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Arsenal targeted

Sunday, 3 March 2013 - 4:11pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Middle East consortium plan 1.5 billion pounds bid to make Gunners a major force again, reveals Jason Burt.

Barring a remarkable turnaround in Munich, where Arsenal will attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit in the Champions League next week and advance to the quarter-finals, it will be another barren year at the club. Eight long years without a trophy. And little hope that the sequence is going to end soon.

It makes the prospect of a gargantuan pounds 1.5?billion bid to buy the club, backed by funds from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, all the more tantalising for frustrated Arsenal supporters.

"No big club can go eight years without winning anything," a bid source told The Sunday Telegraph on Saturday. "No manager of a big club, not even Sir Alex Ferguson, would have survived eight years without winning." It is not an unreasonable statement.

Not that the blame for Arsenal's current lack of competitiveness is being apportioned to manager Arsene Wenger. The Sunday Telegraph understands that the Middle East bidders are big admirers of Wenger, appreciate his value to Arsenal, and that there is no desire to remove him from the club. They do not want to lose his football knowledge and want him to remain at the club.

But they are well aware that the last trophy the club won was the 2005 FA Cup and that Arsenal have become less of a rival to the Premier League's top clubs. They believe that the club have settled for relative mediocrity.

Whether Wenger would voluntarily work under a new regime is another question. Should a bid prove successful, Wenger would be in an awkward position, having previously criticised clubs with wealthy owners, accusing them of "financial doping", although he has strong links with Paris St-Germain, who, of course, also have Qatari owners.

Wenger's contract runs until June 2014 and it is understood that, as things stand, he has no intention of quitting even if Arsenal finish outside the top four, although he has faced growing calls to go.

The proposed new owners claim they are serious in their desire to turn Arsenal into a force again and also to do it in the right way. They say they do not want to acquire the club to make money but to invest. The bid group believe that the ownership of American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke and his son and heir, Josh, has been at the heart of the club's lack of competitiveness. They have also identified a lack of experience in football as a significant barrier to success.

"The biggest problem with Arsenal is that it has no owner, no face and there is no one to report to," the bid source claimed. "The management of the club at every level is not put under scrutiny and does not have to report to anyone."

The inference is that neither Kroenke nor his son has a feel for Arsenal - a claim which has been lent weight by the former's absence from the Emirates Stadium - and that the current board lacks strength and leadership.

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis has been criticised for being too deferential towards Wenger, who enjoys a huge amount of control at Arsenal.

The frustration over Kroenke's failure to attend games and his lack of public communication has been frequently vented by supporters, who have criticised him at successive annual meetings. Kroenke does not like being called "Silent Stan" but he has lived up to the nickname.

Arsenal have a clear, self-sustaining structure, rejecting the benefactor model, with Wenger, the board and majority owner believing their approach will eventually succeed, especially with the incoming Uefa Financial Fair Play rules.

But there are genuine fears among fans that Arsenal are slipping away and becoming less competitive.

If successful, the bid would almost certainly take Arsenal to another level. The prospective owners claim their intention is to turn the club into a major force in European football, one that will compete with Manchester United and Manchester City for the Premier League title and with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and PSG in the Champions League.

Given the nature and structure of the funding, the bidders say they are confident they will still be able to comply with FFP.

It is understood that they wish to maintain a degree of stability at the club, despite the upheaval of a takeover, although there would be a new board and, in all probability, a new chief executive as it is understood that Gazidis would be unlikely to be retained.

Arsenal's failure to hang on to their top talent has been a source of major unease at the club. Losing Holland international striker Robin van Persie - who left for Manchester United criticising a lack of ambition - Spain international Cesc Fabregas and France international Samir Nasri all hit hard.

The prospective owners claim there would be a firm commitment to a model of developing and keeping young players but also, and as a priority, to strengthening the squad so that those players, such as Jack Wilshere, would have no reason to leave in the future.

Wenger believes he has a core of a squad who can challenge but this is not a universally-held opinion with doubts over the strength of the spine of the team.

Even his most fervent supporters struggle to make a case that Wenger is on the verge of creating another great team or that the squad have depth and quality to compete despite a high wage bill.

The Middle East consortium claim to sympathise with Arsenal supporters and their contention that many of them have been priced out of following their club.

Supporters' groups have already warned that generations of fans could be lost. Ticket prices, among the highest in the world and an increasingly contentious issue, would be reduced, the bid source said, and there would be an attempt to re-create "some of the feel of the old North Bank" at Highbury within the Emirates Stadium.

The bid source added there was a real desire to "bring back some of the true supporters" who have been priced out or become disillusioned.

The disillusionment is undoubtedly there. Cup defeats to Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers heightened that sense, as did the humiliating Champions League 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Emirates a fortnight ago, when the German side played with a verve and tempo Arsenal no longer recognise.

Finishing outside the top four would compound it even more, especially if the proposed takeover is rejected. That would further increase the pressure on Kroenke in particular.

 




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