By Liam Twomey
As Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis stood up to deliver his address at the opening of the club's annual general meeting, the scores of Gunners fans gathered in the diamond club at the Emirates Stadium hoped for a change of message but expected more of the same.
In the end, there were no real surprises. "Our ambition is all about football - to compete at the very top of the game here and in Europe," he insisted. "To win trophies.
"The landscape of football is moving in our direction, and the pointless spending race of recent times is coming to an end. Within the next two years Arsenal will have the financial resources to sit and compete with the biggest clubs in the world."
Such grand statements, along with the American's insistence that manager Arsene Wenger has money to spend as and when he decides he needs it, would make for an inspiring overall message were it not for the fact that they no longer carry much weight with the Gunners faithful.
|ARSENAL AGM 2012
ALL THE FALLOUT & COMMENT
Rather, it is the fact that the Gunners faithful are being forced to pay the highest ticket prices in Europe for ever-diminishing returns while the board fail to reinvest in the team, giving rise to the suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that they are lining their own pockets – a perception Gazidis' refusal to rule out share dividends in the coming years will do nothing to dispel.
Despite Wenger's seemingly unwavering belief that his young team can challenge for the biggest honours, Arsenal are not a club in the process of scaling the peaks. Instead, they appear content to kick off their boots and recline in front of a log fire at base camp, while trying to convince the wider world that a continuing presence in the Champions League constitutes true ambition.
Meanwhile, Gunners fans are tormented by the imaginings of how different their fortunes might have been, were it not for the now yearly exodus of their star names.
Would a midfield boasting a combination of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla have been considered inferior to any other in the Premier League? And how many goals would Robin van Persie have scored with such service?
When chairman Peter Hill-Wood insists Van Persie was sold to Manchester United for footballing rather than financial reasons, he is telling the truth. Unfortunately for Arsenal, however, the 'footballing reasons' for the deal were that the Dutchman felt he could wait no longer for Wenger to build a team worthy of him, and was desperate to win the trophies his talent merits.
Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules are held up by the Gunners board as being the long-awaited salvation of their top-level ambitions, and it is true that they are better placed to meet the theoretical requirements than just about anyone else in Europe. Yet if the regulations prove to be more of a compromise than the financial puritanism championed at the Emirates, any gain will surely be minimal.
Arsenal fans are accused by many of being ungrateful for their lot, and of not fully appreciating the ability of a manager who is currently negotiating his 15th consecutive campaign in Europe's premier club competition. But the truth is that such intangible success generates little emotional response when divorced from any genuine belief in the possibility of glory.
The Premier League and Champions League are fantastic competitions, but the novelty of simply participating in them has long worn off. Relegated to the status of also-rans in the race for football's biggest trophies, Arsenal have gone stale.
Consequently, while the thousands who watch from the stands at the Emirates Stadium have much cause to believe they should be happy, they have no reason to feel so. And, all the while, they believe their long-standing and just grievances are being ignored by a board which prides yearly profits over sporting excellence and refuses to accept outside criticism.
Historically, those making the executive decisions at Arsenal have regarded – and often prided – themselves as being custodians of a long-established and cherished footballing institution.
Now, in Stan Kroenke, they have a majority shareholder and de facto owner who openly trumpets his involvement with the Gunners as an "investment", and a chairman in Hill-Wood who snidely referred to those who opposed Gazidis' re-election to the position of CEO as "the same lot".
It is no wonder, then, why Arsenal fans feel their club has problems which cannot be solved by idle assurances and grand statements.
Follow Liam Twomey on