London: For 16 years, Arsenal fans have proclaimed "Arsene Knows" in chants and banners supporting their French manager Arsene Wenger. For some supporters, though, it's now become "Arsene Knew." After seven years without a trophy, the London club's fans are clearly frustrated at the lack of success from Wenger's team.
The manager was exposed to that fan unrest on Thursday, when he and the club's directors endured a stormy 75-minute annual general meeting with its smaller shareholders — many of whom are both perplexed and angry at the club's failure to invest in the team despite assurances the cash is there.
Most of the heckling and dissent was directed at American owner Stan Kroenke and chief executive Ivan Gazidis as they discussed the club's financial strategy. Wenger meanwhile delivered an unusually downbeat annual address.
After seven years without a trophy, the London club's fans are clearly frustrated at the lack of success from Wenger's team.
It didn't help that his address came barely 12 hours after Arsenal slumped to a second successive loss. After a timid defeat against previously winless Norwich on Saturday, Schalke became the first foreign team to win at Arsenal since 2003.
"Sorry for last night," Wenger said as he began his speech. "I tell players it's our job to perform not speak, so I'm not comfortable speaking today ... I knows there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction."
Wenger was stating the obvious: the suite at the club's Emirates Stadium had been echoing to frequent jeers during the previous 45 minutes. "It's important we don't go overboard," Wenger said. "It is still important that we keep our strength and stay united for the good of Arsenal."
That would be easier if there was a recent trophy success to celebrate. Wenger can't lay claim to Arsenal's nine straight English titles — in women's football.
The Frenchman, though, doesn't just define success in terms of silverware.
"For me, there are five 'trophies' — the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup," Wenger said. "I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask 'Did you win the League Cup?'. They ask you, 'Do you play in the Champions League?'"
Arsenal is currently competing among Europe's elite for a 15th consecutive season. But the 13-time English champions are currently languishing in ninth place in the Premier League — four places below the Champions League qualification spots.
Supporters were incensed that stars have been allowed to leave when rivals come calling. Restless captain Robin van Persie joined Manchester United for around $40 million a year in August — and has already scored 10 goals for them — after predecessor Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona for a similar fee a year earlier.
It's not only the team's figureheads who have left in search of success, with Alex Song following Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure among the talent joining Manchester City, who went on to win the Premier League in May.
Fans are perplexed that Wenger doesn't spend big, when the club's cash reserves stood at 154 million pounds ($249 million) in May.
"My job is to deliver a team with the resources we have," he said during a speech that ended with rare applause. "And I have never complained about that." Some fans wish he would.
"This is a great club but you're ruining it with your financial policies," one seething shareholder said to Gazidis. Kroenke, speaking later in one of his few comments at the session, said: "We have never said in any meeting that there wasn't money to spend." How much money was available, though, he didn't say.
Kroenke is banking on rigorous enforcement by UEFA of its Financial Fair Play rules. He is anxious to balance Arsenal's books, while domestic rivals like Manchester City and Chelsea struggle to reduce their losses and potentially jeopardize their future entry to the Champions League.
Arsenal should be hailed as trailblazers, according to Gazidis, claiming "many other clubs have tried and failed to follow us" as the "pointless spending race of recent times" is halted.
In short, the pleas from the club's directors present were for patience, cautioning against the problems witnessed elsewhere.
"In Spain, we see clubs going into bankruptcy not being able to pay their players — we see a similar situation in Italy and France," Gazidis said.
And laced throughout Gazidis' speech was a sense that Arsenal has been in decline since winning the Premier League three times between 1998 and 2004, the last time without a single loss.
"In the next two years, we will have the financial resources to sit and compete among the leading clubs in the world — which is an extraordinary achievement," Gazidis said, before directing his next comment to the restless among the fan base.
"Standing together we can make Arsenal one of the leading clubs in the world." Such statements struggled to quell the eruptions from the floor — as Gazidis' comments in particular were openly challenged.
Without trophies, Gunners fans have every right to be unhappy, even if the club is ranked as the fifth biggest moneymaker in world football. Much of that revenue has been generated since the move in 2006 to the Emirates Stadium, packed with its executive boxes and luxury seating.
But the stark reality is the cabinet built in Highbury's replacement is still waiting its first major trophy. And Wenger couldn't tell the fans on Thursday when they can expect to see one.