In a sport where broadcasters promise unrelenting unpredictability at every turn, football is becoming increasingly formulaic. And at Arsenal's annual general meeting on Thursday (26 October), the writing is certainly on the wall for all to see.
These affairs, which see minority shareholders question the club's hierarchy, have mutated into middle-class mutinies in recent years, with the frustration directed towards the club's luke-warm performances on the field reflected in the attitude towards operations in the boardroom.
Against the backdrop of a failure to win the Premier League since 2004 is growing fury over the hands-off approach of majority owner Stan Kroenke, the salaries of key figures such as Ivan Gazidis, the lack of investment in the playing squad and the unnecessary uncertainty created by key individuals, including manager Arsene Wenger, being allowed to run down their contracts.
With little having changed during the last 12 months, what can we expect in 2017 from an annual event from which fans often come away with more questions than answers?
Arsenal's shareholders have a rare opportunity to enjoy free hospitality inside the walls of The Emirates in the W Club, where complimentary refreshments are served, though there must be the feeling among those season-ticket holders that they have already paid for the spread in some way of other.
The AGM itself takes place in the Woolwich Suite, which can be hired out privately for £6,000. Chairman Sir Chips Keswick gives the opening address in which he reviews the last 12 months, both on and off the field. Platitudes aplenty.
Expect the two trophies attained over that period, the FA Cup and the Community Shield, to be polished up and resplendent at the top table where Keswick, Lord Harris, Josh Kroenke, chief executive Gazidis, majority owner Stan Kroenke, Ken Friar and club secretary David Miles all reside.
Re-election of directors
Son of major owner Stan, Josh Kroenke and Sir Chips are among those seeking re-election as directors. The Arsenal Supporters' Trust [AST] have requested that all shareholders vote against their re-appointment, in the first act of defiance against the club. More of that to come.
Gunners fans are demanding both a greater say on operations at the club, or at least an insight into how decisions are reached, and increased diversity on a board which is dominated by white elderly males. The 77-year-old Sir Chips is central to that and he could yet be displaced.
Shareholders are encouraged to submit questions prior to the AGM, with a selection of those addressed by those on the top table. The AST have outlined a number of issues to which they demand answers, including:
- The make-up of the current board and when they will address the lack of diversity.
- Why minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov does not have a seat on the board.
- Whether ticket prices will be frozen amid the income gained from the current Premier League television deal.
- Justification for Ivan Gazidis' £2.6m-a-year pay packet.
- Players being allowed to run down their contract until the final year, including Alexis Sanchez, for whom the club turned down a £60m bid from Manchester City.
- If Arsene Wenger's contract will be reviewed before May 2019 to avoid a repeat of the confusion which beset last season.
Whether Arsenal's fans will receive answers to these queries remains to be seen but is likely that any response from the club will be framed to dilute any negativity. Issues such as diversity and Kroenke's role have long been contentious subjects yet have never been properly addressed or acted upon. The same should be expected again.
Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger
The main men behind Arsenal's operations on and off the field will both take to the lectern to outline their commercial and sporting vision for the club. Gazidis will focus on the Arsenal brand and discuss his own success in securing several partnerships in an effort to justify his salary. He likes a pie-chart does the CEO.
Wenger, in the shadow of the likes of Gazidis and Sir Chips, can do no wrong and will surely use the mid-week impact made by Eddie Nketiah to reaffirm that the club do not need to spend vast sums of money to compete in the Premier League or in Europe, and that their youth system is fully functioning.
Nevertheless, the addition of Alexandre Lacazette proved that they can at least succeed in bringing in big-name players even without being in the Champions League. But it is down to Wenger to convince sceptics that he is the man to drive forward a new era, despite accusations his principals and tactics are outdated.
Questions from the floor
A small period is left over for unverified questions from shareholders, who approach a microphone stationed some 10 feet away from the top table like a defendant addressing a judge. The onus is on 'small' but this is Arsenal fans' yearly opportunity to probe the board with questions which they have not had the chance to prepare for.
The tone of the enquiries are usually the best indicator as to the mood of the shareholders, though with questions having not been vetted they can often cover a wide-range of peculiar subjects. Recent years have seen the cost of food at The Emirates Stadium questioned; a burger, chips and drink can set you back £17. One fan enquired two years ago as to Theo Walcott's role at set pieces.
Often, questions turn into angry outbursts which the board merely dismisses as rants and refuse to address even if hidden amid the outrage there is a genuine point. If he hasn't already done so, expect a request for Kroneke senior to speak. The AST have asked for the American to either address the AGM or meet with shareholders privately to discuss their concerns, but don't expect this offer to be accepted.