We find ourselves mired in a global pandemic that has devastated every element of society. Covid-19 has been responsible for great individual loss, and has wreaked havoc with businesses and social structures. Many companies have faced enormous challenges as they struggle to meet their running costs whilst their revenue streams have dried up. Some have turned to assistance from the government, some have tried to streamline their operations in order to stay open, and others have had no choice but to shut down completely.
The impact on individuals has been catastrophic on every level: societal support structures have collapsed, people have lost their jobs and their ability to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families. Many have lost their lives to Covid-19, many more still battle it. It is a time of great uncertainty as the world attempts to cope with the formidable challenges presented by the virus until a vaccine is developed.
Football clubs have been particularly hard-hit, with revenue generated by matchday activities and broadcasts severely impacted. The disruption caused to the 2019/20 football season by the coronavirus was unprecedented – in February, all footballing activity stopped for three months, as society tried to “flatten the curve” by forbidding all social gatherings.
Arsenal’s response to the pandemic has been largely commendable. The club continued to pay full salaries to all employees during the lockdown, and chose not to take advantage of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme so that those funds could be used in more essential areas. It also paid matchday casual workers for the four postponed Premier League games, and committed to paying them again, should their labour be required at the rescheduled games.
Arsenal donated money to local charities supporting the fight against the pandemic; they also used company cars – driven by Arsenal In The Community staff – to transport NHS workers and deliver supplies; they delivered drinks and snacks from the stadium to NHS Trust. The Arsenal Foundation has contributed to Islington Giving’s Crisis Fund, and the club supplied thousands of free meals and essential items to the area’s vulnerable as part of its community response.
Arsenal has also donated laptops and offered free access to language apps and other e-learning tools in an attempt to ease the burden on students and parents affected by the lockdown. They have offered digital support to vulnerable young people, and cared for the elderly by making phone calls and food collections.
In times of crisis, people turn to trusted institutions for support and guidance, and Arsenal has responded with the class and generosity that we have grown to expect from the club. As supporters, we commend them in their efforts.
It is against this backdrop – and the acknowledgement that we are still in the middle of a global crisis – that we make the following observations about the running of Arsenal Football Club during the past year.
On 15th July, 2019 the #WeCareDoYou campaign was born, calling for a more responsible and pro-active custodianship from Arsenal’s passive owner, Stan Kroenke. Almost 175 000 passionate supporters added their signatures to a petition calling for meaningful action to reinvigorate our football club.
Since the end of the 2018/2019 season, which gave birth to this movement, the Arsenal has witnessed a period of upheaval unlike any other in recent memory. There have been momentous changes in personnel at every level.
AT BOARD LEVEL:
- The resignation of Chairman Sir Chips Keswick.
- The appointment of Tim Lewis as a non-executive director.
AT MANAGEMENT/EXECUTIVE LEVEL:
- Edu Gaspar was hired as Technical Director.
- Head Coach Unai Emery was finally fired after Arsenal’s longest winless run since 1992.
- Freddie Ljungberg stepped in as Interim Head Coach with the barest of skeleton staffs to support him.
- In a bold and progressive move, Mikel Arteta – the ex-Club Captain, was hired as the new Head Coach – despite having no previous managerial experience. Arteta retained Ljungberg as his assistant, and brought with him Assistant Coaches Albert Stuivenberg and Steve Round, and Goalkeeping Coach Inaki Cana Pavon.
- Head of Recruitment Francis Cagigao, Head of UK Recruitment Peter Clark, members of the scouting department and 53 other Arsenal staff members (10% of the workforce) were made redundant, in spite of a voluntary pay-cut taken by players and coaching staff which was supposedly aimed at protecting all Arsenal staff during these difficult times.
- Head of Football, Raul Sanllehi departed – somewhat hastily and unexpectedly, leaving Managing Director Vinai Venkatesham to absorb his role and ‘lead the Club moving forward’.
- Assistant Coach Freddie Ljungberg left the Club to pursue his managerial ambitions.
In August, the Arsenal stadium debt was restructured by KSE, ostensibly to reduce the impact of the pandemic on the club, and to facilitate the continued investment in the team, which is ‘a key priority’.
AT TEAM LEVEL:
The 2019/20 transfer windows saw some notable events:
- Club Captain Laurent Koscielny refused to travel on the pre-season tour and forced a move to Bordeaux (£4.6m).
- Aaron Ramsey – one of the club’s most valuable assets, joined Juventus on a free transfer.
- Alex Iwobi (£27m) Krystian Bielik (£7.4m) David Ospina (£3.15m) Carl Jenkinson (£2m) Takuma Asano (£1m) Danny Welbeck (Free) Nacho Monreal (£0.225m) all left the club in 2019.
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£2.8m) Konstantinos Mavropanos, Dejan Iliev, Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah all went out on loan.
- Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Matt Macey were all promoted to the first team from the academy.
- Nicolas Pepe (£72m) Club record signing from Lille.
- Gabriel Martinelli (£6.7m) Virtually unknown, signed from Ituano.
- William Saliba (£27m) Signed from St Etienne and was immediately loaned back to the club.
- Kieran Tierney (£25m) Signed from Celtic. Arrived injured.
- Dani Ceballos (£3.5m – Loan) From Real Madrid.
- David Luiz (£8m + £6m to ‘intermediaries’) One year contract and huge salary. From Chelsea.
- Pablo Mari (£4m – Loan) from Flamengo.
- Cedric Soares (£5m – Loan) 6 month loan in January – despite being injured and available on a free transfer at the end of the 2019.
- Denis Suarez (£2.5m – Loan) Arrived injured. Made only 6 appearances (as substitute).
2020/21 Notable transfer activity:
- David Luiz Signed a one-year contract extension.
- Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares made their loan deals permanent.
- Willian (Free) Signed a three year deal after leaving Chelsea on a free transfer.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Contract extension saga ongoing.
- Dani Ceballos Negotiations with Real Madrid on hold.
- Gabriel Magalhaes (£22m) Signing imminent.
- Thomas Partey (£45m) Negotiations continue
Unsurprisingly, in a stop-start season turned on its head by the pandemic and in which Arsenal changed head coaches midway, results have been decidedly mixed.
- Arsenal finished the Premier League season in 8th place – its lowest finish since the 1994/95 season – 43 points behind winners Liverpool.
- Arsenal was knocked out of the English Football League Cup in the Fourth Round, and the Europa League in the Round of 32.
- Arsenal won its 14th FA Cup – extending its record in the Competition, and thereby qualifying for the Europa League in 2020/2021.
- Arsenal Women came 3rd in the Women’s Super League, were Runners-up in the WSL Cup and reached the Quarter-finals in the FA Women’s Cup and the Champions League.
Regarding the changes at Board Level: we have made clear our belief that the Arsenal Board has needed freshening up, and we are encouraged by the appointment of Tim Lewis, who is apparently a life-long Arsenal fan, resides in London, and has commercial expertise relevant to the needs of our football club.
The fact that Lewis has a strong relationship with the owners – having overseen the stadium debt restructuring – is welcome. It is our hope that his appointment will make the Club more pro-active in managing its executive personnel, and recent events seem to bear this out.
It remains our hope that KSE might appoint a Board member with football expertise and ‘Arsenal DNA’, something it seems to be lacking currently.
We would like to thank ex-Chairman Sir Chips Keswick for his service to the Club, and congratulate Ken Friar for 70 years of loyal service.
2019/20 seems to have ushered in a pleasing new era of proactivity. Certainly, where there was stagnation and passivity before, the owners and the Board seem to have brought a new broom to their handling of the Club’s executive and management teams – dealing with issues clinically and efficiently.
The departures of Emery and Sanllehi have left a structure that is decidedly ‘Arsenal’: Edu Gaspar (Technical Director), Mikel Arteta (Head Coach), and Per Mertesacker (Academy Manager) all know what it means to represent the Arsenal, having served the club so well in their previous incarnations, and as supporters we fully support them in their endeavours moving forward.
We would particularly like to commend the club on its appointment of Mikel Arteta – who seems to have righted the floundering Arsenal ship, and is steering it back on a course that is exciting and promising. He possesses a vision and leadership that has united the team and staff behind him, and we urge the Board and Owners to give him all the financial support he needs to restore the Club to its former glories.
While it cannot be denied that Arsenal has spent money on bringing players to the club – within the constraints of their ‘self-sustaining model’, of course! – some of the deals that were made under departing Head of Football, Raul Sanllehi, seem to have been less than ideal.
Curious loan options, signings of injured players, last-minute purchases, financially punitive short-term contracts, exorbitant agent and ‘intermediary’ fees, bringing in older players for lengthy contracts on relatively high salaries, and a curious inability to sell Arsenal players for anywhere close to their market value whilst paying a premium for incoming transfers is a troubling aspect of Arsenal’s current transfer business model.
Our highest-paid player isn’t being used, a promising young talent has been ostracized, we have players that we have no use for but can’t move on, and others who have made it clear that they want to leave whom we seem unable to sell.
Having parted ways with Head of Recruitment, Sven Mislintat, in February 2019, and made the backbone of our scouting team redundant earlier this month, it is with some trepidation that we note the inordinate number of transfers linked to players represented by a single agent – Kia Joorabchian.
It is our hope that the Club has plans to address these issues moving forward.
The #WeCareDoYou campaign understands that the 2019/20 season was an anomaly, and that results should be viewed with a considerable amount of skepticism. It is fair to note, however, that achievements in the first half of the season under Unai Emery were not satisfactory: his management style was ineffective both on and off the pitch, and his sacking in November couldn’t have come soon enough.
In a short space of time, Mikel Arteta has produced some remarkable results on the pitch – not the least of which was leading his Arsenal team to its 14th FA Cup against favourites, Chelsea, thereby securing qualification for the Europa League next season. It cannot be understated how important that single result was in terms of Arsenal’s future, and the WCDY Campaign would like to congratulate the Head Coach and his team for this fine achievement.
This victory came on the back of wins against League-winners Liverpool in the league, and runners-up Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-final – results which would seem to justify the faith placed in the young Spaniard. That he is also responsible for a new optimism and belief in the staff, team and fanbase cannot be denied.
There is still much uncertainty regarding the footballing experience for the upcoming season. Matches are likely to continue being played in empty stadiums – although discussions are ongoing regarding the re-introduction of fans.
The WCDY Campaign urges the Club to inform season-ticket holders and members as soon as possible of their options moving forward.
In our statement last year, we outlined a number of areas where we felt the Owners could improve the situation at the Arsenal.
Below is a scorecard on how we feel the Club has responded to our concerns, taking into consideration, of course, the impact of the pandemic:
★★★★☆ Passive Ownership
★★★★☆ Better leadership
★★★★☆ Sense of purpose and direction
★★★★☆ New and dynamic appointments
★★★☆☆ Independently-minded directors with relevant football and commercial expertise and Arsenal DNA
★★★☆☆ Safe standing
★★★☆☆ European Super League
★★☆☆☆ Performances declined
★★☆☆☆ Fans marginalized
★★☆☆☆ Lack of clear strategy in player signings and wages
★☆☆☆☆ Poor stadium atmosphere
★☆☆☆☆ Empty seats
★☆☆☆☆ Improved ticketing system
We look forward to the new season – may it see the Arsenal continue on its current upward trajectory.
Come on, you Gunners!