Last week was not a good time to be an Arsenal fan – with the European Super League proposals followed by unconvincing comments from Josh Kroenke and a Premier League defeat to Everton.
The Gunners’ position outside of the Champions League for the past few seasons has often felt like a minor setback, with the general expectation that qualification to Europe’s elite tournament would reoccur pretty swiftly.
Now though, fans are having to come to terms with the fact that this isn’t the case and, even if qualification is secured via Europa League glory, Arsenal are a long way off competing with the Champions League’s elites.
That was why the European Super League proposals raised eyebrows and a lot of criticism. Arsenal, never winners of the Champions League and having not qualified for a number of seasons now, were deemed to be prestigious enough to get an invitation.
Financially, the benefits would have been huge and would have made a big difference to a club who, since moving to the Emirates Stadium, have had to work within their means while their rivals splash the cash in ways Arsenal can merely dream of.
In recent years, that has shifted again. A club-record fee for Nicolas Pepe and significant outlay to sign the likes of Thomas Partey show that, when required, there is the money there to do business – but the fact of the matter is that the squad needs a significant overhaul.
While the ESL would have provided the finances for that, there were questions about whether Arsenal would be appealing in a league where the likelihood is they would have been among the lower-ranked teams – especially with threats towards players regarding international expulsion.
Either way, that ‘solution’ is now dead in the water. Fans have been heard, football has been saved and the elite have been left licking their wounds – but what exactly does it mean for Arsenal’s future?
The Gunners are now left on a daunting precipice – their top-four status is long-gone, the chasing clubs have, in a lot of cases, overtaken them and there is a lot of work to be done for that situation to change.
While Josh Kroenke assured fans that there would be investment from KSE, with it worth noting their involvement in the deals to sign Pepe and Partey, their promises are the equivalent of the big-bad wolf assuring you that Grandma would not be a bedtime snack.
That can also serve as an encouragement though, as it questions how honest the statement that KSE has no intention to sell truly is – and we may get an answer sooner than we thought with Daniel Ek and three Arsenal legends preparing an offer.
Having a majority shareholder who is an Arsenal fan and one that is backed-up by three legendary figures who represent one of the club’s greatest-ever periods is a positive step in the right direction but it isn’t the complete answer.
If the past week has shown us anything, it’s that power needs to be handed back to the supporters. The billionaire owners only care about their back pockets and, while the governing bodies fought back against the ESL proposals, there are issues there as well – specifically the World Cup in Qatar, UEFA’s own financially-driven reform plans and, closer to home, the collapse of Bury.
The German football model of 50+1 has long been cited as a solution and, while not perfect, it is another huge step in the right direction and fan ownership, with the right people at the top, can be a solution to the preservation of the game.
Some uncertainties stretch beyond just Arsenal though. While the ESL proposals were defeated, it’s only the latest in a line of power-plays from the big boys, succeeding ‘Project Big Picture’ last year, and it’s naive to think these plans have been defeated permanently.
At some point, someone is going to come up with a new plan and money will always be at the root of these proposals – so the battle goes well beyond just pushing unpopular owners out of Arsenal, as that same effort needs to be applied at various levels of the game.
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Unfortunately, football is a sport where immediate responses are always called for. Fans want a better squad, better performances and new owners now but the reality concerning Arsenal is that stability of that magnitude will not be found overnight.
When Arsene Wenger arrived in 1996, the squad he inherited had disappointed under Bruce Rioch but there was a strong core that remained, including the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Ian Wright and Ray Parlour.
Mikel Arteta, unfortunately, doesn’t have that and has been left with the Jekyll and Hyde remnants of his two predecessors. Starting from scratch isn’t an option and the process is more difficult but signs have been promising.
For the structure of the team, a solid plan is in place with Arteta and Edu – but now the challenge is having that solid set-up behind the scenes.