Arsenal will never question Wenger - even when he fails
'If he has a plan, we back him, if he doesn't have a plan, we keep quiet,' admits Gunners chairman
Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick inadvertently gave the game away on Thursday during the club's AGM, an event described by The Guardian as a "stage-managed affair".
"Don't let's be in a muddle about who calls the shots about football at the Arsenal Football Club," Sir Chips told shareholders. "It is not the chairman, it is not the fans, it is Mr Arsene Wenger... as you know, your board backs him 100 per cent. If he has a plan, we back him, if he doesn't have a plan, we keep quiet."
It was an astonishingly frank – and one might say ill-advised – admission by Sir Chips. Indeed, it was almost a boast, as if Arsenal fans should be proud that their club is in the hands of one man, and one man only.
Can there be any other major Premier League club where the manager is invested with so much power? No. Then again, have any of the big clubs underperformed with the same consistency in the last ten years as Arsenal? One piece of major silverware since 2005 – last season's FA Cup – is scant reward for a club of Arsenal's stature.
It's also a source of frustration for the fans – the very same fans who as the BBC Sport survey revealed earlier in the week are obliged to pay the most expensive ticket prices. Yet still the Arsenal board seem unable to understand the base layer of discontent that most Gooners wear. "We are proud of what we've accomplished," Arsenal's majority shareholder Stan Kroenke told the AGM. "What a wonderful day that was at Wembley [at the FA Cup final]. One of the reasons we were interested in Arsenal was because of Arsene Wenger, and we look forward to much more success with him."
He might require patience. Already out of this season's league cup, Arsenal are nine points adrift of Chelsea in the Premier League having won just one of their last league encounters. They also look unlikely to progress much beyond the group stage of the Champions League, certainly on the evidence of their comprehensive 2-0 defeat in Dortmund when they were made to look third-rate by the Germans.
There's still the FA Cup, of course, and finishing fourth in the Premier League, but as Chelsea showed a fortnight ago in their 2-0 win against Arsenal, Wenger looks increasingly incapable of outthinking the top teams in England and Europe.
He also looks increasingly unsure of himself in the transfer market. Once a man known for his Midas touch – think the likes of Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry - in recent seasons Wenger has embarrassed himself with a number of clumsy purchases of players who in the late 1990s would have been laughed out of Highbury. Andre Santos, Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastien Squillaci, Yaya Sanogo good enough to play for Arsenal? You must be joking.
When it was Wenger's turn to address shareholders he said he believed "we have done remarkably well on the transfer market", and, yes, there were a number of good buys in the summer, notably Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, though Wenger failed to sign the additional defender that the fans had demanded.
The result? A spate (again) of injuries have left Arsenal precariously short of defenders just a few weeks into the season. Wenger promised that he would be looking to sign a defender in January "because we are a bit short with the injuries we have" but in the meantime the Arsenal faithful must pray that there are no serious injuries to either Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker.
As for those ticket prices, Chief executive Ivan Gazidis came prepared, holding up a graph as he told shareholders that ticket prices had risen at 1.6 per cent since 2006-7, which is below inflation. "We make responsible and reasonable decisions," he explained. "We understand the pressures. We have tried to take a balanced and sensible approach to competing pressures... the board has never approached ticket prices glibly or lightly. Demand for ticket continues to far exceed supply. Underneath those headline ticket prices, the club continues to make tickets available to as many as possible."