Wenger: I can see your fear but give us support
Arsenal manager asks shareholders to remain patient as club fights during 'difficult times'
Arsène Wenger has told Arsenal's fans he understands why the club has been consumed by fear and discontent after a summer in which two of his best players departed, but insisted his transfer policy will be vindicated if his current team is granted the time and support to fulfil its potential.
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The 62-year-old made an impassioned plea for unity in front of more than 300 shareholders at Arsenal's Annual General Meeting at the Emirates Stadium yesterday lunchtime, pleading for an end to the scepticism and negativity which has engulfed the club after a disappointing start to the campaign.
Though the Frenchman stopped short of predicting that Arsenal would retain the Champions League place the club has occupied for 14 consecutive seasons or end their six-year wait for a trophy, he called on fans to withhold judgement on the players he signed this summer to fill the gaps left by Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and outlined his conviction that his team has the "attitude and spirit" to ensure a successful year.
"I can see a lot of fear, even discontent among you and I can understand that, because we live in a world where we fight with people who have extremely high resources," said Wenger. "I heard we lost two world-class players [in the summer] and I agree with you. We lost even more.
"But do not judge the players we bought too quickly because I think they are top, top level. And I would remind [you] that [there have been] some world-class players who have arrived here in an August and not played before a September or November and have only become world-class after that.
"The basis of our team and its potential is right. I am much more positive than [most] people are. We do not get the credit we deserve. The team is on the right way, it has a fantastic attitude and spirit, and we are capable of competing.
"Where will we finish at the end of the season? Frankly, I don't know. I know just one thing: these players are ready for a fight. Not many people at the moment are behind us, but I believe we can be a positive surprise.
"I am convinced we can qualify for the Champions League again. It is time to realise that, while times are more difficult, we can still be successful if we all stand behind the team."
In an address lasting almost 15 minutes – in place of his usual question and answer session with shareholders – Wenger, like chairman Peter Hill-Wood, reaffirmed his and the club's commitment to a self-sustaining model.
Though Hill-Wood was at pains to point out that funds remain at Wenger's disposal should he wish to strengthen his squad, he admitted the club would not match the "vast" sums being spent by "certain other clubs" in a bid to close the gap on Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Indeed, Wenger confessed that last summer's 6.5 per cent hike in ticket prices – making Arsenal the most expensive club to watch in Britain – was necessary simply to finance the club's £124m-a-year wage bill, the fourth highest in the Premier League.
"I know in the modern world ticket pricing is a problem," he said. "But just to keep the players we have, we must put our wages up so high that the financial situation becomes more and more difficult for us. It is just a decision that gives us a chance to keep our players and unfortunately it is the real situation we face at the moment."
Wenger remains confident that his highest earner, Robin van Persie, will agree an improved package to augment that bill further, but he insists frugality is the right path to follow.
"The way we can compete is to try and be intelligent," he said. "But we have to be united too because it is very difficult to be consistent in football."
That is an area, Wenger feels, in which Arsenal are above reproach. "We have been more consistent than anybody else in the world in the last 15 years," he said. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis reiterated the message: "Only Manchester United and Real Madrid can match the consistency of our record of 14 consecutive Champions League appearances," he said.
That is under threat now, of course. "Arsèn''s statement that Europe is the limit of his ambition is evidence the club's economic model is limiting his ability to do the best for the club," said Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporters' Trust.
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