Arsenal were in Colorado yesterday, thanks to Stan Kroenke’s ownership of the MLS Colorado Rapids. The two teams played a friendly, in which Arsenal Youth, Reserves, And Randos beat the Colorado Rapids B Squad And Some Other Randos 3-0. But that’s not why I’m here today.
I’m here today to talk about Josh Kroenke, and the interview(s) he gave yesterday. It’s rare that a Kroenke mouth opens in public to say Arsenal-related words, so I figure it’s time to shed some light on those words to see if they stand up to scrutiny against recent Arsenal performance, both on and off the pitch.
The first thing Josh wants you to know is that he doesn’t view the Kroenke family as “owners” of Arsenal, but as “custodians”, because apparently that word sounds more...serious?
“If anyone is ever going to question anything about our ownership - which I view as a custodianship, the supporters trust us to be a custodian of the values.”
Ah yes, the values. Those ever-important values. Which are, um, I don’t know? I may be in the minority in this, but I don’t really need my favorite sports team to have values, unless those values are “be the best sports team you can be every year”. I don’t care about the gauzy stuff that makes soccer sound like a game that perpetually exists in 1957, even though that era almost certainly didn’t exist in the way we all romanticize it existing at this point.
I care that the Kroenkes are doing everything they can to get Arsenal back to being a consistently winning club, however they can, and I’m not seeing evidence of that.
“Does it hurt when people question my passion for Arsenal? Absolutely. Is it hard to take? Absolutely,” he says. “But I’m not in this business to make friends, I’m in it to win.”
So. How’s business?
He also talks about that night in Baku, and how it felt to watch his team get obliterated on the second-biggest European stage. His answer was, shall we say, less emotional than a guy who challenges it when people question his passion for Arsenal would be expected to give:
“There are some people who are also pretty pissed off that we had dropped that last match. That resolve should serve us well.”
Spoken like a guy who bleeds Arsenal red (YES I KNOW BLOOD IS ACTUALLY RED JUST GO WITH THE METAPHOR FOR A MINUTE), right? I don’t think I expected Josh to, like, throw a fit or anything, but “there are some people who are also pretty pissed off” doesn’t exactly sound like “we will do everything in our power to make sure that a night like that doesn’t happen again”, at least not to me.
Josh does seem pretty excited about having Edu on board as technical director, though:
“The final piece of the puzzle, as Raul said so elegantly in the release a few weeks ago, was our technical director in Edu. I’m really excited about his appointment. He brings not only Arsenal DNA but also a mentality that was instilled in him during the Invincible year. That championship, that Invincible mentality, is going to serve us well now and in the future.”
And honestly, I feel the same way, particularly if all the churn of the last year or so in the front office is done and Edu can just worry about doing his job, instead of worrying about what his job actually is, and hoping nobody else is doing it instead of him.
Josh does address the budgetary elephant in the room, as well:
“It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment. That doesn’t mean that my father or I have ever said anything about any restrictions on spending. We know where we need to be and we know the areas we need to address on the pitch.”
That’s actually a good way to put it - a CL wage bill on an EL budget. I don’t know how that gets fixed without selling off some of the players that comprise that wage bill, though, and as we all have (not) seen, that’s not exactly happening at the moment.
Josh also addressed, sort of, the Arsenal player acquisition philosophy these days:
“While we’re not going to be in the market for some of the top players in the world at the moment whilst they are the top players, we’re actively scouting the globe to find the next big thing to become great at Arsenal football club.”
This was a known thing, but now it’s explicit - Arsenal are not going to be buying the biggest names any more. And that’s fine - as long as their scouting gets a lot better and they can identify those up-and-comers faster and better than other teams, which is not something I see evidence of right now.
My favorite part of the entire interview, though, was this description:
It is the suggestion that the current ownership are not entirely motivated by winning trophies that particularly riles Josh Kroenke, who speaks with great hurt at his own experience of the Europa League final in Baku and the debilitating experience of having to hand runners-up medals to the Arsenal squad after their humbling at the hands of Chelsea.
Look, I get it. I know owners of sports teams are engaged in PR spin for the most part, and are probably never going to say anything substantive, address any real concerns, or otherwise tip their hands about what they’re doing, either short- or long-term.
But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when Josh Kroenke just sort of gives lip service to everything that has happened at Arsenal in the few years prior to, and the one year after, Arsene Wenger left the club - the rot that has set in, the stasis that has caused Arsenal to drop down out of the top tier of Premier League teams despite having more financial and geographic advantages than they know what to do with, etc.
His job is to make things sound hopeful while remaining vague on specifics, and again, I get that. But a little honesty goes a long way, and this interview...well, it did have a little honesty, I guess. But still. Do better, Josh. If you want to be a “custodian of Arsenal values”, articulate those values. Tell me what you’re doing to uphold them. Tell me how you’ve fallen short, and, even in general terms, how you’ll address that. Tell me I have something to look forward to, because right now, even with a new season a month away, it sure doesn’t feel like it.