Bored of the Arsenal Board

By The Way - Weekly Columns


The sight of Arsenal fans moaning about the state of affairs at their club seems to amuse much of the football world. Any complaints are often seen as being self-entitled; the club has won three FA Cups in the last four seasons, life surely isn’t that bad. Fans of lower league clubs will launch into hysteria as they engage in ridiculous comparisons, insisting that Arsenal fans should be delighted simply with being vaguely near the top of the Premier League every season. Perhaps if Barry, 54-years-old from Luton, was charged such expensive ticket prices, had seen in the recent past his club compete at the top level, and knew his club were settling for standards below their capabilities he would be a little more uncertain in his diagnosis of Arsenal fans. Football is of course about winning trophies, and there is no doubting Arsenal have been successful in recent years in that regard. FA Cups may not be league titles or European successes, but they are certainly not to be sniffed at and mean a huge amount to Arsenal fans after those nine barren years. It was certainly enough for the Arsenal board to decide all was well with the club, and no change of any significance was necessary. Stan Kroenke, knowing absolutely nothing about football as he does, is probably under the impression that Arsenal are thriving at the moment, having already won three trophies this season. Not content with just winning the prestigious International Champions Cup in July, the club stormed to a remarkable fifth Emirates Cup triumph before completing the much sought after treble at Wembley in the Community Shield. There is comfort at every level of the football club, and with comfort usually comes complacency. Wenger places the ultimate trust in his players, often perhaps too much trust, and very rarely are there any consequences when this trust is not repaid. The Arsenal board appear to put no requirements or pressure on the manage, as we saw last season when the decision over Wenger’s contract was left with the man himself. While much of the media attention, and indeed the ire of the fans, is often directed at Arsene Wenger, as much criticism should be aimed at the Arsenal board for allowing this comfortable environment at the club. Who are these board members that I speak of, I hear you ask. Some club legends, perhaps? Well-respected figures from across the game? That would be a no. At the top of the wilting tree is Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder of the club and someone who has yet to provide confirmation that he has a voice. Occasionally gracing us with his presence, Kroenke is usually found sitting on his ranch in America overseeing his various other sporting involvements, most notably the LA Rams who are clearly his priority. Wenger provides stability on his sizeable investment into the club, guaranteeing a healthy profit; winning the league title is certainly a less important objective. Next on the list is Big Stan’s son Josh Kroenke, who doesn’t appear to actually do anything and is a warning to everyone about the potential consequences of a ‘Bring Your Son to Work Day’ that gets out of hand. He took over Mesut Ozil’s contract negotiations due to the pair being good friends, and yet we sit here with no contract signed and Ozil on the verge of leaving fore free. Good work, Josh. Kroenke the Younger’s most vital contribution to the Arsenal board is keeping the average age down to double figures. Sir Chips Keswick, Arsenal’s Chairman, has proclaimed that his favourite sport is Horse Racing, and is wheeled out annually for the AGM where he makes a complete idiot of himself with unerring consistency. He put in a particularly stellar performance at the end of 2017, refusing to answer questions from the fans and instead told those present to read Kroenke’s quotes from an interview he had given the previous day before bringing an abrupt end to proceedings. Lord Harris of Peckham is also a board member; I have no idea who he is, what he does or why he’s on the board so we’ll have to move on. That brings us to the crème de la crème of this band of merry men, the showstopper himself – Arsenal’s CEO Mr Ivan Gazidis. This summer, Gazidis was in a power struggle over the future of Arsene Wenger and a potential new contract. He was in this struggle with Wenger himself. He lost. So Arsenal’s CEO has no power. His role is limited to providing lovely soundbites every few months, which inevitably get pulled up on social media a couple of years later when he’s been proved wrong. In 2013, Gazidis told the fans “we should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich.” Luckily for Mr Gazidis, Arsenal have had the opportunity to test themselves against this very opponent several times recently. The last three matches have been 5-1, 5-1, and 5-1 to the German side, so perhaps a bit more work to do there Ivan. Last year, Gazidis stood up at the AGM in front of an angry group of fans looking for answers over Arsenal’s increasingly poor performances. In an attempt to appease the fans, he insisted Arsenal were in fact “over-performing”; Arsenal’s board consists of three people who appear to do nothing, an owner who simply doesn’t care, and a CEO who seems to be trying but is partly incompetent and largely powerless. The end for Wenger looks near, and whether it be this summer or at the end of his contract in 2019, Arsenal are soon going to undertake a major transformation. However, fans will that while Wenger often was frustrating in repeating the same mistakes over and over again, the problems at Arsenal run much deeper than just the manager. Alisher Usmanov has made no secret of his desire to buy Kroenke’s shares, and Arsenal fans have been quick to get behind the Russian. Usmanov would certainly have his own failings, but his pitch of an all-singing, all-dancing, all-spending Arsenal is appealing simply because it’s something different. The fans have had enough of Arsenal playing it safe and prioritising consistency over ambition, and until the board sees a significant overhaul to bring an end to the current stagnation, this sense of disillusionment will remain as the connection between fan and board grows ever weaker. The expectation from Arsenal fans is not that the club win trophies every season, but that we put ourselves in the best possible position to do so at the start of every season; repeatedly, this is not happening.