Arsene Wenger – Arsenal Shareholders’ Question and Answer Evening

Arsene Wenger appeared before an invited audience of Arsenal Holdings plc shareholders earlier this evening for his annual question and answer session. Bob Wilson, former Arsenal goalkeeping legend, goalkeepers’ coach and now the club’s compare for all seasons was moderator once again.
Bob kicked off by noting with approval Arsčne’s new contract which will keep Le Boss at the club for at least another four seasons. Arsčne was already the longest-serving and most successful manager in the club’s 123 year history. Both factually correct, although you wouldn’t know it at times if you listened to the “what have you done for me LATELY?” element amongst the Gooner Nation.
Wenger was pleased with the good start to the season. The players have the right attitude and spirit to  be amongst the ten clubs who will fight for the Champions League title and for the League title domestically.
The important thing now was to maintain the players’ feet on the ground and keep daily focus. It was important to guard team spirit and togetherness which was excellent at the moment. With younger players this was always fragile and easily lost. Confidence can go very quickly.
It had been a “very hard” transfer market. The club had worked night and day to add quality players. He was happy with his squad. He was impressed with the dedication of the new players.
Wilson got in a pre-emptive strike about the goalkeeping position, knowing that this subject was bound to be raised. Wenger said the current goalies had been exposed to pressure over the summer with the constant speculation. They had shown an outstanding response to the challenge.
Wilson then asked about Wenger’s targets and aspirations. Wenger fired back, “To win absolutely every competition.” He went on to say that the stadium move had presented challenges both to the club’s finances and the new and different environment at the Grove.
The club was now moving into the second phase. It had been frustrating not to win the League for five seasons and never to have won the Champions League. The team was maturing.
Wilson then went into the questions submitted in advance by shareholders. Clearly the club didn’t want a repeat of the last manager’s Q & A where a somewhat blunt, even rude question from a shareholder about, specifically Mikaël Silvestre, provoked an answer that verged on the testy from the boss.
Adam Velasco kicked off with a question about Wenger’s vision and expectations in the coming years. Firstly, Arsčne replied, to win – especially the Premier League and the Champions League. He also wanted to continue to develop the style of play. Off the field he wanted the club to develop at the international level. Often people didn’t realise how big Arsenal was around the world.
He wanted Arsenal to win and win with style, for Arsenal to be a special club with special values.
Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA) stalwart Paul Matz then asked about Arsenal v the England national team. Like many Arsenal supporters he was far more interested in the performance of Arsenal rather than the England national team. However a good England team performing well in big tournaments helped both Arsenal and the game generally. To what did the manager attribute England’s repeated poor performances? Poor coaching? The prevalence of illegal tackles? Lax refereeing? What remedies would be proposed?
Wenger responded that two of the great characteristics of English players were their passion to fight right to last minute and their love of the physical battle. The pressure placed on the England team by the passion of the nation meant some players were “not themselves.” He felt that England had played “with the handbrake on” in South Africa. The gap between success and failure was very narrow. In the game with Germany if the second England “goal” had been allowed that might just have turned the match.
There had also been a gap between the schools being responsible for coaching and this being picked up by the clubs. This had now been corrected.
He liked the commitment of English players. England was special in that respect. He didn’t like violence however. A fan who has paid £50 for a ticket wants to watch great players playing real football. The balance had to be right.
Stephen Monahan then addressed the “300lb gorilla in the corner” question. He had been watching Arsenal for fifty years and seen every Arsenal goalkeeper since George Swindin. He had never seen the club win a trophy without a top class goalkeeper. Goalkeeping errors at a succession of games last season had cost us the League title. This major flaw in the squad was a mystery, said Mr Monahan. Could the manager say what had happened with the bid for Mark Schwarzer?
Wenger’s response, far more good natured than his testy answer to a challenging question in the last Q & A in May 2009, was that he “We can prove you wrong.” He offered to meet Mr Monahan after the season. Wenger believed the club had four excellent goalkeepers. When a goal is conceded there are always at least four errors that precede any mistake the goalie might make.
The laws of the game now were different. Goalkeepers had to be able to use their feet and head as well as their hands.
Ian Town then asked about players concentrating after scoring a goal. He referred to specifically to the Champions League quarter-final second leg tie at Anfield. Did the players over-celebrate and lose focus at the cost of conceding a penalty which put Liverpool back in front?
Wenger was relatively candid in response by saying, “effectively” yes. He had shouted to Alexander Hleb to switch wings with Theo Walcott for this reason. Hleb hadn’t heard him in the din in the stadium. Theo Walcott wouldn’t make the same mistake now however. He was older and wiser, as were the team generally.
Nigel Phillips, a leading light amongst those excellent people at the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) asked about the new Premier League squad rules which the manager had so vehemently opposed. Why was he was firm in his opposition. Wenger said the rule was “artificial”. If you wanted to bring in a new player you had to lose one. Premier League clubs could play between 40 competitive games a season (38 league games, one Carling Cup game and one FA Cup game) and 64 if they went all the way in the two domestic Cups and the Champions League. The latter would assume entering the Champions League in the third qualifying round.
As an aside it could just conceivably be more – 38 League games in the League, six in the Carling Cup, ten in the FA Cup if the first game in rounds 3-6 were all drawn, and thirteen in the Champions League. Oh, plus just conceivably the Community Shield (formally classed as a competitive game but effectively a friendly), the European Super Cup (likewise) and the Club World Cup – 71. As likely as me winning the lottery I admit!
The need to transfer a player to make room in the squad for a new addition will put the player who the club wishes to leave in a very strong position to demand sweeteners to leave. The new rules will “paralyse” the market.
The next question asked about the team’s continued weaknesses in defence and defensively in midfield. Why had these problems not been addressed?
The boss disagreed. We had Alex Song, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey and now Jack Wilshere, all of whom could play the holding role in midfield. There were three stages in a player’s development – scouting and signing them, educating and training them then – the most difficult – playing them. Wenger had been criticised in the past for not giving youth a chance. To be fair to the manager he did say some years ago at a club annual general meeting in answerto a shareholder’s question about not giving young players a chance in the first team that, “You pay for experience with points.”
Now he was giving youth its chance he was being criticised for not buying. By keeping the current side together we were trying to create something special. The side had been together for a few years now. This would pay off. He didn’t feel that the team was physically weak. The team had lacked experience. That increasingly wasn’t the case.
Tim Payton from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust then asked about the manager’s attitude to the newly launched Arsenal Fanshare Scheme. Wenger’s response was one of studied neutrality. He would never comment on ownership issues he said. That wasn’t part of his job. As long as he had the freedom to manage the team he was happy.
Steve Cooper, also from the AST, asked why the manager hadn’t spent the money available to him. Wenger responded that he would never spend money the club didn’t have and would also look for players who would add to the squad.
The club’s new financial strength put the club in a position over the summer to say “no” to Barcelona when they bid for Cesc Fàbregas. The club’s financial strength meant it was never in a position of having to sell players to raise money. He wanted Arsenal to be strong not just over one or two years, but twenty or thirty.
Henry Williams then asked about why so many players were woefully one-footed, citing Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere. Shouldn’t the players be coached to use their weaker foot?
Wenger responded that he felt the criticism was overstated. Some players made up for having only one foot by quickness of thought and action. Generally most Arsenal players were good with their weak foot.
Mike Hurst asked an interesting question about whether the club employed personality and aptitude testing for potential and current players. Wenger said he met personally with every new potential recruit before they were signed. The club tried to learn everything it could about a player. The club had used psychological tests to probe a player’s desire, consistency, ability to co-operate with others and so on. This had been done for six or seven years now.
A question then came about whether the club’s relative lack of reliance on television income was an advantage to the club. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis interjected to say the reason was that the matchday revenues were much higher than at most clubs.
Mark Brindle then asked about an annual event to which the players would attend to meet with supporters. There was a gulf now between players and fans. This spilt over sometimes into resentment.
Wenger didn’t quite get the point of the question, going off on one about the truly great players not being motivated by money. Winners had to have a desire to succeed. If players were only interested in money they would pack in once they’d made a fortune. Bob Wilson intervened to tell Wenger the point of the question. Wenger said he had no objection in principle but the problem was dates. The players were already committed to the annual charity fundraising dinner.
Jeffrey Freeman, another leading light in the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust asked about the club’s commercial activity, going back to the manager’s point about only spending the money we earn and the possibility of overseas tours in future.
Wenger admitted that he was under pressure from the club on this issue. He didn’t want to have players spending time that should be used in training and preparation in aeroplanes on long-distance flights. It would also be difficult in European Championship and World Cup years. He also said that that there was a FIFA regulation requiring players to have a minimum four week’s holiday a year (I don’t think so old son. If there is such a rule it’s a very well-kept secret. That said I actually think it’s in club’s enlightened self-interest to give players at least one lengthy break when they can completely unplug their bodies and heads from football). The club was examining the issue though.
Michael Lewis then asked about the number of injuries. In 1970/71 the club had won the Double with a small squad. What was the problem? Bob Wilson interjected to say that the club had had seventeen senior players in that season and had played 64 games in all competitions.
Wenger responded by saying that the game was far quicker today and impact injuries thus more severe due to the increased velocity of collisions. There was far better medical attention these days and players weren’t risked when injured. The quality of the game had suffered in previous times, with players only able to play at sixty or seventy percent of their ability due to injury.
All the questions from shareholder thus disposed off Bob Wilson concluded the hour long session. After the great performance against SC Braga we now faced a difficult away game at Sunderland on Saturday.
Wenger said the “transition” from Champions League games in midweek to the following League games would be key to the season. We were scheduled to play away after five of our six Champions League group games. This was particularly difficult when the club was away in Europe on the Wednesday and away in the League on the Saturday following. This meant a shortened recovery time added to the travelling.
The situation with international weeks was now better with the second games being played on Tuesdays rather than Wednesdays. Wenger expected us to do better this season. We were more experienced and looked more “stable” defensively. He would guarantee to work every day and give his very best to the club.
On that note the 170 or so shareholders adjourned for hot snacks.
More thoughts on the meeting tomorrow in my usual Friday blog.
Keep the faith!

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