Arsene Wenger's focus returns to European domination tonight as his side face AZ Alkmaar but Arsenal's billionaire American shareholder Stan Kroenke has no immediate plans to rule the boardroom via a full takeover.
Kroenke increased his holding yesterday towards the "trigger stake" of 30 per cent that would force a mandatory bid, but informed sources insist he feels he is already effectively in control of the club's destiny. His latest purchase of 427 shares, announced yesterday, cost him £8,500 per share, or £3.6m, to take his total holding to 18,394 shares, or 29.56 per cent.
Kroenke's long-term ambition is to own Arsenal, or a majority of it, but he will not go above the trigger stake until at least May 2010, and quite possibly a lot later. The trigger holding would be 18,666 shares, so Kroenke can buy a further 271 shares before having to make a mandatory bid. Yesterday's purchase values the club at £528.8m.
The other major shareholders are the Uzbek-born, Russia-based billionaire Alisher Usmanov (with 25 per cent via his Red & White investment vehicle), Danny Fiszman (16.11 per cent) and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith (15.9 per cent).
There are several reasons why Kroenke is in no rush to make a full bid. In a takeover now he would be obliged under stock market rules to offer all the other shareholders the highest price that he himself has paid in the last 12 months for shares. That is the £10,500 per share he paid to the Carr family for 4,839 shares (7.7 per cent of Arsenal) in May.
If he waits until the 12 months expire, any bid would cost £2,000 per share less, a saving of £88m, at least. Kroenke is also relaxed that he has enough support among other shareholders to reach 50 per cent ownership (and control) at a time of his choosing. Usmanov almost certainly cannot.
Even if Usmanov bought Lady Nina's stake, he would hold around 40.9 per cent. He would struggle to attract another nine per cent of fan-shareholders (of 12 per cent) to sell to him. In fact, it is estimated that around one per cent of Arsenal's shareholders, dating back generations, are dead and untraceable, so the ownership battle actually focuses on 99 per cent. Again, that favours Kroenke.
He has the support of Fiszman and the board, including chairman Peter Hill-Wood, who owns 0.8 per cent. He also has the qualified support of the influential Arsenal Supporters' Trust. Of the AST's 750 members, around 300 of them own shares, and they control about 1,860 shares (three per cent) between them.
Wenger says he has "no fear" of a Kroenke takeover in any case. "I know what I want in life, how I want to work," he said. "As long as that is respected I am not involved in the rest."
Wenger has admitted that he may be without Gaël Clichy for up to two months, as the defender has a stress fracture of his back. Wenger explained that his first-choice left-back had been playing with the injury all season but it flared up after the win against Tottenham on Saturday, and a scan revealed the extent of the problem.
Wenger, who is also without striker Nicklas Bendtner for up to a month with a groin strain, revealed Clichy's injury was related to the one that kept the Frenchman out at the end of last season. He said: "Clichy will be out for one month or two months and that is too much.
"It is his vertebrae," Wenger said. "He has a stress fracture on one side and it has happened on the other side. Normally it happens on both sides but this happened [before] on one side. It was a gradual thing. The pain after every game became worse so we made a scan and we found a little fracture."
However, Wenger has full confidence in Kieran Gibbs, who will step into the 24-year-old Parisian's position. Not that all those who follow Arsenal will share that belief.
Almost six months ago to the day came an evening Gibbs would like to forget. Maybe tonight, even if the occasion is not quite so grand, he will finally bury the memories.
Only eight minutes into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final with Manchester United, a cross came in and Gibbs hesitated, slipped and allowed Park Ji-sung in ahead of him to score. It gave United a 2-0 lead overall, and a crucial away goal which set them on the way to a 3-1 win at the Emirates to reach the final.
However, Wenger is convinced Gibbs, 20, has put that incident behind him. He said: "I don't remember him for the mistake against Manchester United. After that he played and he played well so for me it is forgotten."
"I've no doubt about the quality of Gibbs. He has good potential and he has a good role model with Clichy."
If Arsenal win and Olympiakos beat Standard Liège then Arsenal will qualify for the last 16 tonight. Wenger will pick Manuel Almunia in goal but Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky are doubtful to start against the Dutch champions.
Results so far: Olympiakos 1 AZ Alkmaar 0, Standard Liège 2 Arsenal 3; Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 0, AZ 1 Standard Liège 1; AZ Alkmaar 1 Arsenal 1, Olympiakos 2 Standard Liège 1.
Arsenal's remaining fixtures: Tonight: AZ Alkmaar (h); 25 Nov: Standard Liège (h); 9 Dec: Olympiakos (a).Reuse content