More questions than answers

The man who was taking the flak, the one who was standing there waiting to be shot down, was not the one they wanted.

The questions rained down on him, and Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis listened and gave back as good as he got.

‘Will Arsene Wenger be sacked?’

‘Is the club’s transfer policy good enough?’

‘Why won’t you pay the top players more money?’

‘Will you spend big in January?’

It felt cruel, like intruding on private grief.

Yet never before has Wenger’s position been so in danger, never before has Arsenal’s future been in more doubt.

There is a sense that a precipice is being reached, and there are many who believe that those in charge are not the right ones to steer the club to safer ground.

The latest catalyst for the hand-wringing was Tuesday’s abject and humiliating Capital One Cup defeat to League Two side Bradford.

As Gazidis headed home from a frozen Valley Parade, he might have reflected that the last thing he wanted to be doing the following evening was hosting a Christmas drinks reception for members of the various Arsenal supporters’ groups at the Emirates.

He was, though, and he knew what was coming.

The 48-year-old is a fine public speaker, and he knows it. This was an opportunity to face the doubters, meet them head-on and explain his decisions.

He was clear and he was calm. Wenger would not be sacked under any circumstances, he said. The club’s transfer policy is excellent, he claimed. The implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rulings will ensure Arsenal are at the top of the European game, he believes.

Those present had heard it all before, but the difference is that once it would have been sacrilege to ask such questions.

Wenger is the man who built the Emirates, who lifted Arsenal onto a different plane than the one they were used to occupying since their formation in 1886. Pre-Wenger, the odd title and FA Cup triumph was enough. Now, regular success is the barometer. Wenger has created the rod for his own back.

Still, that does not mean he should not avoid the flak. After years of being financially hamstrung by the cost of building the Emirates, the purse-strings have been loosened. It is believed that Wenger has around €85m to spend in January, just as he did last summer. It is likely that the vast majority of that war-chest will remain untouched when every supporter can see the team needs strengthening.

Wenger and Gazidis strongly believe in a self-sustaining club, and no true supporter could argue with that in the current financial climate.

But as Stan Kroenke, the absent American owner, continues blithely on, the world is changing around Arsenal. Without Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, Arsenal may well have been challenging for titles.

Yet they are not, and that is now due to the stubbornness of Wenger as much as the cost of the stadium.

Gazidis is a decent man — as of course is Wenger — and he handled himself well in the face of a storm of questions, before making a public address.

“I think I am frankly tired of getting up here and delivering the same message,” he said. “Last night (Tuesday) was not good enough and it made us all upset and angry.

“I would like to apologise to all of you, especially the fans who travelled up there. It was unbelievable support, as ever, and you deserved better.

“That is something we will work hard to put right.”

Yet that is not easy to do. The club has an end-of-days feel to it at present, despite what was a civilised and cordial evening.

Gazidis is the man who fronted up, who spoke to the fans. But Wenger is the man who has so many questions to answer.


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