As thousands of Arsenal supporters chanted ‘Stan Kroenke, get out of our club’ there could be no confusion as to who the majority of fans blame for this season’s disaster in the Premier League. The Gunners majority shareholder has hit the headlines again over the past few days following the revelation that Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov had lodged a £1 billion bid for Kroenke’s shares, an offer which was informally rejected by the American.
For the first full season under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have failed to qualify for the Champions League - their 3-1 home win over Everton proving irrelevant on Sunday after Liverpool defeated Middlesbrough at Anfield. While the financial consequences may not be particularly severe, the bigger picture is that attracting top level players to Emirates Stadium this summer could prove difficult due to the current instability at the club.
There are key issues which need to be resolved at Arsenal over the next three months. None are more important than the managerial situation, with all signs pointing to Wenger extending his stay at the club by at least another season. The Frenchman’s own intentions are unclear and he has gone from saying a decision would be announced in April or May to hinting that discussions will take place in a board meeting after the upcoming FA Cup final.
Wenger’s future is linked to a host of first team players, including Mesut Ozil – who will not even consider committing to the club until an announcement is made about the manager. With both the German international and Alexis Sanchez seeing their contracts expire in 2018, a summer of huge decisions regarding playing and coaching staff, as well as in the boardroom, is expected.
The small matter of an FA Cup final against the newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea provides Wenger’s side with a last chance to salvage something positive from what has been the manager’s worst season at the club.
Laurent Koscielny’s sending off against Everton means he will miss the showpiece Wembley final, while an injury for Brazilian centre back Gabriel Paulista has paved the way for club captain Per Mertesacker to start his first game of the season.
The German’s leadership qualities are certainly needed at the back for Arsenal against Chelsea but his own defensive vulnerabilities could be exposed by the mobile attacking threats of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Willian. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also doubtful after his recent injury absence.
You can count the number of times Kroenke has been seen at the Emirates this season on one hand. That is where the brunt of the supporters’ frustrations lie. This is an owner who appears to have no interest in building a relationship with the fans or announcing his ambitions for the club. There has always been an underlying disconnect between the owner and the fan base, and this has become more evident as Arsenal’s form has regressed this season. For most Gooners, Europa League football is the final nail in the coffin regardless of the outcome of the FA Cup final.
Usmanov has already indicated that he won’t relieve Wenger of his managerial duties if he does become majority shareholder at Arsenal, so would new ownership really change the direction of the football club? The Russian has signalled his own intent to buy the best players in the world and it should be noted that Kroenke, while he has never put debt on Arsenal, has not invested a penny in transfer dealings or on-the-pitch matters.
Arsenal’s reputation as a self-sustaining club is something they should be proud of but Chelsea and Manchester City are examples of how modern football teams requires fresh investment on a mass scale each season. The answer isn’t to spend money for the sake of it, but to utilise it in a way which helps the club challenge the likes of their Champions League conquerors Bayern Munich - a statement which chief executive Ivan Gazidis made to fans in 2013.
Tottenham’s second place finish and new stadium has provided several home truths to Wenger, Gazidis and Kroenke. Their wage bill is almost half of Arsenal’s, yet they are far outperforming their local rivals.
I recently spoke to an ex-Arsenal player who played under Wenger for almost a decade and he told me that when he looks at this current side, no-one is smiling on the bench and no-one looks happy. While many critics may argue that Wenger’s tactical shortcomings are the key issue, it is clear that the negative atmosphere off the pitch is contributing to what is happening on it.
Arsenal have failed to qualify for the Champions League and they require big changes across the board this summer. Whether it happens or not is another question, but the fans have made their view clear; they want Kroenke out.