Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis says past success isn’t the reason why he and the club’s board still believe in manager Arsene Wenger.
Rather, it’s Wenger’s continued commitment and long-term vision for the club that has Gazidis convinced he has the right man in charge.
Since Wenger’s appointment in 1996, Arsenal have won the Premier League title three times and the FA Cup on six occasions.
But it has been 12 years now since Arsenal last won the league, and while the club have won two FA Cups in the last three years, they have faced continued criticism. They have been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the round-of-16 stage for the last six years running.
Wenger is entering the final season of his current three-year deal and will celebrate his 20th anniversary at the club in October. So despite, the fact that the last three Premier League seasons have seen Arsenal finish fourth, third, and second, the calls for the club to move on from Wenger have increased.
Gazidis’ confidence in his manager is unwavering, however.
“I don’t have a nostalgia for [Wenger], and the board doesn’t have a nostalgia for Arsene,” said Gazidis in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s not why we believe in him. This isn’t a football club that looks backwards. This is a club that looks forwards and is always, always pushing the boundaries of how we can progress.
“That’s why we built the new stadium. That’s why originally we hired Arsene Wenger and that’s why we’re keeping him engaged and involved in the project that we’ve embarked on.”
Gazidis admitted that he shares the frustrations emanating from the club’s fans, especially in light of Leicester City’s run to the title in a season when the usual challengers like Chelsea and Manchester United struggled.
“Our fan base is frustrated that we didn’t win last season. We’re frustrated that we didn’t win last season,” said Gazidis. “I am. Stan Kroenke as our owner is. Arsene is. Nobody is more frustrated than he is; disappointed that we didn’t finish on top because that’s our goal.
“What I see is a manager who is deeply committed to this football club, devoted to it, continues to think about the long term.”
When asked why he thinks Wenger is the man to lead the club forward, Gazidis went down a long list of the Frenchman’s qualities.
“Arsene is highly intelligent; very, very devoted to the club,” he said. “He lives and breathes football. He’s massively respected by his players. He’s a big reason why players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez want to come to Arsenal Football Club.
“And he’s a manager who remains at the forefront of thinking in all kinds of areas around the game; his involvement with analytics, with psychology, with what we’re doing on fitness.
“I think one of the challenges we have as a club, is that because we have constant [presence] and have somebody who is resilient, consistent, disciplined, and clear in his thinking, perhaps sometimes people outside can get the impression that there is nothing changing.
“And nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve made dramatic changes in how we operate as a football club, in all of the areas I mentioned.
“We have to be world-leading in those areas, and Arsene has been not just deeply engaged in those areas, but driving many of those areas forward.”
Despite reportedly spending over £30 million each on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the last few seasons, as well as recently acquiring Granit Xhaka, there is still a sense that Wenger needs to be more willing to spend.
While the Gunners have been linked with several players, including Inter striker Mauro Icardi, Gazidis stated that the club’s philosophy won’t change.
That includes developing and giving opportunities to young players as well as making sure the club’s infrastructure evolves.
“Of course everyone is engaged in the transfer market, and of course there’s a tremendous media focus on that,” said Gazidis. “I’m not saying that’s not important. It is an important piece of the puzzle.
“There are so many other pieces to the puzzle that are critical contributors to success but are perhaps a little less glamorous.
“We haven’t been falling behind, but we haven’t been able to get that extra few percentage points that we need to achieve what is our goal. And our goal is not to be consistently in the top four.
“Our goal is to win it, so we’re working on so many different fronts to make sure we can take that extra step.”