Josh Kroenke, son of club owner Stan, sat down with the official Arsenal website today (Tuesday) for a bit of what’s known in the trade as a soft soaping.
It was a chance to get his message out in a way unlikely to attract much hostility and rigour, particularly as the people he was talking to are, ultimately, his employees. A pre-approved, comfortable opportunity to speak to supporters and the media, without having to get any hands dirty.
Nonetheless, anything we hear from Josh is, to all intents and purposes, a reflection of how Stan is thinking and feeling and fans are understandably picking and pouring over every word of what has been said tonight.
It’s no surprise that the interview coincided with Arsenal’s visit to Denver, where they took on another of the Kroenke franchises, the Colorado Rapids. It also came hot on the heels of a high profile supporters campaign, calling on the Kroenkes to break their silence over the perceived tumult at the club.
So, what did he have to say? Below are a few nuggets I felt worthy of note:
“I would say ‘be excited’. There are a few things that I know our group are working on, and a few things we hopefully have on the doorstep. Nothing is ever a done deal until it’s a done deal, obviously, but we know we have key areas we want to address in our squad, both now and in the future. Our entire football operations staff have a great grasp on that and I’ve encouraged them to be as aggressive as possible.”
Now, we’ve heard much and more over the years about war chests, ambitious targets and summer overhauls – only for a half-fit Kim Kallstrom to appear minutes before the transfer deadline expired. Can we trust Kroenke when he says we should be excited? It’s a subjective term of course, he may be excited by the signing of 17-year-old prospects much more than the acquisition of £60million world beaters. That said, he does enough to equivocate here to ensure he’s covered if things go pear-shaped in the market but it’s interesting to hear him say he’s encouraged his team to be “aggressive”. The proof of this particular pudding will be the eating come August.
Will we end up frustrated with a half-baked squad of Wenger-era left-overs or will the new backroom team begin to really step up the pace of change in getting this squad overhauled? If Kroenke can be believed, it’s the latter of those two. We have been duped before, though. Takuma Asano anyone?
On last season and what lies ahead…
“Yeah, up until the last few weeks of the Premier League, we were on track for one of those Champions League places. To travel all the way to Baku and ultimately fall short of our goal of winning a trophy last year – and the Europa League, which would have been our first European trophy in quite a long time – it was very hard. I was there on the pitch with our players, with our staff. I was there on the podium handing out our second-place medals after the match. I could see the frustration, I could see the despair. I felt that, I understand that. I was living in the moment with them. Coming out of that, I’m proud to say that I think there’s a true resolve behind the scenes to never feel that again at the club while we’re together. It’s going to be a lot of hard work to try and understand the mentality Edu is trying to bring back to us from his Invincible days. Not everybody might be ready for that work that lies ahead. We’re going to be talking, communicating and having honest dialogue about how we’re going to go about our process to achieve those ultimate goals of winning that silverware that we know we need.”
The key phrase here? ‘Not everybody might be ready for that work that lies ahead’. Is that a threat? An accusation? A call to arms? It’s difficult to say but it feels pointed, it feels significant. It suggests the wheat and the chaff may be about to part ways. Whether that is the manager or some of the playing staff remains to be seen, but it is a strong message, certainly.
Kroenke also talks about ‘talking, communicating’ and ‘honest dialogue’. Naturally, this can be taken with a healthy pinch of salt, given Stan’s well-earned moniker ‘silent’ has shown no signs of changing during his time at the club. Still, anything about the process we’re going through, the plan, the vision, the overall direction, would be something for us to hang on to. I feels like an age since we had some clarity in this regard. Just where are we going as a club?
On the ambitions of KSE…
“Our ambitions are silverware. Silverware and trophies. I think anything short of that is not a success. There are certain things that you have to do to lay foundations to achieve those goals, and I think we’ve done that over the past 12 to 14 months. From our coaching staff to our management, there have been significant changes that have gone on and I’m really excited to let those foundations continue to grow and take shape to build a successful future for Arsenal.”
This missive was close to the top of the interview, in a place of obvious prominence, a dolly served up early on so the owner could speak directly to fans. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before in many ways – we know the Kroenkes want trophies, but the level of investment in the club, and their actions as largely passive owners simply doesn’t support that.
He does talk about significant changes in the coaching and management structure and nobody can argue there isn’t truth in that. We have been through a real period of upheaval in the last year and, in many ways, that continues to this day with the appointment of Edu to the role of sporting director. But these are all changes, arguably, that would have happened whether KSE were owners of Arsenal or not. What fans need and want to see if substantive change on the pitch, they want results, improvement, and a clearer sense of where we are going as a club. While Josh may be “excited” about our foundations, he adds nothing here to suggest what shape those foundations will take as we move forward.
All things considered, it wasn’t revelatory from Kroenke, but it wasn’t without points of interest either. Perhaps this Kroenke is a little more alive to what is going on at ground level, far more so than his father, who pretended he was dead to the world at the best of times.
If this is the start of a more perspicacious period in the KSE ownership of Arsenal, great, let’s have more of it. What we don’t want, however, is more periodic ‘we like trophies’ missives from an ownership that people fear, above all else, covets money and acquisition above actual success on the pitch.
Now he has put himself at the forefront, it will be up to Josh Kroenke to show KSE’s true colours and become a symbol for what the organisation really wants for Arsenal.