Gazidis attempts to ease fan fears

IVAN GAZIDIS, the Arsenal chief executive, is a slick salesman, but the message from the club’s fans at present could not be clearer: This isn’t what we bought into.

Gazidis attempts to ease fan fears

Last season was the club’s sixth successive without a trophy. Ticket prices, already the highest in Europe, went up by a further 6.5%. The club’s top stars want out. The manager, a man who has transformed the club, is now openly being questioned about his future. In short, the walls are closing in for Gazidis and Arsene Wenger.

That much was made clear to the chief executive on Monday night, when he hosted 200 fans from the Arsenal Supporters Trust at the Emirates Stadium. Gazidis handled himself with aplomb, but the questions from the floor were relenting, as fans demanded to know how the side would move forward from their disastrous finish to last season, in which three victories in the final 15 games condemned them to failure in all four competitions.

And, for the first time since his arrival in 1996, Wenger’s future was openly being discussed.

There were two questions about what the club would do after the Frenchman departed, and a further one on who Wenger answers to. The answer, according to Gazidis, was the fans, but that only brought laughter from an audience who were sitting in the 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium that Wenger did more than anyone to build.

And although Gazidis insists Wenger is going nowhere, he was reduced to calling on supporters to think of the style of football at Arsenal as part-payment for their tickets.

“You could have a manager who is successful in delivering trophies but doesn’t bring the style that fans want and doesn’t represent Arsenal in the way we want it to be represented,” said Gazidis. “In those circumstances we might find his position is unsustainable. Arsene has clearly delivered a style of play for which Arsenal are now known around the world and forms a significant part of our commercial value as the club are extremely widely respected for the way we play. That is of tremendous value. But we haven’t delivered trophies in recent years. We know what the fans think and follow it closely across all the different groups. That doesn’t necessarily mean that fan sentiment dominates that decision but if you are seeing the relationship between the fans and the manager break down over time that is unsustainable. I don’t think we are anywhere near that.”

But should Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas leave, will that style of football continue? Gazidis would not be drawn on the future of individual players, but instead promised a busy summer in the transfer market.

A number of squad players such as Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and Manuel Almunia are expected to leave, while the Lille pair of Gervinho and Eden Hazard could come in, alongside a dominant centre-half.

Yet what Gazidis was more drawn on was the desire of the current side, which has been heavily criticised.

“I do think very clearly there were moments where perhaps it was heart and desire,” said the chief executive on the end of season collapse.

“Perhaps it was know-how, perhaps a lack of experience where things went badly wrong. If that happens once or twice you could say it was bad luck or just not our day, or somebody made a stupid mistake.

“When it happens consistently you have to acknowledge there is an issue there and work out how to address it.”

Gazidis was insistent money is available in the wake of the club’s takeover by Stan Kroenke, the American who now owns two thirds of the club, while Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek billionaire, controls just under 30%.

“We have an amount of money available,” he added. “We will spend what we feel we need to spend to back the manager’s judgement.

“We said it is going to be an active summer. I expect to be busy, Arsene expects to be busy and I feel positive about our prospects for next year. We cannot allow ourselves to get weighed down with the negativity that existed round club at end of season and forget the good things that are going on.”

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