On Monday a group of the most influential Arsenal-focused supporter organisations, blogs, and fanzines issued a joint statement damming Stan Kroenke’s “passive ownership” and his lack of ambition, purpose and direction for the club. Since the statement’s issue and associated social media campaign, Arsenal fans in their thousands have been signing the letter/petition in agreement that things desperately need to change.
While supporters of many, in fact probably the vast majority, of other clubs might gaze on in wonder at what we have possibly got to agitate about, it is the inescapable sense of stagnation that has pervaded the club and its approach to everything it does, since the move to the Emirates that sits at the heart of our ongoing and increasing frustration. As the letter outlines, when Kroenke first began buying shares in Arsenal some twelve years ago, the club had just competed in its only Champions League Final, going into this season we face the prospect of our third season of Europa League ennui.
We were sold the move to the Emirates, the associated emotional leaving of our spiritual home of Highbury, and the hike in ticket prices based on the need for its greater revenue generation potential to allow us to continue to compete at the very highest level. We recognised, and for the most part accepted, that the cost of the stadium’s construction would inevitably hinder our spending power in the transfer market for a period of years on the promise that, in the words of our now departed but hardly lamented Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis speaking in November 2012 that: “”As we look to the next two, three years we will have an outstanding platform on which to compete with any club in the world,” so when precisely did we do that?
Upon taking over full ownership of the club nearly twelve months ago, Kroenke through his company Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) laid out his supposed ambitions for the club: “KSE’s ambitions for the club are to see it competing consistently to win the Premier League and the Champions League, as well as the major trophies in the women’s senior game and at youth level.” The joint statement succinctly summarises the exasperation of Arsenal fans as we continue to see scant evidence of this avowed intention for the club being anything other than empty rhetoric.
Anyone who has had the ‘pleasure’ of watching Arsenal over recent seasons would wholly agree that “performances on the pitch have declined over the last decade”; in the fifteen years since the Invicibles still scarcely credible achievement, we have declined to be challengers rather than favourites, then to perennial Champions League qualifiers and sporadic FA Cup winners, and we now sit amongst the also-rans outside the top four. A member of the so-called ‘Big Six’ Premier League clubs but nowhere near capable of a creditable challenge to Manchester City and Liverpool, heck it could be argued we are some distance behind Tottenham and Chelsea, as hard as that is to stomach!
The statement suggests that: “off the pitch fans have never felt more marginalised, less listened to or valued,” in many ways this is part of modern football where the supporters are seen purely as customers, a source of income that is actually not any more significant (read: important to the money men) than those watching on TV and/or buying replica jerseys overseas. Truth be told the club would probably prefer to not have to deal with those of us who have an opinion on how the club is being run at all.
It certainly feels, and has done for a while, that: “Arsenal is at a crossroads. Things need to change.” The co-authors call upon Kroenke to take “meaningful action” to “reinvigorate our football club”, but are wholly correct in suggesting that our owner’s view of the club is as an “investment vehicle”, reinforced by his comment back in March 2016 that: “If you want to win championships then you would never get involved”. Quick! Someone go and tell Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour, John W. Henry, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy, and hell even the Glazers at Manchester United that they’ve got it all wrong, it isn’t about trophies or investing money towards your ambitions. It is in fact all about increasing the value of the asset while spending as little as possible of your own fortune until you eventually decide to cash in, ideally before the Premier League bubble finally bursts. Or, more worryingly, the club’s worth grows to astronomical levels should the continuing spectre of a European Super League ever become a reality.
The following day Kroenke’s son and heir and Arsenal board member, Josh, issued an open letter in response in which he suggested that: “while we (the Kroenkes) understand, appreciate, and agree with concerns about our Club failing to achieve our goal of qualifying for the 2019-20 Champions League, we respectfully disagree about our Club being at a crossroads and that things need to change because so much change has recently occurred.”
The main change he references is the move from the previous operational model of manager and CEO to the new one led by a Head of Football and Managing Director; presumably suggesting that Wenger’s resignation, Gazidis’ fleeing the camp and Sven Mislintat’s forcing out were all part of some thought-out strategy. The more sceptical amongst us might suggest that we are where we find ourselves as a result of the lack of any discernible plan.
Josh also suggests the recent appointment of Edu as Technical Director “represents the final piece of a very important jigsaw puzzle that is our new football operational structure” negating to even mention the failed pursuit of Monchi and alleged overtures made to Marc Overmars back in the winter.
For anyone questioning the Kroenkes’ commitment to the cause, Josh allays those doubts suggesting: “On behalf of my family and KSE, I was in Baku for the Europa League final, and was on the pitch after the match representing our Club as the second place medals were passed out to our players and staff. I saw and felt the same frustration that was visible on the face of every Arsenal fan, player and staff member, and the most important thing that I saw in that moment was how much people care and a resolve to face the failure and work even harder.” Reassuring words to help us all keep the faith through what is more than likely to be yet another season of tediously going through the motions while the Kroenke family gets ever richer!