“Growing Crisis” Continues to Engulf English Media: But Are Arsenal Finally Fighting Back?
The constant media chatter concerning Arsenal being in a state of “crisis” should be well familiar to any Arsenal fan by this point. For example, it has become virtually impossible to open any paper at all these days without seeing headlines similar to the following:
However, in recent weeks, there are encouraging signs that this ongoing media campaign may finally have reached such a fever pitch that it is drawing a concerted counterattack from the club itself. The following are some of the factors that are currently leading me to this cautiously optimistic conclusion:
1) The club is making a concerted effort to reach out directly to Arsenal fans.
As was noted in the comments section on my previous article (detailing Martin Samuel’s exploits for the Daily Mail), Arsenal.com published an article titled “Club pays tribute to loyal supporters,” which thanked Arsenal’s supporters for their large turn-out at the Carling Cup match against Shrewsbury, and which appeared to be intended to counter certain false media allegations regarding low fan turnout at the same match.
Similarly, Arsenal Player posted a free clip of Arsene Wenger thanking fans for their support, titled “Wenger on the fans: Gunners boss hails Arsenal faithful for Tuesday’s support.”
2) Arsene Wenger has made several public comments recently directly responding to negative media coverage.
For example, as I noted in my previous article on Martin Samuel:
“Last month, Arsene Wenger publicly called on Arsenal’s fans to ignore media pressure and support the team. Arsene said: ‘The media with us is very negative – if our fans go the way the media want them to go, we have no chance.’”
More recently, Arsene said the following in response to media questioning following Arsenal’s victory over Shrewsbury:
“Wenger, looking visibly angry at questions over his future, said: ‘Whether I work here for the next 10 years for the club or the next day, I will let others assess the situation. I focus on doing well for the club. And I must tell you something, I’m not bothered at all by all this speculation, not at all…I am completely focused on doing well. I can understand that people are unhappy and criticise but you know as well as I know people are very quick to go overboard…When it goes well we must not completely believe what people say and when it does not go as well, we must not completely believe it.’”
3) In recent weeks, Arsenal’s players have been more vocal than in the past regarding their support for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, and also denying speculation that the club is in “crisis.”
See, for example:
4) The Media Watch section on Arsenal’s website appears to have undergone some changes recently.
For awhile now, Arsenal has had a section on Arsenal.com called “Arsenal Media Watch (News, Gossip, Opinion). I have long been aware of this section on the club’s website, and I have also long ignored it; the primary reason being that, whenever I looked at it, I couldn’t believe that Arsenal would actually link to “those types” of articles on its own website.
However, at my most recent glance, Arsenal Media Watch now appears to be attempting to highlight articles that create a positive spin for the club, as opposed to just whatever press coverage happens to be out there. If my observations are correct, this is a welcome change in direction. Also, the Media Watch now appears to be including material from some Arsenal blogs, where it did not do so before (based on my own recollections):
For example, the following articles provide a sampling of the sort of material that currently appears on the site (in addition to the usual transfer rumours):
“The Online Gooner says Arsenal fans can play their part to get the season back on track Online Gooner
Meanwhile ‘A Cultured Left Foot’ reflects on a positive experience for the Club’s young talent. A Cultured Left Foot
Former Lyon coach Claude Puel and ex-Gunner Remi Garde have both given their backing to Arsene Wenger. Sky Sports
Emmanuel Frimpong is confident of a top-four finish in the Premier League despite the team’s disappointing start to the campaign. Sky Sports
Summer signing Gevinho says it is important to remember what manager Arsene Wenger has done for the Club. Sun
Cesc Fabregas has denied giving an interview in which he appeared to criticise Arsenal’s trophy hopes. Mirror.”
5) And finally, my primary reason for believing that Arsenal may have changed its media policy is the fact that Ivan Gazidis appears to have said as much himself:
“Q: Ivan, what are you here for? What are you doing today?
GAZIDIS: I’m here at the offices of Bloomberg in the city. They have this magnificent building where I’ve been doing a breakfast with sports industry executives, a number of interviews with TV and some media and beginning the process of a discussion with the public about what’s happening at Arsenal. “
Specifically, Gazidis has been making the media rounds lately, delivering a clear and coherent message of positivity regarding the future of Arsenal football club. Fans will most likely be aware that Gazidis has made public statements recently due to articles like the following:
However, based on my own research, none of these articles convey the extent to which Gazidis appears to have actually been working the media. Although it appears that Gazidis has actually given more interviews than the ones cited below, what I’ve chosen to include here are the transcripts of the three interviews that I could find on video, (mostly) unedited.
Given the extent to which Gazidis’ comments have already been edited in most media coverage, I kept my own edits to a minimum, and only edited to the extent necessary to minimize the length of this article (It’s still long, but feel free to skim through any parts of the transcripts that don’t interest you). The portions quoted are transcribed directly from the videos of Gazidis’ interviews. In reading these transcripts, I hope that you will note the way in which Gazidis appears to be clearly on-message in all three interviews, conveying a positive message about Arsenal.
I might even go so far as to say that Gazidis appears to be delivering some pro-Arsenal “talking points,” that may perhaps have been drafted to counter the negative talking points being distributed through other media outlets? On that subject, I’ll be interested to hear your opinions in the comments section. What follows are my excerpts from the transcripts of the three recent interviews with Gazidis (the bulleted topic headings were added by me):
- HAS THERE BEEN A CHANGE IN ARSENAL’S MEDIA POLICY?
Q: Ivan, what are you here for? What are you doing today?
GAZIDIS: I’m here at the offices of Bloomberg in the city. They have this magnificent building where I’ve been doing a breakfast with sports industry executives, a number of interviews with TV and some media and beginning the process of a discussion with the public about what’s happening at Arsenal.
- WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES THAT ARSENAL WANTS TO CONVEY TO THE PUBLIC IN THIS “DISCUSSION?”
Q: You’ve been strong and robust in painting a positive picture about Arsenal football club. What are you trying to say?
GAZIDIS: In terms of the overall direction of the club, if we look at where we are, we’re in the place that other people want to be in. We’ve got a really strong position financially. We’ve got a young squad, still together with experienced players. We’ve got a great manager. We’ve got one of the world’s best stadiums, and we run the club in a sustainable, responsible way, and that means we stand on our own two feet, we don’t have to rely on anybody to be successful except ourselves. Everything that this club has built, everything it represents, it built itself. Nobody gave us a God-given right to have the high expectations that we have, and we’re in a good position within the game. Let’s not lose that sense of perspective.
The reason we’re not disappointed is because the expectations have been set so high, because the bar is high for this club, and I welcome that. I think that’s a good thing and that we should be disappointed, but in terms of the overall position of the club it’s healthy, it’s strong, it’s vibrant, we can look forward with real confidence. Do we have to make adjustments along the way? Do we have to address some of the issues? Absolutely we do, but in terms of the overall picture, other clubs want to be in the position that Arsenal is in. Arsenal represents, I think, the best of the future of the game. It represents the responsible vision for what the game can be, a sustainable vision for what a football club can be, and something that can provide pride to its fans. I know there hasn’t been a lot of that in some of the recent performances, I know we’ve fallen short there, but overall Arsenal fans can feel proud of this club.
- IS ARSENAL IN “CRISIS?”
Q: You portray the club as a role model, and you even used that term in your discussion today, but the general picture of Arsenal at the moment is, maybe not a “club in crisis,” but it’s a downbeat position, so how do you explain that?
GAZIDIS: Well, we are seen as a role model, you know, even in these difficult times. If you go around the world, people look…within England people look toward Arsenal as the way a football club should be. People admire the way we try to play great football, they admire Arsene’s vision of how the game can be played. Are we going through a difficult patch at the moment? Of course out of that.
But that’s not the overall story of this football club, and the further you are away from the the daily media stories and the radio chats and the online commentaries that go on… The further you are away, the more perspective I think people have, and the more there is admiration and respect for what Arsenal has done. And within the game, every club is trying to get into a position like Arsenal where they can be self-sustaining. Even the big spenders of today are trying to work out plans that will put them in a position like Arsenal. And we achieved that by our own discipline, our own responsible management of the club over a long period of time, and also by virtue of the way that Arsene Wenger has managed this club responsibly. With great inspirational vision but also with responsibility, and that’s a challenging line to walk but he continues to do that.
- MEDIA PORTRAYAL OF ARSENE WENGER
Q: You mentioned Arsene Wenger there, he’s been portrayed in a negative way as well. You’ve come out fighting, you said he’s not a broken man or anything like that and he’s determined to turn things around at Arsenal.
GAZIDIS: Arsene is very focused, the more we’ve got to do. He’s as passionate about this club as any human being could possibly be and wants this club to achieve success more than anything else. That’s his wish, his desire, his focus, morning, noon, and night, and that’s what he works towards. We don’t support him out of sentimental reasons because of what he’s done for this club in the past. We work with him every day, we see the kinds of pressures and challenges that he’s under and the magnificent way in which he responds to them, and I think the current portrayals of him…You know, the media likes to paint things in terms of black and white. Either you’re a success or you’re completely humiliated, and the truth is, that every single day in this business is a competition , is a battle, and we’ve got a man who is recognized around the world as being not just an inspirational leader but also a battler and ultimately a winner, and I believe for very solid reasons that he’s the right man to get us back on track.
- ARSENAL TRANSFER DEALINGS AND STRATEGY
Q: This talk about the transfer window, what are your general thoughts about it? Because a lot of business was done, even though there was perhaps a slight departure from your previous policy.
GAZIDIS: You know, the overall strategy remains the same. In fact, if you look at the new signing s in terms of the average age, they’re not very different from the players we’ve had depart, so we remain a very young team overall. The strategy remains built around signing top young players and developing them through the game. We have tactically made an adjustment in this window which people will recognize by bringing some more experience into the team, and I think that will pay dividends.
I think that will give a more secure environment in which some of the younger players can really develop to their full potential. Not many people have seen many of the young players, really. Miyachi and Alex Chamberlain, for example, but I think they will see more of them and I think that they’ll like what they see..
- ON FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR FOOTBALL
Q: You discussed financial fair play and it is coming, it will happen, and do you think that will put Arsenal in a positive position in comparision to other clubs?
A: Well it certainly will. I mean we’re very well-placed financially and we’re running this club on a sustainable, responsible basis. I think, as I’ve said, the rest of the game is trying to move into that position and FFP is designed to get the rest of the game there. If UEFA enforce it the way they say they’re going to, which is openly, transparently, and firmly, then I think we will certainly see other clubs having to amend some of their spending, which will be very positive for us, but we don’t support it only for that reason.
I think there’s a much broader reason. If you care about the game and the direction in which it’s heading you have to ask yourself questions about how we bring more stability into the game so that we can create an environment where we get better owners, not just at the very top end, but throughout the game. People who can come in and say look, this makes sense as a rational place to put some money, I’m not just going to lose my shirt, but I can support the club, and I think you get some really top class owners who bring new ideas to the table and I think it will be good for fans as well. Also I believe these proposals are good, not just for Arsenal FC, but for the game as a whole…
- ON ARSENAL’S FANS
Q: Just talking about the fans, do you feel you’re in tune with what they’re thinking at the moment?
GAZIDIS: I am. I mean, I’m sharing those emotions. You know, none of us can… So much of our self-esteem, our self-worth, is tied up in this team. It’s not an entertainment event. Yes it can be great entertainment and for many fans perhaps it is entertainment, but I think for those people who are at the heart of the club, the people who are most deeply connected with the club, these feel like personal blows and certainly that’s the way it feels to me and others in and around the team. We need in that type of environment to respond positively.
We need to find a way to pull the team together and to find them their confidence, so they can move forward. I’m convinced we’ve got a deep and strong squad, a good mixture of youth and experience, a lot of players Arsene rates very ,very highly in the squad, and if we can get this team on track and beginning to put a run of games together… You know the performances in the Champions League, we went to some very difficult places. Winning at Udinese and getting a good result at Dortmund, these are not easy teams and not easy places to go, so it has shown character. I think it’s the inconsistency that we need to address.
- MESSAGE TO FANS
Q: Do you have a message for the fans?
GAZIDIS: I have. I mean, I’m sharing, and everyone at the club is sharing, the pain of some of the last few weeks. I think it’s important at a time like this that we come together, that we all care about the club, that we all want this club to move forward. I’m convinced the people will do that. I’m convinced that people will retain their belief, and I think if we can give the players our support, I’m convinced that they can turn around the performances and we can look forward to a more positive string of results this season.
- ARSENAL’S RECENT FORM
Q: Ivan, it’s been a tough time, hasn’t it, for Arsenal of late? You’ve lost your best players in the summer transfer window, I think it’s the worst start to a league season in 58 years, you’ve suffered some humiliating defeats like the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United… Just how traumatic of a time has it been for the club and for you recently?
GAZIDIS: Well, it’s been a difficult time to be an Arsenal fan. Certainly, we’ve had a lot of inconsistency in our performances and some bad defeats as you mentioned, but there have also been some very strong performances in difficult environments, in the Champions League, so it’s been a slightly perplexing mix of results. But what we’re doing is focusing on what we need to do to make sure that what we think is a deep squad with a good mixture of youth and experience can turn this around and start to get more consistency.
- IS ARSENAL IN “CRISIS?”
Q: Some are saying the club is in crisis. Is it?
GAZIDIS: No. It isn’t in crisis. In fact, it’s in a very, very healthy, strong position. We’ve had fourteen years of success in the Champions League. There are not many clubs that have achieved that. When I came in 2 ½ years ago I was told that we were falling behind Aston Villa and Everton. That was the story at that time. There is a constant news cycle that revolves around saying there is a “crisis” and those sorts of things, and dramatizing things.
The reality is that this club is in a very strong position to look forward with confidence, standing on its own two feet with a strong sustainable model built around development of youth. We have some very, very strong youth players, young players coming through in our squad. Not just Jack Wilshere but a number of players around him as well. We can look forward to the future with a lot of confidence based on that platform. We have issues that we need to turn around and address, absolutely. Can we do it? Yes.
- ARSENAL’S PHILOSOPHY AND STRATEGY IN THE TRANSFER MARKET
Q: Does there need to be a change in philosophy and strategy when it comes to the transfer market? Some kind of adjustment, do you think?
GAZIDIS: Well, I think you’ve seen an adjustment. I don’t think you’ve seen a change in strategy. The strategy remains built around creating and developing young players and making them into star players, but I do think you’ve seen us sprinkle that with some more experienced players. Overall in the transfer window we actually became younger, but we did add players with some real experience and know-how, and I think it’ll take a little bit of time for those players to settle, but once they do I think we’ll have a very strong squad….
- TRANSFERS AND THE MEDIA
Q: Will it be too late by then, though? I understand the principle that you don’t want to necessarily spend everything that you have immediately but you’ve missed out on certain players and the fact is that fans believe that with a little more money, just a little bit more, paying a little bit over the odds, but at least you’d have secured the likes of Jagielka and Cahill. Other clubs would still have them or wouldn’t have bought them, and you’d be having a better squad right now. Do you not think that, on reflection, you could have done it better?
GAZIDIS: You know, there is a lot of speculation that happens in and around the transfer windows, around all kinds of individual players, almost all of it is incorrect and misguided. There’s only one person who knows exactly what we were doing, actually two people, Arsene Wenger and myself. We’re very happy about the players we brought in, who are the players that Arsene wanted. We’re very happy to have Per Mertesacker for example in the defense, somebody who’s got over 70 caps for the German national team. We think we ended up with a good mixture. In terms of the ins and outs of how we got there, Arsenal has never commented on its transfer business as it goes along, but it’s exactly as Arsene said it was going to be. We did business early, and we did it late. We explained that up front but that’s how we saw things playing out, and it played out pretty much exactly the way we thought it would, and at the end of the window we’ve ended up with a good mixture of youth and experience. People haven’t seen some of the younger players that we’ve signed yet. Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain will be playing tonight against Shrewsbury Town. We’ll get our first real look at him, and we think we’ve got more than people realize.
- ARSENE AND THE MEDIA
Q: What do you think of the criticism that Arsene Wenger is suffering right now? Some say he’s out of touch, that he’s too stubborn, that he needs to be replaced. What do you think of that?
GAZIDIS: Well, there’s no division in the club, and I think that that sometimes infuriates people. They can’t understand it. We work together. Arsene is as passionately engaged as he’s ever been, driving this club forward, making sure that we can be as successful as we possibly can. He’s a manager that has done extraordinary things for Arsenal football club, and his ambition is not finished. Of course he’s frustrated, as any Arsenal fan would be at some of the results and some of the performances, but he’s very very focused on what we have to do to put that right, and we’re right there with him
Q: Are some of the attacks on him harsh?
GAZIDIS: I think they’re completely misguided. I mean, I don’t mind people saying harsh things. That’s the environment in which we live in. I just think that they don’t understand the way he operates and what he’s doing to drive this club forward and what he has done.
Q: So, some suggest that, because of the success he’s enjoyed in the past, and the length of time he’s been at Arsenal, he’s effectively “un-sackable.” It’s simply impossible for you to even get to a stage where you would even countenance the idea of replacing him. Is that true, or do you …How bad would it have to be, for example, for you to even make a tough decision?
GAZIDIS: Well, you know, we’re not going to even get into a discussion about Arsene’s position with the club. He’s secure there and he’s done a wonderful job for this club. We’re going through a difficult period, as all clubs do at some point. It’s a cycle. We will work our way out of it, as we have in the past. We’re one of the most consistent performers at the top end of the game since Arsene has been here, and if we get so into this short term-ism we will do more damage to the club by reacting to that than we will by working out what’s wrong and taking the steps that we need to to fix it with a manager who’s one of the club’s biggest assets.
- KROENKE AND OWNERSHIP ISSUES
Q: Just a couple of very quick questions…A lot of fans would like me to ask this. You have two major shareholders in Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov who are two of the richest men in the world. They cannot understand, therefore, why it is that: a) the majority shareholder is never seen. He’s not visible, and why, given that wealth, you lose out to the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea when it comes to wages and transfer fees. Can you explain those two elements of that? The lack of visibility, and the lack of hands in pockets?
GAZIDIS: Well I don’t think there is a lack of Stan Kroenke speaking. There is this moniker, “silent stan,” which is very wide of the mark. He’s engaged with fan groups in the past and he will again in the future. When he next visits the UK, I’m sure he’ll do some media and speak directly, but there are an awful lot of statements that Stan has made along the way that make it very clear what his position is with respect to the club.
You only have to read the documents he produced in and around the takeover. He’s been limited during that takeover period in what he’s allowed to say and able to say, but he’s been incredibly supportive of all of the things that we want to do.
- “CRISIS” AND THE MEDIA
GAZIDIS : This club is founded on a sustainable, responsible model. That’s the way that football is moving. If football wants to have a stable future, and a good future, people in the game recognize that it needs to move towards that model. And even the big spenders are trying to get towards a point of self sustainability. You only have to look at their statements. So people are trying to get to the position that Arsenal is already in. We represent the best of the future of football and in that stable environment, we will see better ownership coming in, a better environment for fans, and a better environment for the competition, so we will welcome that, not just from Arsenal’s standpoint but also for the good of the game. We will be unmoved in the way that we do things.
We’ve built this club by standing on our own two feet. Everything this club is, everything it represents, it created itself. We will continue to do that and we will continue to drive this club forward and we’re not going to be swayed by the ups and downs and the “crisis” stories that we see along the way. You’ve got to have a better sense of perspective than that if you want to be successful over the long term.
- MESSAGE TO ARSENAL FANS
Q: Finally, in summary, what would your message be to Arsenal’s fans, who are suffering right now, Ivan, as I’m sure you know. They don’t want to see bad results. They want to see trophies. They’re annoyed at the ticket price increase that they’ve been hit with recently. What’s your message to them, in summary?
A: Well, I think we understand some of the emotions that they’ve been through, and certainly everybody at the club has been sharing in that emotional roller coaster. We understand their expectations are high and we share those expectations. I think that’s a measure of where the club is in the game that we have expectations to win trophies. Many other clubs don’t have those expectations and would be delighted to be in our overall position. I do think we need to stick together at a time like this. The club is about community, we need to hold together and make sure that we support the team and get them back on track. I’m convinced we can do that, that we’ve got a deep squad with a good mixture of youth and experience, we’ve got a great manager , and a lot of the angst, I think, comes from the fact that expectations are so high. Last year, for example, we played some of the best football in the Premier League, and then we self-destructed at some important moments, and that’s something that, if we could eliminate that from our game, this team has fantastic potential, and that’s what we need to do.
GAZIDIS’ PUBLIC COMMENTS AT SPORT INDUSTRY BREAKFAST CLUB (EXCERPTS, BUT MOST THOROUGH I COULD FIND)
- ECONOMIC FUTURE OF EPL
Q: Your manager, among everything else, is an economics graduate, and he said today he thinks there could be a crash in three weeks or three months. Do Arsenal think that football’s heading for a cliff, and is that part of the reason there’s so much desire to be sustainable?
GAZIDIS: I think that football revenues, particularly in the Premier League, have continued to grow dramatically over time and I think that has masked…provided revenues keep growing, it masks underlying issues that might be there. I don’t believe that something that can’t go on forever will.
- OWNERSHIP ISSUES (I.E., WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE EPL)
GAZIDIS: If I could simplify a little bit, the football business, which is relatively small for these clubs, and then you’ve got what we’ll call the brand value, which is enormous. Clubs like Arsenal, like Manchester United, like Chelsea, like Real Madrid, like Barcelona have followings all around the world that are extraordinary. The value of those names ranks up there with multi-national corporations, multi-national brands. Football clubs, though, haven’t yet realized that full potential and so what you’re seeing I think with owners coming in and pushing money into the game is essentially that the football business is irrelevant to them. The size of that business is an irrelevance. What they are looking at is to associate themselves with the brand, the brand of the Premier League, the brand of the football club.
- ON ARSENE WENGER
Q: As a human watcher, it’s quite upsetting to see Arsene at the moment. He looks extremely exhausted and haggard, and you have commentators saying he looks “broke.” You know, as a human to human, it’s something you work with everyday. At the moment it’s a sad situation to see.
A: You know, again, he’s not broken. I think again that the portrayal that is one of these black and white portrayals…You know, you read this “flying high,” and everything is great, or you are a broken failure, and to see him portrayed because he is responsible as some kind of idiot is profoundly damaging, not to Arsenal and actually not to Arsene but damaging for the game.
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