The first thing to say is, forget the guff from Ivan Gazidis initial speech - saying fan groups, fans with shares and fan forums are “important” and “the more we communicate the better”.
Lest we forget, it was only a few weeks ago that the Arsenal board recommended ALL shareholders sell-up to Stan Kroenke. How can you communicate with shareholders if you don't have any?
Predictably, the first five minutes of the meeting was spent by Gazidis trying to throw water over anyone that might be spoiling for a fight; telling us all about how far the club has come in recent years (???), the wonderful new stadium, financial stability (yawn) and the giant myth that is Arsenal’s great brand of football which mesmerises the universe.
According to Ivan, the club is about a lot more than some flaky losers in the first team who can’t compete for a trophy, it’s about all the above-mentioned things and also how Arsenal operates within the community.
Of course, if Arsenal was winning things – or genuinely close to it, none of these peripherals would be spoken of, they would be treated as irrelevant. When Wenger took Arsenal to the Champions League final or semi-final, or won an FA Cup, who was talking about all this stuff? No one.
However, at least Ivan could share with us his “profound disappointment” at Arsenal’s annual end-of-season collapse.
Gazidis then pointed out that at least the season hadn’t been a disaster (yes it had) and that there will be new signings and we “shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” (yes we should).
Question 1: How did Clichy and Nasri get into a situation where their contracts only have one year to run?
Gazidis hereby laid down the foundations for the rest of the Q&A by intimating that he cannot talk about individuals because it will be “spun” by the media, before citing the complexities of making subjective decisions about the value of players, married to unsustainable spending and “errors of judgment” blah blah.
Basically, a muddled answer that struggled to hide the fact that Arsenal are making a mess of these contracts and it’s probably because Wenger is allowed too much input in an area where what he “thinks” a player will do is overriding business logic. Remember when he thought Flamini would stay and he didn't? How can this sort of thing still be happening?
In my opinion, Nasri, for example, should have been offered a contract last season – and probably was – and if he was and didn’t sign then Arsenal should have looked to sell last summer. Through this inaction, Nasri now holds all the trump cards leaving the club in a very weak position. For a club, and manager, perpetually moaning that it doesn't have the funds to compete, they seem pretty blase about losing talented players cheap, or on a Bosman.
Question 2: Under what circumstance would you remove Arsene Wenger? Again, Gazidis would not give “fodder” to the media by answering the question. Although he did mention he was 100% behind the manager and waffled on about other clubs “unlimited” spending power, as if that was the sole reason for Arsenal’s failure to compete.
Thankfully, AST’s Treasurer Nigel Phillips picked up on that and asked Gazidis if he could at least respond to how he thought Arsenal were developing in footballing terms. Rather worryingly, Gazidis claimed that “all clubs were moving forward”, the assumption being that is what has made it harder for Arsenal to compete for trophies. Gazidis also claimed Arsenal had moved ahead/improved (albeit not enough).
From an objective perspective that’s drivel, and from a statistical perspective it’s wrong. It’s complete nonsense to suggest other clubs are overtaking Arsenal in terms of performance levels; Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and arguably Man City – considering the quality of their side, all had average seasons, whilst even champions Man Utd look incomparable in terms of quality to previous Utd sides.
A poor answer – and he knew it, Gazidis began repeatedly sniffing and shifting nervously, and it further looked like Phillips would poke him in the eye with his pen, but it turned out he was in fact pointing to an audience member.
Question 3: Arsenal has not done great business in the last four transfer windows, so how about removing Wenger from the financial element of transfer negotiations or bringing back David Dein (cue applause).
Gazidis mentioned that it is a necessity to turn to Wenger for advice on transfers and that the club always goes by his recommendations – although why that has to extend to whether or not it should be Wenger’s decision as to whether the club spends a few million pounds extra to get their man is unclear.
Again, it sounds like Wenger is running the whole show, and furthermore there are no plans to bring back his old mate (Dein) either.
An audience member picked up on Gazidis’ response by claiming that the market should set the rate for the player, not the manager – and if that’s how Arsenal is operating then no wonder the club loses out on the majority of its transfer targets.
Gazidis responded that he has to be interactive with the manager (fine) but more baffling was the comment: “we spend all of the money we generate but we do have some in reserve”. Surely ALL of the money INCLUDES what you have in reserve. If you went to court to settle a divorce, I doubt they’d let you off if you said, “she can half of everything I own, except the £200k I’ve got in reserve.”
Question 4 revolved around Hill-Wood’s outrageous, and Wenger’s dismissive, comments this season pertaining to supporters/AST and their uneducated opinions, dumb players Tweeting, and away fans being ignored by players – all indicative of a lack of respect towards the Arsenal fan base.
Gazidis sympathised and agreed, but ruined that by mentioning it’s not only a problem at Arsenal but right across the board. This is a contradiction considering earlier in the meeting he claimed Arsenal have a responsibility to set the standards. He did, however, accept that more needs to be done in respect of the players and the board connecting with supporters.
Question 5: A complaint about the rise in ticket prices, particularly for Silver membership, which has risen 50%.
Gazidis response was that for two of the last six years prices have been static, whereas the club’s overheads have increased massively leading to the requirement to make unpopular decisions regarding ticket pricing. In respect of stadium atmosphere (a separate question), safe standing will be explored in the future, assuming it turns out to be feasible. Assuming he’s serious, this was probably the only valuable thing to come out of the meeting.
Skipping a couple of boring questions about the reserves, ticket announcements and dividends (no plans for Stan Kroenke to pay himself one), it was interesting to note that Gazidis mentioned season ticket renewals were extremely healthy, in fact, unhealthily so, presumably meaning many fans still have no chance of getting a season ticket.
This is a blow for those hoping Wenger will be put under pressure due to droves of supporters no longer wishing to renew their season tickets. However, the situation doesn’t entirely surprise me as most season ticket holders I know are happy to renew for as long as they can sell their ticket on whenever they don’t fancy going. Sometimes they can’t find a buyer, and that’s why there were so many empty seats at games – especially towards the end of the season when everything went down the shitter.
What Gazidis probably doesn’t realise is that just because people renew doesn’t mean they are satisfied supporters; they simply don’t want to end up on the waiting list (for all they know next season Arsenal might have a better manager), and for as long as they can find a buyer for the games they don’t want to go to they can reduce their annual outlay whilst following the club.
Next major question: Why are Arsenal players so unmotivated and have such a poor work ethic?
Gazidis gets lots of these letters apparently, and considers the view valid and legitimate, but personally thinks it’s more down to lack of know-how and experience. However, he then mentions that when dour performances happen consistently over time something needs to be done to address it; in which case the last 3 or 4 months of the season should have given him considerable pause for thought (and a better answer).
Next up, what percentage of Wenger’s budget is actually being spent, and are wages included as part of the transfer fee? Gazidis fudged the answer, saying it was complicated and that there was no fixed way of doing things and, no, Wenger did not spend all of his budget, although it’s best to keep some in reserve anyway - even though he earlier told us that Arsenal spends “all the money we generate”.
He then said “We don’t hold back money”. So what’s a reserve then?
What a mess.
Next question: “Who is Arsenal Wenger accountable to?”
Ultimately, “the fans” suggested Gazidis (cue laughter). Apparently, we are the ones who will decide whether Wenger’s position is untenable. True to some extent, but not really the answer I was looking for. It would be preferable if a CEO could take a little more responsibility rather than throwing any difficult decisions he might have to make back at the fans. Regardless, Gazidis seems to thinks the majority of supporters remain in full support of the manager.
Nigel Phillips then stepped in, suggesting that if such decisions are solely down to the fans – who are not inclined to boo the manager/board/players during a match to let their feelings be known – then what avenues ARE open for them to voice their dissent?
Gazidis said the board monitors the fan base and, as long as they’re not leaving in droves and Arsenal play good football then nothing will change. He then waffled on about the respect other countries hold for Arsenal’s style of football etc., completely glossing over the fact that there was a small anti-boardroom march at the Aston Villa game, which I’m surprised no one reminded him of.
Clearly losing patience with the line of questioning, Gazidis’ answers now start to become short and to the point.
Who’s helping Wenger to make sure Arsenal aren’t making the same mistakes season after season (defence coach etc.) asked one audience member. Gazidis’ response, Wenger won’t say in public what he’s thinking privately and he’s not the stubborn individual portrayed in the media and the club shouldn’t be listening to people on the non-football side telling them what they should be doing. He does, however, understand the supporters’ frustrations and assures us that such things (such as changes to backroom staff) are monitored and discussed, and Wenger is receptive to suggestions.
The final response of any worth ended with Gazidis talking bollocks about Kroenke’s wishes to keep Arsenal listed and the owner’s support for fan share schemes/AST etc. when it’s blatantly obvious that the American would snap up 100% of the shares tomorrow given the chance, without giving a rat’s arse what the supporters think. That’s my humble opinion at least, which will only change if and when Kroenke has a choice in the matter. At the moment with Usmanov holding nearly 30% of the shares and supporters the other 5% – he couldn’t take full control of Arsenal even if he wanted to.
I seem to remember not so long ago the Arsenal board saying that Arsenal will never allow single ownership, so why we should believe them when it comes to divulging Kroenke’s future plans?
So, what have we gleaned from this year’s AST meeting? Not a lot. Nothing specific can be discussed because the media will pick up on it and spin it, whilst the board remains 100% behind Wenger and it’s likely to stay that way until there is civil unrest amongst supporters.
It seems obvious that Wenger remains far too influential at boardroom level, and there is no discernible pressure on him whatsoever to change his ethos or methods. In some respects, it seems that the club has allowed Wenger so much power, influence and control that they’d be utterly bereft at what to do without him. Since Dein left, there’s quite simply no one running the club that seems to know anything about “football”, or, more to the point, is able to measure Wenger's performance from a "footballing" perspective (tactics/coaching/motivation).
I also hold the view that despite his welcoming demeanour, Gazidis treats the AST as a pesky irritant. Ivan wined and dined supporters without the food and drink; spinning empty platitudes designed to give a fraction of satisfaction to a group of individuals with very little stomach for a genuine fight.
The problem for the AST is if it becomes too vocal all avenues of communication will be closed (as threatened by Hill-Wood earlier in the season). It’s probably only this that’s keeping a lid on things, but despite that, the board must surely realise that the majority of supporters are unhappy with Wenger, as not one positive word in support of him spilled from the lips of any single individual during the meeting’s entire 90 minutes.
Do I thank Gazidis for his involvement? Yes and no. Sometimes you can glean as much information by what people don’t say as much as what they do say, but his decision to attend the meeting is more likely politically influenced rather than stemming from a genuine desire to congregate with supporters and take on board their opinions.
Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.