The setup of these events is probably well familiar to all by now. Ivan’s arrival on stage is begat by a 2-3 minute reel of highlights from the season. “Conveniently, there was a period of about 6 weeks missing from that video,” Ivan jokes as he arrives on stage. Lucas Perez’s thunderous volley against Bournemouth is followed immediately by Nacho Monreal’s equaliser against Manchester City at Wembley.
Ivan’s quip is on point, only it was closer to three and a half months’ worth of the archive that remained untroubled by the clip hunters. Ivan speaks with Head of Communications Mark Gonnella for around 10 minutes, before questions are invited from the floor- entirely unvetted I might add.
The frustration of these events is that, quite often, people don’t actually ask questions. Once in possession of the microphone, they just tend to wibble on and on and on for about 2-3 minutes with their own personal opinions. I’ve tried to edit the waffle as much as possible- from the floor and from the stage. Below, is an extended highlights package of what Ivan had to say this year. (My inconsequential, sarcy asides are italicised in brackets and therefore, easy to skip past….)
IG: The FA Cup is the iconic trophy for people of my generation. *Turns to trophy, which is positioned on stage*, but I’m sorry old friend, this is not really the trophy that we 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 about £110m on transfers. The objective of that spending was to push on and challenge for the title. At the beginning of the season, we started well, lots of people felt we had the most complete squad that we’d had in a long time.
We went on a long unbeaten run, though we weren’t playing the most fluent football, but we were finding ways to win games. We were in contention, I think a lot of the fanbase and we were feeling that there were possibilities in the season. We hit a patch which we’re still analysing, where things were really, really bad.
It was a bit disappointing, we were in the mid-70s for points and our ambition is to win the Premier League and to do that you have to be at least mid-80s, probably upper 80s. So there is a gap. We have to close that gap and that’s not just about spending, although that’s obviously a big part of it.
So we’ve already signed one of the players of the season from the Bundesliga team of the season last year, we’re very actively in discussions on a variety of different players at the moment. On the squad side, we’re not looking to add more squad depth now, we’re looking at players who can come in and compete for a starting position.
We want to raise the quality of the starting XI with top quality players, we feel we have good squad depth. There have been other appointments behind the scenes and there will be more as the summer plays out, which you’ll see if you pay very close attention.
Some of it is personnel- we’ve added a new contract negotiator, we’ve added a top class performance coach to go with that. These are some of the changes we’ve seen already, you’ll see some others in the weeks ahead. It’s not all personnel, some of it is just the way we do things, can we do things better?
Mark then asks Ivan about Arsene Wenger’s new 2 year contract
IG: The first thing to say is that it wasn’t a sentimental decision, the decision was mutual. (Arsene is frightened of retirement and the board is frightened of Arsene retiring?) The decision was made against the ambition to win the Premier League.
When we think about who might do that, we also consider who embodies the values of the club. Somebody who has a successful track record over a period of time. This job is a massive responsibility and we need someone who can carry the weight of that and has the experience to carry the weight of that.
We wanted somebody that plays attractive, exciting football (Arsenal are an exciting watch for the neutral at least….) that people want to watch. Giving young players a chance is another one of the values of the club. Sometimes that costs us in points, but the emotional investment we all feel in watching a player’s journey with the club is an important part of what we want to have at Arsenal. (van Persie and Fabregas’ journey to the Premier League trophy was indeed emotional….)
So those are the qualities you look for in a manager and you look around the world and there are some fantastic coaches and maybe some of those would be interested in coming to this fantastic football club. One day a new coach will come here and take advantage of those opportunities. But when the board is looking for those qualities, we are looking at the man across the table.
We understand there is disagreement in that amongst the fanbase, but the board has to make decisions focused on what it the right decision and not what’s the popular decision (or the difficult decision, evidently…..). We will all be judged on what the club is able to deliver and we are very conscious of that.
At this point, questions are invited from the floor. Again, to emphasise, these are unvetted.
Q: Why was there such a lack of effort in so many games, particularly away from home?
IG: I’ve been in professional football now for over 20 years. I think what I have learned is that what goes into a performance can sometimes be a little deceptive in how it appears. I’m always cautious about making judgements about desire and passion. Sometimes it is down to confidence, sometimes nerves and wanting to win too much, sometimes it’s just tactical. (FWIW, Ivan is spot on, too often as fans we reach for the intangibles to explain every defeat).
Sometimes it can be lack of desire. It’s a very delicate combination of all of those things. When confidence starts suffering, it is very difficult to recapture. When we were at a low point, Arsene took a risk in going to the new system. I can’t honestly tell you the system solved all of our issues, but it gave the players something new to concentrate on.
Q: Reg Lewis’ son asking this question: In over 50 years I don’t remember such a period of stagnation and the matchday experience is probably the worst I have ever known it.
IG: I don’t think you’re alone in that feeling and it doesn’t make me proud or happy to acknowledge that, but I have to. We have a lack of unity and some dissatisfaction. We have done a lot of things over the last 4 or 5 years to push the club forward. Club run on values we’re proud of, etc, etc, etc. (Stop me oh, oh oh, stop me, stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before….)
I want to deliver trophies to you and also a sense of pride in what this club does and how it does it. There is an enormous amount about this club to be very proud of. I don’t think there are many Arsenal fans attracted to a vision where we have to be thankful to somebody who is pushing money into the club. Most Arsenal fans are proud of the way that we run this club but have fear about whether we can be successful.
But I am optimistic. I think this challenge of standing on our own two feet in the world of football gives us strength and not weakness.
The reason I am optimistic is that we’re not dependent on any one person for our success (a relief, since we don’t know how to hire a new manager). I want the atmosphere in this stadium to be united, to be together and I want for us to get behind the team.
That we haven’t had that togetherness is a real regret for me. Part of that is to do with modern football generally, part of that is to do with a new media environment we’re in which pushes dissatisfaction, there would’ve been many years where we would have sat here with 3 FA Cups in 4 years and felt pretty good about life, but we are not right now.
But part of it is failure on our part and we have to be honest about that and we have to work out what those failures are, so we can re-engage with our fans and make them feel pride in this football club again.
Q: Why haven’t we heard about Kroenke’s ambition to win the league for the last seven years? All he has done is take money out of the club. His only aim is to make money. And now we reward Mr. Wenger’s failure with a 2 year deal.
IG: I have to say, I don’t really understand the argument that Stan Kroenke is only in it for money. (Uproarious laughter from the audience). This is going to be more productive if you listen to what I have to say! (At this point, I was hoping Ivan would pull a revolver and angrily demand, “Does Mr. Kroenke look like a bitch?!” Samuel L Jackson style. Sadly, reverie and reality seldom meet).
All Mr. Kroenke has done is support us to make us the best football club we can be. If he was only here to make money, he doesn’t take a revenue stream out of the club (at this point, many members of the audience shout variations on the phrase “3 million pounds!”), the best way to raise the value of the club is success and trophies.
He hasn’t put any debt on the football club, he wanted us to go out and spend the money we generated from new commercial deals on the squad (awesome. I used the money I generated from my salary to pay my energy bill this month. We’re all heroes in our own way), which we did. We finished second in the league and we spent £110m.
Someone asked about the fee he took from the club, let’s examine that. KSE is one of the most high profile, respected sports companies in the world. The expertise varies greatly from ticketing to digital media, to sports marketing and sponsorships.
We have been using the services of that company and why wouldn’t we? Stan Kroenke never asked for payment for that, why would he? He owns 100% of KSE and 2/3s of Arsenal. £2 of every £3 is going from one pocket to the other, so it’s immaterial to him.
So what happened was that our chairman saw that we were using these services year after year and said it would be good governance to pay for these services that this football club receives. Our chairman is a stickler for good governance and he insisted we do that.
A couple of years went by, people were upset about it and Stan, who always comes to the annual general meetings, saw that and said, “Look, I don’t want to get involved in that. I’ll just waive that fee and my company will pay those services for free.”
(So you see, it was good governance to pay, until the owner, now £6m richer, said it wasn’t. And the owner, who is NOT disengaged remember, only clocked this after turning up at two AGMs over a period of 24 months. But since our chairman is apparently in the business of dishing out millions of pounds out of the goodness of his heart, let’s talk ticket prices, shall we?)
The idea that he would invest millions of pounds a year (when did this happen?) to make £1m a year (errr, wasn’t it £3m?) is preposterous. The reason Stan gets criticised is, in my view, a bit like kicking the dog, is because results on the field are not what we want.
Some people want an oligarch owner that puts money into the club and I understand that, because that’s the environment we are competing in (don’t make me break out the Morrissey picture again), that’s an attractive solution. But nobody has ever been held back by Stan Kroenke, he has been nothing but supportive in terms of reinvesting all the money the club generates back into the football side. (In the words of the great Chris Rock, that’s what you’re supposed to do you low expectation havin’ mothafucker).
If you think it’s all about money and, by the way, he hasn’t sold his shares, so that doesn’t seem to make sense. If it’s all about money, there are far easier, more secure investments than a football club.
Q: A man talks for a loooooong time about how he likes Arsene Wenger and the way the club is run (which is nice, but not really the point of the evening where the CEO is being held to account for a pretty short period of time). At this point, the audience testily asks the man if there is a question, to which he retorts, “Why only a 2 year contract and not 3?” Which, in fairness to the guy, was pretty funny.
IG: We did have some amazing moments this season and we finished on a high with a trophy that, for me, is very important and it’s very important to the history of this football club. I will say it’s a disappointing season, but I do take pride in it as well.
Graham has expressed that very eloquently and the reaction to that is probably a little bit what’s going on in the fanbase. Which is a mix of opinions. We all want the same thing, we may have differences about the decisions we take, but we all want the same thing and we’ll be stronger together than we will shouting at each other and being in conflict going into a new season where we could have hope and unity.
But going into the new season, I beg you, please, get behind this team and this manager and give them the support they need. (I am guessing this is exactly what Ivan has been saying to Alexis Sanchez’s agent for the last month or so).
Q: If you take one thing away from tonight Ivan, think seriously about the divide in the fanbase. We need someone on the board like David Dein, who has a connection between the club and the fans. Someone who bleeds Arsenal.
IG: It’s very unusual for a new owner to come into a new football club and keep hold of a board who he has had no prior association with. Chips Keswick has been an Arsenal fan his whole life, Lord Harris his whole life, Ken Friar his whole life too.
I think what we haven’t done well is to communicate the love that those people, and by the way, me, have for Arsenal. We need to do a better job of that. But yes, I think our board does need to be refreshed, we do need a better connection with the fans. I don’t take your comments lightly, I do listen and I do take them seriously.
Q: Can you say, hand on heart, that the board were unanimous in the decision to award Arsene Wenger a new contract, before and after the decision was made?
Ivan is a polished speaker that doesn’t do much umming and ahhhing, but on this occasion…..
IG: Uh, we, urmmmm…. The way that the contract decision was made, was the chairman made a statement during the season that a mutual decision would be made at the end of the season. Both on Arsene’s side and the board’s side, we both had to feel that this was the right decision.
That required a lot of thought and some quite detailed conversation, both through the board and Arsene. I have never spoken about board discussions and I don’t intend to do that now. What I will say is that the board acted with unity and the board is 100% doing everything it can to make sure that this decision will be successful.
We don’t have different agendas, our agenda is ‘what is good for this football club?’ (yes, I don’t think that was the question though…..) We have to make decisions for the football club to be as successful as it can be.
A voice from the audience asks ‘should the decision have been made sooner?’
IG: The board and Arsene really wanted to take some time to think about whether it was the right decision. The decision could have been made sooner, but I’m not sure it would’ve been appreciated by the way. (There’s probably a few players sitting with one year left on their contracts that might’ve appreciated a quicker decision…..) We wanted to do it maturely with the right amount of reflection. Was it the exact right time? I don’t know how to answer that. (Easy. It wasn’t. You all cocked it up mightily.)
Q: I wanted to ask about the deal with Boreham Wood for the reserves 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 relaid 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. With respect to the reserve games we have at the stadium, it is not a revenue generator.
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 that don’t. So we charge a nominal fee, which is like a deposit so we have people who are committed in some way.
The session with Ivan closes with Mark Gonnella asking him to appraise his hopes for the season ahead.
IG: There is an awful lot going on, we’re only four weeks from the end of last season. You’ll see the product of some of that work soon, some on the player front, some will be 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. The people that work here care about this football club, we do and we want it to be successful.