LONDON (AP) — Jokes replaced jeers at Arsenal on Thursday as the team's strong start to the season was reflected while owner Stan Kroenke faced shareholders.
Heckling was directed at Kroenke at last year's annual general meeting at a time when Arsenal looked far from winning its first trophy since 2005. Now the team is thriving in the Champions League and is the early Premier League leader.
"We are pleased with the progress of the club and that is made up of a lot of things, most importantly on the pitch," Kroenke said inside the Emirates Stadium. "None of us up here (on the board), fans, players, or (manager) Arsene (Wenger) are happy until we have won championships and trophies."
Arsenal heads into Saturday's match against Norwich above Liverpool on goal difference. "We are top of the table, we are in a very strong position, but if you look the schedule, then by the end of November you will have a much clearer situation of where the strengths of everybody lies in this Premier League," Wenger said, sounding a note of caution.
There was no such restraint from the Arsenal hierarchy when highlighting the club's healthy finances. Cash reserves of almost $200 million were held at the end of the 2012-13 financial year. "We have more (commercial deals) coming and are confident," Kroenke said. "However, nothing works unless we have success on the pitch."
The early optimism that success in trophy form will come by May has been heightened since the signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid last month for a club-record 50 million euros ($66 million). That deal was possible, according to Wenger, because the club's "very long, restricted period financially" is over.
"We have shown to you that we are not scared to spend money when we think the players have the quality and we have the funds available to do it," Wenger said. "Nevertheless, I would say our world is quickly changing. Why? Because Europe as a continent is becoming poorer, the rest of the world is becoming richer — especially Asia, for example — and these people invest in football in Europe.
"That means (with) the competition we face financially today, we have to be really aware of the number of countries who now have big investors coming in from different continents other than Europe. The competition you face on an international level, financially, has become bigger than before."
Such was the calm mood at the AGM, chief executive Ivan Gazidis felt confident to joke about Wenger's inability to zip up his coat and to quip about Gareth Bale no longer playing for neighbor Tottenham but "for one of our rivals" — Real Madrid.
Despite the apparent tranquility on the surface at the AGM, some fans groups did express displeasure about Kroenke's limited engagement with them. "There's no other club at this level which engages with fans as much as we do," Gazidis said.
Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick also resisted calls for the club's second-biggest shareholder, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, to be granted a seat on the board of directors. Red & White Holdings, the investment vehicle Usmanov jointly owns with Farhad Moshiri, announced Thursday that its stake in Arsenal now exceeds 30 percent. Kroenke owns almost 67 percent of the club.