Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis spoke at an end of season supporters event on Thursday night where fans were given the chance to question him.
Among the topics of conversation at Emirates Stadium included Gazidis saying that Arsenal are in the market for “top quality additions” while he also defended the decision to hand Arsene Wenger a new contract.
Goal's Arsenal correspondent Chris Wheatley attended the event and provides a full transcript of the event.
For me and maybe some other people here of my generation, the FA Cup final is the single biggest game of the year. I remember when it was the only live game you could watch on television. It’s surreal for me as a football fan to see this trophy presented to your team. I think it’s now seven games at Wembley - all victories. The FA Cup is the iconic trophy for people of my generation, but I’m sorry old friend, this is not really the trophy that we most want [above all others].
It’s difficult to process a season like that, because we won a trophy but feel disappointed. Last season we finished second and spent an unprecedented amount - over £110m that summer. The objective of that spending was to push on and make a title challenge. During the opening part of the season, other than our opening game, I think lots of people felt we had the most complete squad that we’d had in a long time. We went on a long unbeaten streak. I don’t think we were playing the most fluent football actually, but we were finding ways to win games. We were in contention and I think most of the fanbase and certainly we felt like there were a lot of possibilities in the season. We then had a patch for a variety of reasons, which we’re still analysing, where things were really bad. Arsene made some tactical decisions, then we finished the season strongly and we won a trophy.
Overall you’ve got to say [our season] was disappointing. We were in the mid-seventies points. Our ambition is to win the Premier League and to do that you’ve got to be at least mid-eighties, probably upper eighties. There’s a gap and we’ve got to acknowledge that and work our ways we’re going to improve. That’s the challenge for the summer where we’re working hard as we did last summer. It’s not just about spending although that’s obviously a part of it - there’s a wide range of things we’re looking to improve across many areas.
Obviously players is a significant part. We’re in the transfer market. We’ve signed one of the players in the Bundesliga team of the season in Sead Kolasinac. We’re very active in discussions on a variety of fronts. I would say generally we’re not looking to add squad depth. We’re looking for players to come in and compete for a starting position. That’s all ongoing but then there’s a variety of things which get less public attention. Some of those have played out but there will be more if you pay very close attention. Some of those are personnel - we’ve added a new contract negotiator, a top-class head of high performance to go with the world-class we already have in Shad Forsythe. These are some of the changes that have happened already and you’ll see some more in the weeks ahead.
If we look over the last five years there have been some pretty dramatic changes and we’ve more than doubled our football support staff. In the area of analytics we acquired a sports analytics company a number of years ago and that has taken us from being at the same level as other clubs to really in my view at the cutting edge. We’ve invested in top class personnel in the fitness side and psychology where we’ve brought in world-class, full-time employees and consultants in that area to help us to develop. Scouting is an area where we’ve brought in three times as many scouts as four years ago so we can get better on the recruitment side. Our academy has been completely overhauled from top to bottom. We’ve invested £40 million in London Colney and Hale End too. The reason why we’re spending a lot of time, energy and money in these areas is because we believe to be a world-class football club you’ve got to be world class off it.
On Arsene Wenger's contract extension
The first thing to say is that it wasn’t a sentimental decision, it was a mutual one. It was made against the ambition to win the Premier League. When we think about the qualities in a manager to take us forward we look for somebody who can embody the values of the football club. Someone who can represent all of you in the way you would want to be represented. Someone who has a successful track record over a period of time in the game.
A football club like this is a massive responsibility and you need somebody who has the experience to carry the weight of. We want someone who can play exciting, attractive football and is one of the things we are now known for. Giving young players a chance is also one values of the club and we believe that the emotional investment we have in seeing a player's development with us is an important part of what we want to have.
Those are the types of qualities we look for in a manager and someday a coach will take over from the manager. When the board looks at those qualities you are actually looking at the man across the table who has those qualities.
I know there’s a lot of disagreements about this in the fanbase. The board is conscious of that but the board has to focus on what is the right decision for the football club. Not what the popular decision is at the time or the easy decision and everyone will be judged on whether we as a football club are able to deliver the pride, expectations and hope that you all have.
Question: This is going to be very controversial. Why did it appear in so many away games that there was a lack of effort from the players? The game against Crystal Palace where the players were badly treated seemed to be when the players got some heart again.
I was at Palace away and believe me that was a pretty miserable experience for everybody. In professional football what I’ve learnt over time is that what goes into a performance can sometimes be a little deceptive as to what happens on the field.
One thing I’m always cautious about is making judgements about desire, is the passion there because sometimes it can be confidence, nerves, wanting to win too much or tactical. It’s a delicate combination of things and when your confidence starts suffering it’s very difficult to capture it again and come back from that.
When we were at a low point Arsene took a risk with the new system. I can’t honestly tell you that the system solved all the issues we had but it did give the players something new to focus on. We’ve got a good group of players who want to win and have a passionate desire to be successful. This is not a group of poor characters. I give them credit for finding a way back and I hope they can take the confidence into the new season but I do not believe it is a lack of desire.
Question: I’ve missed five games in 50 odd years. I’m sad to say I’ve never felt a period of utter stagnation [like this]. The match day experience, which I’ve witnessed a lot more times than you have without being rude, is the worst I’ve ever known it. Something is wrong and we appear to be in a mire and unless we get active then I can only see things getting worse. I’m talking as a total Arsenal person (audience applauds).
That’s heartfelt and I don’t think you’re alone in that feeling. It doesn’t make me proud or happy to acknowledge that. I’m conscious that we have a lack of unity at the club and dissatisfaction. Over the last four or five years we’ve done a lot of things to push the club forward and we’re run on a model with values that all of you and certainly I should be proud of. I want the club to be successful and I want to deliver trophies, a sense of pride in what this club does and how it does it.
There is an enormous amount about this football club to be proud of. I don’t think many Arsenal fans are attracted by a vision of having to be thankful to somebody who is pushing money into the club. Most Arsenal fans are proud of the way the club is being run but have a fear of whether the club can be successful with what we’re trying to do. This challenge of standing on our own two feet in the world of football gives us strength, not weakness.
I want us to be united and get behind the team because I believe this team deserve that. The first value we have is to be together and that is a real regret that we haven’t had that togetherness and I will do anything we can to get that. I think a part of that is the media environment that we’re in that pushes dissatisfaction.
Question: Many Arsenal fans were excited Alisher Usmanov had bid £1.2 billion to take over the club. Stan Kroenke owns clubs in America and his only aim is to make money. We’ve gone out seven years in the Champions League last 16 and we haven’t come close to winning the league even when Leicester won it. You’ve rewarded failure with a two-year extension to Mr Wenger. Is he the man to take us to the next level which I think Mr Usmanov could?
I don’t really understand the argument that Stan Kroenke is only making money (crowd heckles). It’s going to be more productive if you listen to what I have to say and then you can disagree with it.
All he has done in my time is to support this club to make it as successful as it could be. He doesn’t get a revenue stream out of the club. The only meaningful way to raise the value of the football club is success and trophies. That’s his ambition. He hasn’t put debt on the football club, he’s been nothing but supportive, he’s the guy who wanted us to go out and spend the money we made from commercial deals.
KSE is Stan Kroenke’s company that runs a variety of different sports teams and is one of the most highly respected sports companies in the world who have incredible expertise which range from ticketing to digital media, sponsorships etc. Stan Kroenke has never asked for payment on their advice. Our chairman looked at this arrangement and said good governance would be to pay for the services that this club are receiving. A couple years went by, people were upset about that and Stan - who comes to the annual general meetings - said he would waive the fee for any services his company could give.
The reason that Stan gets a lot of stick - in my view it’s the equivalent to kicking the dog - is because the results on the field are not what we want. People may want an oligarch owner, a nation state which is what we’re competing with. That’s an attractive solution for some people but I believe we can be successful pushing this club forward and Stan Kroenke has never held us back. All of my conversations with him are focused on how we can get to the level where we are winning the Premier League. If you think he’s money motivated - by the way he hasn’t sold his shares so that doesn’t make any sense - there are better ways then getting involved in sports clubs.
Q: I do not like the way Arsene Wenger is mocked and derided. The criticism should be constructive. I still have tremendous belief and confidence in Arsene Wenger (crowd heckles). If you want me to ask a question, I’ll ask one now - why only two years and not three?
IG: It’s a disappointing season but I take pride in it as well. We all want to win the Premier League. We may have differences about the decisions we make but we want the same thing and we’re going to be stronger together than we are shouting at each other going into a new season where we could have hope and unity. If we want that success I am begging, please, we all have frustrations but let’s come together and give this team and manager the support they deserve.
Question: We need someone of [David] Dein’s ilk who you can cut in half and who bleeds Arsenal. I would like you to discuss this on reflection of that gentleman’s comments because that should shake you to the core.
IG: I will reflect on that. It’s extraordinarily unusual that a new owner would come in and not kick the board out who are all Arsenal fans. Sir Chips Keswick his whole life, Phil Harris his whole life, Ken Friar his whole life. What we haven’t done well is communicate the love that those people and by the way me, have for this football club and what we’re trying to do. The other part is yes, our board does need to be refreshed. We do need a better connection with our fanbase. I listen to your comments and don’t walk off this stage and think ‘that’s end of that’. I really don’t.
Question: Can you tell us hand on heart whether the manager received unanimous support from the board of directors before and after making the decision to renew his contract?
IG: The way that the contract decision was made was mutual. The chairman made a statement saying it would be a mutual decision.
That required a lot of thought and some detailed conversations between the board and Arsene and amongst the board. I have never spoken about board discussions and I don’t intend to do that now. Once the board makes a decision we are aligned and we don’t have different agendas.
Our agenda is what is good for this football club. Should it have been made sooner? I think the board and Arsene wanted to take the right time to think about whether it was the right decision. It could have been made sooner - I’m not sure that would have been appreciated by the way. I don’t know how to answer that, all I can tell you is that’s the time that it took.
Question: Can you tell us more about the new deal with Boreham Wood and why we have to pay when the reserves play at the Emirates, when we don’t have to at Boreham Wood?
IG: We thought about a variety of different things we could do to have the best possible facilities for our youth, reserves and our women’s team. The pitch is being re-laid with a Desso surface, which is the same specification as here at the Emirates. There is other work going on within the stadium too, a new stand, new floodlights. It is going to be a top-class facility. We will really experience the difference.
With respect to the reserve games we have at the stadium, it is not a revenue generator issue for us. When we open this stadium, we have a certain number that we have to give to the staff and the authorities, so if you charge nothing, lots of fans say they will come, but then they don’t show. So we charge a nominal fee, which is like a deposit so we have people who are committed in some way.
We're working really hard. I was telling somebody that I haven't had an hour of my time since the end of the season where I wasn't working on club business. There is an awful lot going on. You will see some of the product of that work on the player front and behind the scenes. All of that work is geared towards getting from 75 points to 85 and more, to win the Premier League.
We want to generate some of the pride that I am ashamed to say many of you are not feeling. The goal is to win things and add to the history of this football club and do it in a way which is consistent with club values. The people that work here care about this football club, we do and we want it to be successful.