As we’ve mentioned in the past, if it relates to Arsenal and carries the name David Ornstein, it is trustworthy. He’s long had sources at the club, and the club has long used him as an escape valve for future moves - if it’s a rumor, and it came from Ornstein, it came from the club.
Which is why, when you see “Josh Kroenke sits down with David Ornstein”, that your ears (eyes?) should prick up. It’s not that Ornstein will get Kroenke to be completely unleashed and say whatever’s on his mind, because Kroenke’s too corporate for that. It’s more that Ornstein will ask solid questions, and the trust built up over the years between him and the club will allow for the club to give better, non-boilerplate answers to the questions that are asked.
In today’s sit-down with Josh, Ornstein got him to open up about the aftermath of Baku, what that meant for the club going forward, and to give some insights on where Arsenal want to and need to be. One of my favorite quotes from Josh was this, about Baku:
“As the second half of the match unfolded, understanding the position we were in and some of the targets as we headed into the summer from a transfer standpoint, we had to rethink some of our strategy based on that last 45 minutes,”
The reason I like this so much is not because Arsenal got ground into dust in Baku. The reason I like it is because Arsenal didn’t just fold their hand and do nothing as a response - it sounds like they tore up their summer plans and made new plans kind of on the fly. And while I wouldn’t want that to become the norm, I am glad that an organization not known for its quick thinking and forward motion - and a club that people rightly derided for not doing enough in previous years - showed both in the aftermath of a humbling defeat.
It also seems like this is, in fact, stage one of a multi-stage rebuild:
We addressed certain areas on the pitch for this season and in the years ahead. We had certain age profiles that we were after. Without Champions League football we weren’t exactly sure, but I encouraged our football operations department to be aggressive and when Arsenal Football Club knocks on a player’s door it’s a different knock.
I love this, because it shows that the club isn’t just being reactive. While they were revising their short term strategy, they also realized that they had some structural issues that they needed to address, and while they didn’t solve all their problems, they took big first steps that were pretty successful.
Josh also confirmed that, while he heard the unrest, the flurry of activity this summer was not a byproduct of the fan outrage, petition, or anything like that:
“I would say that if you’re reacting and doing club record signings based on public opinion, you’re not going to go very far as a club,” he said. “We weren’t reactive this summer, we were actually proactive.
He also said something that should be a mantra for not just Arsenal, but most teams in the transfer market:
“That’s hopefully a sign of encouragement for Arsenal fans that, when we’re out in the market place, you might never know what we’re thinking.”
Most times, we don’t know what they’re thinking, and that’s by design. And if it results in more summers like this one, I’m fine with that.
Josh also gave Unai Emery a legitimate vote of confidence:
“I think he’s doing a great job - has done a great job and is doing a great job,” Kroenke said. “Turning the page from such a legendary manager and figure as Arsene - not only at Arsenal but in European football - was always going to be a difficult page to turn and as a club I think we’ve turned it as elegantly as we could.”
“as elegantly as we could” is the key there, for me. There’s no easy way to move on from 20 years of continuity, particularly when that moving on includes a complete overhaul of the front office as well as the coaching staff. While nobody’s content with the end of the season (not just Baku, but the last couple months), it could have been a whole lot worse, and that one year of pain led to this past summer and, hopefully, a more consistent push for the Top Four Trophy than we saw last year.
There was the usual rah-rah about ‘we want to win things’, which, great, yeah, every ambitious team does, but I was at least glad to hear him mention it, because one of the criticisms of KSE is that they don’t really have all that much ambition. And whether this was just lip service or whether it was genuine, hearing Josh say
“Our ambitions are the same as the fans. We want to win and we want to win as much and as often as possible.”
is a refreshing change of pace from KSE’s usual silence.
Josh ended his interview with a lot of complimentary words for the Arsenal fan base, saying that a fully united, galvanized fan base would be “probably be the most powerful thing that I ever would have witnessed”. He recognized that there’s a gulf in trust right now but that over time, KSE would earn the trust of those that were the loudest voices of dissent this summer.
Again: none of this makes me a full-throated fan of the Kroenkes. But it is nice to see Josh getting out in front of a microphone and speaking in more than just the usual platitudes, trying to show Arsenal fans that they’re moving in a positive direction, and if the actions of this summer are a good first step, that there will be more good steps to come. After several years of #WengerOut and a year of #WhatIsEmeryDoing, it’s nice to hear that the club has stabilized and is, hopefully, poised to take that leap back to where we all want it to be in the next season or two.