Wenger shines as silent Stan lives up to his name at Arsenal AGM

The Gunners boss spoke passionately about his future vision for the club, but majority shareholder Kroenke gave little to nothing away on the major issues of the day
By Julian Bennetts at the Arsenal AGM

Stan Kroenke may not recognise the term, but he plays a remarkably good forward defensive.

The American made a short statement at the start of Arsenal's AGM this morning but then decided he would take no further part in the debate, refusing to answer questions that were directed his way in his capacity as majority shareholder.

EXCLUSIVE: Arsene Wenger has agreed the terms to a contract extension until 2016
Instead, Arsene Wenger outlined a vibrant and promising future for the club on the pitch and chief executive Ivan Gazidis tried to clear up some issues off it.

Yet most of the themes fans wanted clarity on – whether Kroenke will hold meetings with them, if he plans to take money out of the club and whether he will dilute his own shareholding to allow supporters a greater percentage – were almost all given lip service but largely ignored.

In many ways, though, Arsenal supporters should be grateful. After all, this meeting a year ago was a near-disaster, with shareholders shouting at the board and anarchy reigning in the stands and at the AGM. A year on and the club have qualified for the Champions League for a 16th successive year, signed Mesut Ozil and started the season well.

In short, the mood was entirely different 12 months on. Whereas a year ago the future of Arsene Wenger was on everybody's lips, now it is a given he will sign a new two-year deal after agreeing to sign a contract in the coming weeks, as revealed by Goal earlier on Thursday.

There was no single question on his future, but that is solely because it is up to him to decide. With the squad he is building it seems counter-intuitive that he would walk away after so many years of anguish.

And the manager admitted his belief that Arsenal can win the Premier League in May, and the rest of the board took it in turns to praise their manager, with Kroenke lauding 'his values' before saying 'I couldn't be more honoured to introduce our manager' when Wenger took the stage.

Yet the reality is not quite as sunny as it appears on the surface. It was two months ago today, for example, that the fans were in near-revolt after the home defeat to Aston Villa. Ozil is a superb signing but others are needed and the fixtures to come are harder.

“If you look at the end of November you will have a much clearer idea of where the strengths in the Premier League lie,” admitted Wenger.

And there is also the thorny issue of Kroenke's plans. The most basic point to make is that he is a businessman. Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) also owns the Colorado Rapids (MLS), Mammoth (Lacrosse), Avalanche (Ice Hockey), Crush (indoor American Football), the Denver Nuggets (Basketball) and the St Louis Rams (American Football).

He has not taken a penny out of any of these institutions, but when asked whether he would promise not to do take any dividends at Arsenal in the future the language was precise.

Speaking on behalf of Kroenke, new Chairman Sir Chips Keswick responded: “Mr Kroenke has never taken a dividend out of any of the sporting organisations which he owns, and nothing in this policy has or is changing.”

That is most certainly not a 'no' – and with Arsenal having just signed a £150m deal with Emirates it would hardly be a shock if Kroenke changed tack.

He is also refusing to give a larger stake-holding to Fanshare – an initiative that allows supporters to buy shares in their club and was praised by the former sports minister Hugh Robertson when it was launched – or meet with fans.

Kroenke believes that by attending the AGM and instructing his executives, principally Gazidis, to meet regularly with fan groups he is fulfilling the promises he made when he purchased the club in 2010; many of those same supporters' groups disagree.

But while those are clear issues it is important to emphasise that the mood was positive. When asked about Arsenal's failure to explore the American market in contrast to Tottenham, Gazidis pulled out a cracker.

Stan Kroenke says everything Arsenal do is geared towards success on the pitch
“Well there's a Gareth Bale poster in Times Square but he doesn't play for Tottenham now – he plays for one of our rivals,” he said in reference to the Real Madrid man.

Keswick, 73, who replaced Peter Hill-Wood as Chairman in June, responded to a question on the Qatar World Cup by claiming 'I probably won't be alive so I won't be going', and it is patently clear the club have moved on from 12 months ago.

Yet while questions were understandably not allowed from the floor at first in contrast to last year, the most impressive performer was, as ever, Wenger.

He spoke fluently about his three-pronged approach to the transfer market – developing local youngsters, trusting his eye by improving and constantly bringing in youngsters from all over the globe and, lastly, the big-name signing – and sounded like a man who is entirely confident in his job security.

“I believe our future is very positive,” he said. “We have a huge advantage which is that our club is well respected all over the world as we have values, are not artificial, have traditions, are forward-thinking and give chances to those who deserve it.

“I travel a lot and our club is loved for way we try to play football and the qualities our club has always defended.

“If we get all our players back I am very convinced we have a strong part to play (in the Premier League) and am confident that at the end of May we will be happy.

“That is my wish and your wish as well. Therefore I hope at the end of May we can organise a very positive meeting and have the pleasure to meet you again.”

If that had been said a year ago Wenger would have looked foolish. Not now.