In what has undoubtedly become the highlight of the season, Ivan Gazidis ascended the stage on Thursday at the club’s fan Q&A to face the unruly masses. Events such as these are the rare times club administrators descend from the Boardroom and see face to face the frustration, anger, and anxiety we fans of the club actually feel. However, this year, Gazidis was filled with optimism based on what he sees as a bright future for Arsenal.
This of course is similar to every time he partakes in a fan event. Unlike in previous years, however, the club was not preparing for handling Champions League matches in addition to the domestic ones. Rather, it is scrambling to figure out how to spell its likely opponents names in the Europa League whilst trying to retain Alexis Sanchez and put down fan uprisings. How would Gazidis do? The Optimist says – well it could have been worse.
During the Q&A, when asked about the club’s transfer dealings, the chief executive pointed out that the Gunners have already signed “one of the players in the Bundesliga team of the season” (i.e., Sead Kolasinac). He went on to proclaim that Arsenal are looking for “top quality additions”, not just depth or numbers, and even hinted that the reported negotiations over Alexandre Lacazette and Thomas Lemar were factual. So this is the new Arsenal – looking to shore up its weaknesses with some of the world’s best players rather than just signing inexpensive options to see who could stay healthy longest. This is all well and good of course as long as you can retain your top-flight players, and on that Gazidis was reassuring especially regarding Alexis.
He also didn’t shy away from the controversy. Taking a page from another American, Gazidis defended the majority shareholder from fan complaints during the Arsenal sponsored event by using some creative truths. When asked to defend Stan Kroenke and the perception that all he does is take money from the club, Gazidis denied the basis of the question. Yes, Arsenal pays money to KSE (owned by Kroenke) for various consulting services, but they’re really good services. World class even. Gazidis then went on to defend his boss as a model shareholder despite audible noises of protest from the crowd.
Of course Wenger came up and why he was awarded a two year contract after what arguably could be called his most disappointing season. But what really struck me was the response to a questioner complaining that the atmosphere at the home ground was the worst (his opinion) in his fifty years of watching football. Rather than blowing him off and mentioning any number of the shiny concessions, Gazidis said the fan divisions was his greatest regret. He committed on the stage to working on management’s failures and reengaging with the fans to create a positive, winning atmosphere around Arsenal.
Granted, this was sandwiched around defending the majority of the coaching staff returning, odd justifications for questionable ticket practices, and navigating the timeline of the Wenger contract extension. However, we have on record in a public forum an acknowledgement by Arsenal brass that the fans are restless, they have an iota to do with it, and they want to address it in the concrete. Actions speak louder than words, but at least the words were spoken.