Before I go into this, please note that I welcome your criticism. Seriously. If it wasn't for healthy debate, new ideas wouldn't be challenged and fear would replace thought and discussion. Also, please note I don't care if you think I'm an arse-sniffing keyboard clown who sides with people who prioritize things like making money off an investment they have. There's a school of thought who think a football club should be different than either a private or public business and that the overseers of the club have a duty to believe that pumping every single currency that accounts for profit back in the club, including not make a single dime from it. I happen to believe that if you hold this opinion, then you are delusional and should probably be checked in at your local clinic. Feel free to destroy me in the comments if you disagree.
Moving on. As you may or may not have heard, the Arsenal AGM (AGM stands for "annual general meeting") went down earlier today at the Emirates. Since Arsenal is a publicly-traded company (although one shareholder holds the majority of the shares), this is required by law to be held, although in the UK a private company now has the option to hold an AGM, as well. It's a chance for shareholders to come together to discuss the previous year's finances and give an outlook on how the entity's performing and how it stands to either gain or be challenged in the future. One group that has been overly-critical of how the Board's been handling the club's state of affairs is the Arsenal Supporters' Trust. The AST is an equally-owned trust of shareholders who own roughly 3% of the club's overall shares and who make up just under 500 members now (it should be noted that at the 2007 Arsenal AGM, the AST agreed to unite with the Board and join forces in the Board's refusal to sell their shares to Alisher Usmanov, whom at the time was busy gobbling up shares in an attempt to gain majority ownership).
The growing criticism of the the club's transfer policies, and division of funds, have been at the forefront of any conversation involving the topics "Arsenal", "trophies", "player departures" and/or "Piers Morgan." And given the timing of the past five days and the performance of the club at Norwich and in yesterday's home defeat to Schalke in the Champions League, it should shock absolutely no one that things got a bit heated today between the AST and the Board, Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke. There were pointed questions to all, with topics ranging from diversion of funds to the transfer kitty, why available transfer funds that are being quoted in the press aren't being fully spent, if shareholders are taking dividends and other such things like the price of fish and chips (which is a completely valid question since the cost for that item at the Emirates is £13.90, or $22.42 in US currency, and MY GOD that's absurd).
Peter Hill-Wood continued to show why he needs to leave immediately, making smartass comments to the Board's dissenters as opposed to being the bigger man, and Ivan Gazidis continued to preach that the club will be in a great position come 2014, when their primary sponsorship deals - deals that were signed when the club took on the funding of a stadium project that has to be replicated anywhere else in the footballing world - expire. However, this wasn't good enough for the masses who were looking for blood to be spilled and heads to be accounted for. They wanted to know why our best players keep leaving each summer and, specifically, why we let Robin van Persie to leave (hint: it probably had something to do with the £300K a week Manchester City was offering him) and what exactly does Gazidis do well for the club? Truth be told, it appears that some of these dissenters wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. Arsene Wenger made an appearance and made it a point to note that he places finishing in the top four to ensure Champions League qualification ahead of winning a trophy, since potential transfer targets care more about playing on the bigger European stages than winning the League Cup. So, for all you out there who value trophies over consistent competitiveness, there's that for you.
If you're new to the club and have recently become a supporter, then you should start to realize that Arsenal has never spent and will never spend the amount of money on transfer fees that the petro clubs currently do. We will, additionally, never spend the amount on individual wages that those clubs do, as well. So if you joined up the ranks thinking that "Arsenal are always in the top half of the standings, so they seem like a fun club to support and therefore should spend like the other clubs next to them in the table", then you have a distorted view on reality and should probably either take our your frustrations on FIFA/Football Manager or switch allegiances because you're going to be eternally-frustrated at how the club conducts business. I have to say, this message also applies to some members of the AST, as well. The club's financial policy has always been one of self-sustainability, that the club will do everything in its power to avoid losing money in a transfer market while searching for some of the globe's biggest bargains. This hasn't failed the club in past seasons if you consider each of our final table finishes, especially since the club took on the Emirates project. Of course, not all of our purchases in the transfer market have worked out, but as Thomas pointed out in a private discussion held earlier today:
"Arsenal's transfer policy isn't monolithic, and we certainly haven't been perfect. The issue is that when can't bathe in cash, the bad buys stick out more. When Manchester City or Real Madrid buys a shi**y player they can cover it with three more, where we can't always do that. There are players here who shouldn't be, but I'm not saying we've done an out-and-out poor job."
That's basically the only right answer.
(Ed. Note: Travis and pdb are tag-teaming this article, and Travis had to touch out at this point, so the rest of this comes from pdb. Direct your ire accordingly.)
Arsenal have chosen to operate within a very strict budget. How you feel about this is directly related to how you feel about sports. If you feel that sports is about the destination, not the journey, and if you feel that a championship is the only logical end to a season for a team with the ambitions of Arsenal, you're probably pretty pissed off this week; if you feel that sports is more about the journey, though, you're probably a little less frantic.
There have been many references, some joking some not, to Arsenal's membership in the "Big Club Club" and to Arsenal as an "elite club", and whether those statuses are being maintained, or are being lost forever. I maintain that arbitrary, largely fan-driven distinctions like that don't matter; all that matters to me is that Arsenal put themselves in a position to win every year, and Arsenal have done that. Remember, last season at this time, Arsenal were in 7th place, only two spots and one point ahead of where they are now; the world wasn't ending then, and it's not ending now. Are there things Arsenal could do differently that might make a difference? Sure there are, but they're tweaks (Gervinho and Podolski might in fact benefit from switching roles) rather than wholesale changes (BUY EVERYONE FOR ALL THE MONIES).
There's a hoary old cliche in the corporate world, usually after a round of layoffs, that people have to "do more with less". It's BS in a corporate context, but in sports it holds some truth, and Arsenal are a great example of that - on a shoestring budget (compared to their main rivals in the mythical Big Club Club), Arsenal have managed to not finish lower than fourth in Arsene Wenger's 16 years at the club. That, friends, is one motherf***er of an accomplishment.
After the last two summers, we can put to rest the ARSENE DOESN'T SPEND MONEY canard as well - the last two seasons has seen Arsenal spend more than they have in years, and spend it on players that have made a huge difference - Arteta and Cazorla are the brightest examples, but Wenger is not afraid to spend when he needs to.
So what are we suggesting here? Are we saying you should be happy with the way things are, and never want the team to improve? Not a bit of it. What we're saying, though, is that wanting the team to improve does not equate to going out and buying the highest-profile free agent on the market in every transfer window, outbidding the bottomless pockets of the oil barons to do so. To us, it equates to both using your current players smarter, and Arsene continuing to do what Arsene does - finding players that other teams overlook, that he can develop into worldbeaters that will help Arsenal succeed. He has a pretty good track record of doing that, after all.