(Corrects fourth paragraph to say first home loss to foreign team since 2003)
By Keith Weir
LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Frustrated Arsenal fans accused the board on Thursday of “putting profit before performance” after enduring another trophyless season at the Premier League soccer club and the departure of striker Robin Van Persie.
Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis told shareholders that soccer’s “pointless spending race” was ending and tried to reassure them that Arsenal would have the financial resources in the next two years to compete with the best.
“We can and we will return the club to winning trophies and drive it to new heights,” said Gazidis, flanked by manager Arsene Wenger and American owner Stan Kroenke at a fractious annual shareholder meeting at the Emirates Stadium.
The north London club have failed to win a trophy since 2005 and slumped to a 2-0 defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday against Germany’s Schalke 04, their first home loss to a foreign team in the competition since 2003.
Arsenal are the envy of many clubs off the field thanks to their ability to generate a profit. Gazidis said that new financial rules designed to force European clubs to cut their losses would play into their hands.
However, fans are angry that Van Persie, who joined Manchester United in August, has been allowed to move after the club lost captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona a year ago.
Wenger, who has been at the club for 16 years, told the meeting that Arsenal had “hit the wall” in the last two games, the defeat to Schalke and a loss to Norwich City in the Premier League last weekend.
“I believe this team can deliver,” he said to applause from several hundred shareholders. “I am personally optimistic we will have a good season.”
Wenger described qualification for the Champions League as a trophy in itself, saying it was higher on his list of achievements than winning a domestic cup. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 15 years in a row.
One shareholder clashed with Kroenke, the owner of a number of U.S. sports teams including NFL’s St Louis Rams, over whether he had honoured commitments to meet fans.
“I’ve met with the Arsenal Supporters Trust and other fan groups,” Kroenke said before he was interrupted from the floor by his questioner.
Arsenal fans have dubbed Kroenke “Silent Stan” for his low-profile ownership after he became the club’s largest shareholder in April 2011.
Kroenke, who owns almost 67 percent of the club, said he had a record of investing in his sports clubs and defended his involvement with Arsenal.
“I have never put debt on the club, I have never said in any meeting that money wasn’t available,” Kroenke said.
“My one regret with Arsenal was that I didn’t get involved earlier,” he added.
The board has been at loggerheads with shareholder Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born billionaire who together with partner Farhad Moshiri owns a stake of almost 30 percent.
Usmanov has accused the board of under-investment and some fans questioned why he did not have a presence on the board.
Gazidis tried to play down talk of splits between the two major shareholders.
“I think this issue of conflict is vastly overstated,” he said. (Editing by Clare Fallon)