in the running of "their" club indeed we are not allowed to voice any other than a blind faith opinion , until the whole amount of debt is paid off and ALL the top fat cats have had their greedy share.
Then Normal service will resume.
Thanks you self centred people "IT'S NOT THE PEOPLES GAME ITS THE GAME OF THE RICH. It will all end in tears

PTangYangKipperBang said...

Anon 11.24 - I think it has been a rich persons game for a hundred years or so. Think about the wide ranging and sometimes extreme views towards AW within the Arsenal fanbase at the moment. Do you really think that:
A) The general fanbase should be able to influenc important matters at the club? and
B) Arsene Wenger should present himself once or twice a year to fans, quite probably to be disrespected and insulted?

Anonymous said...

First off, great post. Its a shame that this event has become so sanitised. I watched last years event and the overreaction to the Silvestre question was ridiculous. Arsene has thick enough skin to respond to such questions, especially since most questions are reasonably polite.

As for the ownership, I don't care, I just want trophies.

The goalkeeping situation is incredibly frustrating, but lets be honest thats not our only problem. We concede so many goals, that I find it hard to imagine how we can take points off Chelsea et al. I see very little difference between now and last year.