The Frenchman has vast sums at his disposal and he must use them fully and wisely as the Gunners aim to bridge the gap to the Premier League’s top three
By Julian Bennetts at the Emirates Stadium
The time for talking is over: now Arsenal’s fans want to see there is more to their club than pleasant soundbites and a healthy bank balance.
Monday night’s meeting at the Emirates, where chief executive Ivan Gazidis addressed around 300 members of various supporters groups, did not contain any new revelations but it continued a theme that the club have been promoting heavily over the past few weeks.
This, they believe, is their time.
With managerial changes taking place at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton, there is a feeling that the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham could really make their mark next season.
They hope they will no longer have to endure a mad dash to qualify for the Champions League, or as Gazidis puts it: “It is not enough to watch a video of a last-minute scramble to get over the line and into fourth place.”
Instead, with the right signings a title challenge may not be quite as far-fetched as it sounds.
And Arsenal are certainly making all the right noises. It is estimated that the club have around £70 million to spend this summer, and as their key commercial deals are renewed next year Gazidis and his team hope their annual revenue will top £300m by 2015.
That would put them on a par with Bayern Munich, and the Bavarian giants were referenced repeatedly during the meeting in Club Level at the Emirates.
Before then, though, the team must be improved and money must be spent. Names such as Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain and Stevan Jovetic have been bandied around, but what is particularly interesting about the past week’s events is that the focus has been turned squarely on manager Arsene Wenger.
For the past three years, Gazidis and his fellow board members have been heavily criticised by the fans. Yet on the face of it, they have done their job.
The club is on a stable financial footing and Wenger has money to spend. There can be no doubt that if that cash is not used to furnish his side with at least three new signings, it is Wenger’s responsibility and not the board’s.
Those who asked Gazidis ‘what do you do?’ have their answer. He has negotiated impressive deals with Emirates and Puma despite Arsenal’s eight-year trophy drought.
Now Wenger must follow through on his side of the bargain.
“Arsene is not scared to spend money but he has to believe they are top-class players who will add to the squad,” said Gazidis.
“Arsene has done an outstanding job to make sure Arsenal stay in the mix with the top teams – not where we want to be, but in the mix – on a relatively limited budget.
“We have been consistent, in that we haven’t slid backwards or gone forwards. Now we need to go forwards.”
Few can argue with that. Wenger did a tremendous job in maintaining the club’s performances following the move to the Emirates, but the ‘top four trophy’ is simply not enough any more.
The atmosphere at the meeting was certainly more upbeat than in previous years. Last year talk centred on whether Robin van Persie would leave; in 2011 it was the same conversation about Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
Now, Arsenal are in the ascendancy. They are doing the buying, not the selling. Gazidis was asked if a stellar purchase would be made, a signing to rank alongside Dennis Bergkamp or Sol Campbell in the club’s recent history.
A qualified lawyer, Gazidis carefully refused to make any rash promises but he did admit that lessons have been learned, and claimed once again that this summer will be different to the past two years.
“We will strive to get our business done early,” he said. “Last year we looked at what was done two seasons ago, which is certainly not something we would ever choose to go through again.
“I certainly hope we will get our business done early this year. It is an unusual transfer window. For us it is good as we don’t have the uncertainty we did in previous windows, which is good for our planning.
“There are some uncertainties, first of all due to the managerial changes, and we are seeing the impact of the financial changes (with the introduction of Financial Fair Play).
“But we are trying to get things done.”
And the general feeling is that maybe things will be different this time. There is a positivity at Arsenal that has not existed for at least three years; taking 26 points from your final 30 and pipping your bitter local rivals to fourth place will do that to a club.
There is an acceptance that maybe the team isn’t that far from being a very good one indeed. A striker or two, perhaps a goalkeeper and a physical midfielder and Wenger would have a very strong hand, particularly considering the upheaval elsewhere.
Wenger’s contract expires in a year’s time. The club are confident he will extend his 17-year tenure, but this summer could map out both his and the club’s future for the next five years.
Gazidis and his team have done all they can. Talk of emulating Bayern Munich may be a little far-fetched, but the responsibility now belongs to a certain Frenchman. Mr Wenger, it’s your move.