l; K

l; Kroenke forced to defend Hill-Wood

• Wenger identifies ‘fear’ and ‘discontent’

• Usmanov to remain frozen out by board•

ARSENAL’S majority shareholder Stan Kroenke was forced to defend long-standing chairman Peter Hill-Wood during the club’s stormy AGM yesterday.

The American tycoon had flown in from his homeland to address the 281 fans in attendance at Emirates Stadium for the first time since he acquired a controlling stake in April.

Kroenke spoke only briefly, outlining his faith in manager Arsene Wenger and ensuring his association with Arsenal would prove to be more than a fleeting dalliance, but was forced to interject when Hill-Wood came under attack from several minority shareholders.

One drew applause when he called for Hill-Wood to resign and make way for former Gunners vice-chairman David Dein, prompting Kroenke to grab the microphone.

He said: “Can I add something? We are all fans. Peter has our support. We are with you.”

Hill-Wood, who categorically rejected the notion of major shareholder Alisher Usmanov being offered a seat on the board, added: “I’m sorry to disappoint you but I have no intention of stepping down.”

Despite the club’s worst start to a domestic season in over half a century, which followed a summer of upheaval capped by the departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, Kroenke believes he has assumed control of a club well equipped to succeed.

“What a wonderful club,” Kroenke said. “We are involved extensively in sports in the United States and had lots of opportunities to involve ourselves in lots of clubs around Europe and in the [English] Premier League.

“We did not have an interest, but as we became involved with Arsenal in a commercial undertaking in Denver, I became more interested.

“Arsenal has all the elements that you need to have success in this kind of business.”

Despite that positive assessment, it was left to Wenger to issue the stirring rally-cry. The Frenchman was unwilling to take questions from the floor, but spoke passionately about the need to remain united amid a sense of “fear” and “discontent”.

“I can see a lot of fear and discontent among you.” Wenger said. “And I can understand that because we live in a world where we fight with people who have extremely high resources.

“The way we can compete is to try to be intelligent but as well, to be united. To stay at the top, top level, we have to be united. That is the only way to survive at the top.”