Welcome to Friday and thankfully it’s a day before football returns. After a two week barren spell for Arsenal news – punctuated only by the odd injury here and there – there’s loads to get on with. The pre-Hull press conference took place yesterday, as did the AGM, so we might as well break this down into two parts.
We got bad news and good news on the injury front as it was revealed that the Achilles problem Laurent Koscienly was sent back to Arsenal with will keep him out of the game against Hull. Described as ‘precautionary’ at the time, the word ‘chronic’ was also used and that’s never good. It’s up there with fatal and oozing as words you don’t want to describe wounds or injuries.
He has an Achilles problem, which has got worse. He finds it difficult to play with it at the moment. You can only trust what the players says, he does not feel ready to play and will not play on Saturday.
There’s no talk of him having surgery, but he certainly needs more rest. In the very short term that leaves us with a bit of a problem because Calum Chambers is suspended, meaning Hector Bellerin will probably play at right back, and as Nacho Monreal is the designated fourth choice centre-half, he’ll deputise for Koscielny. It’s not ideal, Monreal himself says playing there is ‘strange’, but this is the consequence of not finding another defender in the summer transfer window.
Quite how long Koscielny will need is another question entirely. It doesn’t sound like he’s just a couple of days away, but perhaps with this particular run of games, it’s a chance to get him some recovery time because until January we simply can’t afford to lose any more defenders.
There’s good news, however, in that Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky should both be in the squad, while Aaron Ramsey is back in full training on Monday and could make the Anderlecht squad. As was reported in midweek Theo Walcott is set to make his comeback for the U21s tonight, giving him some game time ahead of his return to first team action over the next little while.
So, good and bad, but the bad leaves us skating on such thin ice. At the AGM Arsene Wenger admitted he should have bought another player but was unable to find him before the deadline closed. As I touched on earlier this week, perhaps that’s why Brian McDermott has been brought in until May. Because as much as it’s a failure of the manager with whom the buck stops, being unable to find the right player when you’ve had all summer to do it suggests there’s some issues in the scouting department too.
Which brings us to:
As usual the manager spoke well, but then he always does. Regardless of how you feel about Wenger, he’s almost always an impressive speaker. The full text of his speech can be found here.
There were other issues brought up at the meeting which deserve more scrutiny, the most obvious one being the £3m payment to KSE for ‘advisory’ services. Pressed on what that was, chairman Sir Chips Keswick said:
This fee was proposed by myself and Lord Harris (of Peckham) for the wide range of services provided to Arsenal Football Club by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment. We are entirely satisfied the fee was appropriate. In terms of any future fees, that would depend on the nature of the services provided.
An answer so vague that it’s genuinely worrying that this was the best they could come up with. Let’s face it, they knew this was going to be an issue ever since it was announced and, let’s not forget, that all questions had to be pre-approved so it’s not like they were caught off-guard by this. Yet all they can say is that it was money for ‘services’, with no detail as to what those services were, whether they might recur, and the fact that nobody has any real clue what KSE did to earn that money should really set alarm bells ringing.
If you can’t show people what somebody did to earn £3m then it looks very much as if you’ve got something to hide. If the club had said ‘KSE did X, Y and Z and based on that, and what it might cost an outside company to do the same work, we feel that’s competitive’, then at least there’d be some measure of transparency to it. Instead, it looks more and more like it’s a dividend by any other name.
Until we know exactly what KSE did to earn that not inconsiderable amount of money then questions will remain. Unfortunately, it appears that’s all they’ll be because when you have one man who owns two-thirds of the club, he can pretty much do what he likes because there’s nobody to hold him to account. Between that, and the ticket price increase, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Ivan Gazidis touched on the ticket price issue with charts and graphs and talk of £10 Capital One Cup tickets – but whatever way you try and justify it, there was only one reason prices went up. Gazidis said:
Demand far exceeds supply.
That’s it, pure and simple. They knew that even if the 3% priced out a few fans, there were more to take their place. They did it because they knew they could. Forget the new TV money, forget the new commercial deals, and forget the percentage price rise over the last 10 years, if there’s more to be squeezed out of fans then let’s do it.
Would it be any surprise to anyone if the services rendered by KSE to earn that £3m were to do with how much more they could get from fans via ticket prices? I’m not sure if that was the case, but the idea that they might spend time analysing how far they could push the cost of a ticket without reaching breaking point is hardly an outrageous jump. They have a number of franchises in the US and plenty of experience in that market, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case and, ultimately, why the club’s answer to the question was so deliberately and obviously vague.
I think things like the £10 tickets and the ticket exchange are excellent ideas, but they’re things any club should be doing anyway – they’re not a justification for putting prices up. Arsenal, like any other club, have to ensure the next generation of support is brought in at the right age. The years when they’ll commit to spending money year after year, decade after decade, to support their club. But those measures should stand on their own, rather than being something to hide behind when people are rightly pissed off at an unjustifiable price rise.
There was other stuff about safe-standing, game 39, cup final tickets, but you can almost guess how that went. We don’t rule anything in, but we don’t rule anything out either. It’s now a fairly bland event – which is understandable as Arsenal is no longer a relatively small organisation but a massive business turning over hundreds of millions of pounds.
Nevertheless, it’s still possible to retain a connection to the people who breathe life into the football club. It’s possible to do things in a way which doesn’t make them feel more and more distant from it, and on that, particularly in relation to the KSE payment and ticket prices, Arsenal have failed. Corporate double-speak is part and parcel of any business this size, but when straight questions are asked and risible answers given, then it’s no wonder people get frustrated.
Should we, or can we, expect anything different? Probably not. That’s the modern game and modern ownership for you and there’s no turning back now. Big businesses operate like big businesses and ultimately pay lip-service to their customers as long as the turnstiles keep turning, the merchandise keeps being bought and so on. And sport is different again, we’re not just customers, we’re fans and they know they have a captive audience. If Starbucks puts up the price of a coffee you can go somewhere else for your morning brew, but that’s not an option for us.
At some point though, you might decide you don’t want any coffee at all, and Arsenal, like other clubs, would do well to remember that.
Now, time for this week’s Arsecast and this week I’m joined Andrew Allen to discuss the Arsenal AGM and how things went down in the room itself. We also look ahead to the Hull game. There’s also a chat with Dave Seager about his new book ‘Geordie Armstrong on the wing‘, and a chance win a couple of copies of it, ahead of the launch taking place tomorrow at The Tollington (listen for details). There’s the usual waffle and nonsense in there too.
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Right, that’s your lot for this morning. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, more from me tomorrow as we get going again on the pitch, Thankfully.