In July 2019 Arsenal’s CEO and son of billionaire owner, Josh Kroenke, told Arsenal fans to ‘be excited’ about their summer transfer business. Less than five months down the line with those signings, Arsenal are mid-table with a negative goal difference and behind newly-promoted Sheffield United and Crystal Palace. The total of those two clubs’ summer spending comes to around £20m less than Arsenal spent on Nicolas Pepe alone. Excited is certainly not the word I’d use.
While the new men including Pepe, Gabriel Martinelli, David Luiz and Dani Ceballos have had varying levels of success, the main issue the club failed to resolve was the manager’s, Unai Emery. The Spaniard failed to meet his task of securing Champions League football, which to more ruthless owners, a la Chelsea, would have been enough to wave the white flag.
The Arsenal hierarchy wanted to give him more time, so Emery clawed onto his job like a kitten to a fraying piece of thread, which lasted until late November. They dithered over Emery, they’re dithering over his replacement, and now, the manager-less black hole trying to be filled by poor Freddie Ljungberg has left Arsenal in a complete and utter mess.
The toxicity around the club has never been higher. A foul storm of discontent and anger has been brewing for many years, starting under Arsene Wenger’s final few seasons. A lot of that frustration stems from the feeling that fans are being swindled, both in a monetary sense, and the spin they are sold by the hierarchy.
Former Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis’ infamous statement in 2012, that ‘Arsenal will compete with biggest clubs in the world’ has come back to bite him in the worst possible way. The #WeCareDoYou movement was met by nothing more than a PR puff interview with Josh Kroenke, where he told us that we should be excited. That’s not quite worked out either.
It has got to a point where some fans are no longer bothering to turn up to the games. The attendance for Emery’s last game, the 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, was officially 49,419, but in reality thousands less. That didn’t improve much during the 2-1 midweek loss to Brighton.
Some may say it’s gone beyond fury, it’s apathy. Years of underachieving, and catastrophically failed attempts to try and remedy that leave Arsenal in a sorry state. The sheer contrast in the names of the men Arsenal are reportedly targeting for the manager’s role, from Mauricio Pochettino to Max Allegri and now Niko Kovac speaks of a leadership that have no idea what direction they want to go in.
A lot hinges on this next appointment. Get it wrong, and Arsenal could be looking for yet another boss in 18 months, but at that point, star players like Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will probably be out the door, and if you think hostility from fans is bad now, imagine what it will be like after the next Unai Emery is sacked.
Above all, whoever the new manager is, has to try build up a broken relationship between himself, the players and the supporters. Ship out all of the players that have been sitting pretty as the armageddon ensues around them, bring in younger, hungry players that want to go out and give their all every week. Our academy and youngsters are genuinely brilliant, so use them.
While communication between the hierarchy and fans needs to be better, realistically It probably won’t. But what they can control is the manager, and the staff making those decisions. After ‘Head Of Football Relations’ Raul Sanllehi desperately clung on to Unai Emery, as one of the men that hired him, a lot of pressure lies on his shoulders too for this next appointment.
I think all fans want is to restore some dignity and pride into a club that has lost its way over the years, do that, and they can start, however slowly, to move forward.