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Arsenal welcome Kroenke on board

Arsenal have welcomed American billionaire Stan Kroenke onto their board as a non-executive director as they attempt to stave off a potential takeover from Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

The billionaire owner of Kroenke Sports Enterprises holds 12.4% of shares in Arsenal Holdings PLC and his appointment marks a thaw in the relationship between himself and Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood. However, Kroenke has not signed up to the 'lockdown' agreement drawn up by board members last year which prevents the trading of shares without the consent of fellow directors.

Following Kroenke's initial investment in April 2007 Hill-Wood famously remarked that Arsenal did not want "his sort"; but the club's directors have been establishing closer links with the American since Russian billionaire Usmanov, the club's largest shareholder, began raising his stake in the club to 24.9%.

In a statement released on Friday morning the Gunners hierarchy claimed Kroenke was fully behind their business model - a thinly-veiled attack on the owner-funded approach that would come with an Usmanov takeover.

"Mr Kroenke fully supports the approach the board has taken in setting the direction of the club," the statement read.

"The board believes Mr Kroenke's experience in sports team commercial management, sports marketing, media and new media rights as well as real estate development will be of great value."

Kroenke has agreed not to increase his stake beyond 29.9% of Arsenal's share capital in the next year unless a takeover bid is launched by Usmanov or another party, in which case he could do so with the consent of the board.

"It is a real honour to be invited to join the board of Arsenal given their pre-eminent reputation and position in football worldwide," said Denver-based Kroenke, who through KSE has owned the St Louis Rams, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids in his homeland.

"I hope my background in sports management will be an asset to Arsenal in their commercial dealings going forward."

Hill-Wood added: "We are delighted to welcome Stan to the board of Arsenal.

"He brings with him a wealth of experience through his direct involvement in sports clubs in the US and we expect to benefit from his commercial insights and knowledge."

•  Kroenke's invitation to join the Arsenal board comes on the same day the club revealed a pre-tax profit of £36.7million for the year ending May 2008.

The Gunners continue to reap the rewards of their move to the Emirates Stadium with the club having announced that gate and match day revenue totalled £94.6million, which represents some 45% of their overall football revenues.

The club moved to the 60,000-capacity stadium from Highbury in July 2006, and Hill-Wood claimed that it has put the club in a strong position to help manager Arsene Wenger develop the playing side.

He said: "This club is ambitious for success and I believe that the strong financial position which the group has established, as confirmed by the results for the year, provides the best possible platform from which to deliver that success for the long term.

"We are committed to operating the club as a business which is financially self-sustaining and over the last two seasons Emirates Stadium has taken our football revenues to a new level.

"During the year we have improved and extended the contract terms of a large number of first team players and, of course, of Arsene Wenger himself.

"As a result, for the first time, the Group's wage bill has exceeded nine figures at £101.3 million."

The club confirmed that their overall debt position rose to an overall £318.1million but they had expected it to increase because of the use of bank debt to fund the construction of apartments at Highbury Square.

A significant level of property sales are anticipated for 2008-09 with a large number of Highbury Square apartments scheduled to be completed and released for sale which would reduce the debt.

Legally completed sales from the first phase of 65 apartments released at the end of July have so far generated sales proceeds of £18.7million.

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