FootballPremier League

Arsenal will always lack leadership while Stan Kroenke is running the show

November 11, 2019

LAST week I wrote about Unai Emery’s bunker mentality tactics and why they are ill-suited to a club at the level Arsenal aspires to be at. Emery is not the clearest communicator, but he has been consistent and unequivocal that his team are playing per his instructions, even as results continue to flounder.

This weekend, Emery was again unrepentant about tactics that saw his team produce a solitary shot on target and failed to produce an attempt on goal after the 52nd minute at Leicester. “We can be disappointed but the attitude of the players was good, they did the game plan,” he said post-match. He also admitted that his game plan was fruitless as soon as Leicester took the lead through Jamie Vardy.

“When they scored the first goal, that's when we lost the opportunity to do something in that match.” There is no prospect for real change under Unai Emery and he keeps telling us so. Emery is going to Emery is going to Emery. Therefore, any future failings under his premiership rest in the oak panelled offices of Josh Kroenke, Raul Sanllehi and Edu Gaspar.

Many supporters suspected – and hoped it must be said – that Emery’s dismissal would be swift after another surrender against Leicester City. Instead, fans were met with a Sunday morning briefing issued to the highly respected and connected journalist David Ornstein insisting the board were ‘100% behind’ Unai Emery. To compound matters, supporter concerns were haughtily dismissed as ‘noise.’

During their ownership of Arsenal, KSE have been good at talking the talk. Over the last year, they have constructed a new executive team who gave supporters new reason to be optimistic. With Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis gone and a new head coach, Edu and Raul Sanllehi represented a new future and they immediately forged good will with some exciting summer transfer business.

However, the briefing over Unai Emery’s future suggests fans have been duped by a false dawn once more. The KSE mask slipped in the Ornstein briefing, “They are adamant that their project is sound, well planned and will bring success provided the external atmosphere allows it to do so.” The phrase “provided the external atmosphere allows it to do so” is marinated in superciliousness.

That Arsenal lack leadership has been a regular trope aimed at their on-pitch efforts. But the suffocating and eternally frustrating truth for Arsenal fans is that they will always lack leadership off the pitch while KSE are running the show. Emery continues to cover his backside by hiding behind the Gunners’ youth policy, while the club’s top brass has fired a shot across the boughs at supporters.

Granit Xhaka was very unfortunate to bear the brunt of supporter frustration, a powder keg that exploded during the Crystal Palace match a fortnight ago. He has been made into a punchbag for all manner of fan frustrations; but captaincy is far from Arsenal’s biggest issue – even if the coach made an absolute dog’s breakfast of what should have been a straightforward administrative procedure. Off-field leadership is where Arsenal are truly lacking and every now and then, the fans are confronted with that fact.

The realisation that KSE is satisfied with sporting mediocrity and considers its ‘customers’ a necessary evil to generate revenue breaks through ‘the noise.’ It punctures hope and optimism and guarantees two distinct supporter reactions – apathy and anger. In my view, it was a spectacularly ill-advised briefing – the Granit Xhaka incident ought to have forewarned the club hierarchy of the dangers of poking the Arsenal supporting hornet’s nest.

Ultimately, the unpleasantness will lead to empty seats, as the ‘experience’ of watching Arsenal loses its emotional value, which is its key selling point. A decidedly uncompetitive team playing to an audience of the bored and the angry will extinguish the sense of FOMO that drives ticket sales- permanently so. KSE should think very carefully about their next move and think even more carefully about the wording of their next briefing.