The Gunners face their first season without European football in 25 years, and their American owner must take responsibility
When Stan Kroenke first arrived on the scene at Arsenal, the club had just made the Champions League final.
Turn the clock back 14 years and London’s most successful club are now facing their first season without European football in a quarter of a century.
Under Kroenke’s watch, the Gunners went from European heavyweights to also-rans, and their slide into the dark was completed on Thursday when they were knocked out of the Europa League by Villarreal.
It’s been 14 years of decline at Arsenal. There have been, of course, four FA Cup wins along the way, but was that really the idea when they sold their souls and moved from Highbury to Emirates Stadium?
At Highbury, Arsenal were beaters of the world. In the Emirates, they have been anything but.
A club once renowned for its stability and values, are now a rudderless mess, one desperately scrambling to keep hold of a sort of identity it once had.
And while some will point fingers at managers when it comes to proportioning the blame, the rapid decline can be attributed to one man.
Yes, Arsène Wenger should have left earlier than him. Yes Unai Emery was a bad replacement choice for the Frenchman and yes Mikel Arteta now looks like a bet that might not pay off.
But who named Emery and Arteta? Who allowed Wenger to stay at the club for so long by awarding him new contracts in 2014 and 2017?
Everything wrong with Arsenal right now is falling at the feet of the 73-year-old billionaire.
He’s an absent owner in every way, and Arsenal are now paying the price because of it.
“Be excited for the future of Arsenal Football Club,” Stan’s son Josh said on a conference call with supporters in April.
Right now, however, there is very little that fans are excited about.
Under the ownership of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE), Arsenal has horribly lost its way. When you break down the reasons, it might not come as a surprise.
While Wenger was in the driver’s seat, the club at least had someone at the helm who understood exactly what it takes to stay competitive.
Arsenal may not have been title contenders, but they were still fighting in the upper echelons of the table. Since his departure, however, they have slowed down completely.
Horrible decisions have been made off the pitch and they have a huge impact on it.
The fact that KSE chose to put Arsenal in the ill-fated European Super League was the clearest example to date of how owners are disconnected from the fan base.
Decisions are made by people thousands of miles away who rarely (or in Stan’s case, never) engage with supporters and have little or no understanding of how things really work in the Premier League.
There will be some who stand up for KSE and state how much money they have made as proof that they clearly know what they are doing in business matters, but who in their right mind would allow a group of novices to run a company. club of Arsenal’s stature?
And that’s exactly what KSE did.
They have a rookie manager in charge at Arteta, working alongside a rookie general manager at Vinai Venkatesham and a rookie technical director at Edu. Even the academy’s director, Per Mertesacker, has his first job since retiring as a player.
Everyone learns on the job at Arsenal. So is it any surprise that mistakes are made?
And there is no one with football experience on the board who can question the technical decisions that are made.
“I still believe we are fit to continue in our positions as Arsenal goalkeepers,” said Josh Kroenke, defending himself and his father amid the fallout from the Super League fiasco.
“I may be faced with mistrust and skepticism, but over time I hope to reestablish a relationship with our fan groups and show them that we are capable of moving the club forward.”
The problem here is that Josh believed there was a relationship there to be reestablished in the first place. Arsenal fans have never trusted his father and the damage that has been done in recent weeks is irreparable.
“Is this club really important to him?” That was the question posed by Arsenal legend Martin Keown while discussing Kroenke’s ownership on BT Sport following the exit of the Europa League on Thursday evening.
“He has six or seven franchises from other football, basketball, hockey clubs – you name him.
“Does he love football enough? We need someone who really wants this club, to own it, to love it, to bring it back to where it once was.
“And if he doesn’t want to, he should step back and leave someone who does.”
The pressure on Kroenke to sell will now increase week to week, with another fan rally scheduled ahead of Sunday’s Premier League reunion with West Brom.
Spotify founder Daniel Ek is ready to test the water with a £ 1.8bn bid and has called on Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira to convince fans.
“He wants to re-inject Arsenal’s DNA, the identity that has disappeared,” Henry said. “There aren’t any Arsenal members on the board who can sometimes show the right direction and that’s what Daniel wants to do.
“I think it’s going to be long and not easy – if it ever happens. One thing I want to reiterate is that Daniel won’t be leaving, he will be there to see if they want to sell.”
For now, the Kroenkes remain firm and insist they won’t sell to Ek or anyone else who might be interested in taking control of Arsenal.
They have vowed to back Arteta in the transfer market this summer and give the Spaniard the tools to make a difference.
It remains to be seen whether they back up these words with action.
KSE has never invested their own money in the club since taking over. Every penny Arsenal spent has been money the club have made themselves.
So while some might point to significant transfer fees in recent years, such as the £ 72million ($ 87million) that was paid for Nicolas Pepe and the expense of £ 45million ($ 58million) of dollars) on Thomas Partey, it must be remembered that it was Arsenal. money in the first place. It wasn’t from Kroenke’s pocket.
But with Arsenal’s once plentiful cash reserves now drying up due to the crippling financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there is very little left to spend.
So if KSE plans to invest this summer and empower Arteta to overhaul their woefully underperforming team, then they’ll have to pay for themselves.
Unless you take out loans of course, which the club will then have to repay with interest. Something that is very possible, given the way KSE is handling things in North London.
And even though the money is being spent this summer, there isn’t much evidence in recent years to suggest that it will be well spent.
Arsenal wasted much of their own money under the Kroenkes. As of June 2013, only Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have net spending higher than Arsenal’s £ 431million.
Again, some may look at this figure and use it to praise KSE, arguing that they have given the club the financial backing that has been needed in recent years.
But they are the owners of the football club. The fact that so much money was spent for so little reward suggests that the people they employed in key positions did not do a good enough job.
Ultimately, the blame ends with the owners and their complete disinterest has allowed the club’s standards to slip to such an alarming point.
Arsenal are at a crossroads, and it was 14 years of mismanagement and lack of ownership that brought the club down the path they are in now, looking at the teams they once called their rivals.
Failure to qualify for Europe for the first time in a quarter of a century is the culmination of a series of horrendous decisions that have all been overseen by one man in the United States.
If Arsenal are ever to get back to where they were, then Stan Kroenke must change and give the club all the tools they need to reverse the damage that has been done since 2007, including his unwavering focus.
If he’s not ready to do it, then it’s time for him to sell and hand the power over to someone who will.