Gazidis - master of old flannel
Last night Arsenal's Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis met with a group of supporters in a "question" and answer session. My man at the meeting has reported back on the events of the evening. I have put the word question in inverted commas for a reason. The fact is that, despite Mr Gazidis' protestations to the contrary, I find it very hard to believe that the so called questions to which he gave answers were not pre-vetted by the Club. Arsenal Football Club will never leave itself open to answering the fans on the real issues. Even the AGM has seen, for the past many years now, the shareholders silenced in the interests of avoiding difficult questions without a rehearsed answer.
The main theme to be taken from last night is that the Club is placing a lot of faith in UEFA and their ability to police the Financial Fair Play rules that are about to kick-in. For me, and many others, this is an incredibly risky and naive policy. Gazidis contends that FFP should work as the Club's are the ones that wanted it. However, there is no way that high-profile rule-breakers will be disciplined properly by the governing body. Let's just say, for example, that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City all go outside the rules. The punishment is supposed to include a ban from UEFA competitions. Can you really see any of those sides being expelled from the Champions League? The money comes from the TV companies. The TV companies want to show Barcelona v Man Utd if they possibly can. They're not going to be so interested in televising Real Zaragoza v Newcastle United, are they? The reason for that is that they will be unable to sell the advertising slots for massive money for those games, as less people will be tuning in.
Even if we accept that UEFA will preside over things properly, there is a problem. Taking the same scenario whereby they expel those listed above, what is then left for the likes of Arsenal? Less revenue from the Champions League renders it pointless. The banned clubs will seek to set up their own European competition. The TV companies will be clambering over themselves to buy the rights. The likes of Arsenal would be forced to resign from UEFA and join the new tournament. Without it they would be able to win nothing - there would be no money.I digress from Ivan's meeting, but I want to force home the point that his stated Arsenal policy of waiting for FFP is potentially flawed in the gravest of manners.
In terms of strategy in the transfer market nothing is about to change from Arsenal. The Board (Stan Kroenke, that is) wish to continue with the self-sustaining model. I would suggest there is largely nothing wrong with that. However, it doesn't explain why our net spend is virtually nil. We do not plough the massive profits of the Club in to building a squad capable of success on the pitch. Even taking account of self-sustainability, there is still a case for speculating to accumulate occasionally. Without building a top-class squad of players, what is the point in a Club like Arsenal? We don't exist, surely, to post good financial results, so investment on the playing side is required. Gazidis told those in attendance that people complain Arsenal's failure to buy a £30m player shows a lack of ambition. Personally I know no Arsenal supporters that particularly want us to pay £30m for a player. What we do want is serious money to be spent on top class talent. You don't have to spend astronomical money on one player to do that. Nobody is asking the Club to bankrupt itself, but we are asking for the money that is available to be spent on obvious areas of weakness.
Ivan explained that Alisher Usmanov will not be invited to join the Board as it could destabilise Arsenal. Whatever anyone might think of the Uzbeki billionaire, he owns 30% of the Club. I don't care that he may have a different vision of where the Club should be going. Now that he owns so many shares he is surely entitled to get his voice heard. I am not in favour of any one person owning Arsenal, and that applies to Kroenke as much as Usmanov. But the fact is that the Board sold their stake in Arsenal Football Club and the reality is that Kroenke is very much a one man band in control of the Club. I'd rather he was being challenged by someone else, whomever it may be.
There was an acknowledgement that the wage structure of the Club is wrong. Mr Gazidis was willing to recognise the fact that star players should earn substantially more than those who are not yet established (or words to that effect). However, there was not really an admission that the likes of Bendtner and Denilson and Diaby and others of that ilk were not worthy of such rewarding contracts, despite not being anywhere near to achieving anything at Arsenal. Ivan said the Club is working on this situation, which I take to mean they are actively trying to offload the deadwood. As much as there is a need to speculate to accumulate, Arsenal may well find they have to bite a few bullets this Summer, and let a few players go for peanuts simply to get rid of them.
The final thing I want to address from the meeting is the problem of the Club kits. We all know what the new away kit is going to look like, even though it hasn't yet been announced officially. For the first time I will not be purchasing an Arsenal shirt, such is the nature of this particular monstrosity. It is now known that the Club told Nike they could design a new away shirt this year "with a disruption factor of 9/10." In other words, the Club instructed their manufacturer to produce something deliberately awful and controversial. It was clearly their intention to move as far away from the heritage of Arsenal as it was possible to get. This has been done with the deliberate intention of upsetting the traditional Arsenal support. Short of putting a cockerel on the shirt it couldn't be more disgusting. During the meeting Ivan animatedly told those in attendance that the people running things could not be accused to not caring. He said we could call them "incompetent" but must "not think they don't care." So how can he reconcile that with the business of the new away kit? They also care so much about the supporters that they guaranteed delivery of the new home shirt today to anyone pre-ordering it. My postman has been and gone five hours since, and yet I still have a six-year old staring out of the window getting upset that his new kit isn't here. They don't care. They just want you to spend.
I think most people in attendance last night would agree with my source that nothing new was said. Nothing is likely to change. Next season will be just as hard, and just as frustrating as the last one. Meanwhile Arsenal will fall further behind the top challengers.
Euro 2012 starts tomorrow, and there is a good bit of interest for Arsenal supporters in the two games on day one. The hosts Poland get under way in the opening match, which means Wojciech Szczesny is going to be in action. We all know that Szczesny is a confident lad, but his record in big matches has been a concern to me. I will be very interested to see how he gets on with the pressure of a nation, and the eyes of Europe, upon him. Starting off against Greece shouldn't mean him having an exceptionally busy day, but Poland's chances to getting out of the group stages might well mean Szczesny having to play out of his skin in the other games.
The second game tomorrow should see both sides captained by Arsenal players. We will see Tomas Rosiscky leading the Czech's (injury permitting) and Andrey Arshavin should lead Russia, if he can be prised away from the pre-match buffet. I can see the Czech's doing pretty well at this tournament, especially if Rosicky can replicate his recent form at Arsenal.
It seems strange for England to be going in to a Championship without the press considering them potential winners. Having said that, I don't doubt for one minute that anything other than a heroic run to at least a semi-final defeat will have the media slagging everyone involved. The England squad is weak. I would have had no problem if Hodgson had kicked out all of the old guard (with the exception of Cole and Rooney). As far as I'm concerned the likes of Lampard, Terry, Gerrard, Ferdinand etc have had their chance and failed. A clean break would have been good. As it is they have been decimated by injury, and Hodgson has called up some pretty mediocre players as replacements - even if you accept not bringing in the likes of Rio Ferdinand there are better players available to have come in. I believe England might struggle to get past the first round but, rather bizarrely, if they remain organised at the back they could surprise plenty. I watched the Belgium game last Saturday and they outplayed England for most of the second-half. However, they didn't once create a clear chance, simply because England defended properly. If they can launch the pace of Young, Walcott, Chamberlain, Welbeck and Rooney they could hit teams on the break very well indeed.
Everybody expects Spain to do well. Having won the last two major tournaments they are the understandable favourites with the bookies. For me, however, they are not going to win this one. I feel that, rather like Barcelona last season, this Spain side has gone past its peak. Nothing lasts forever, and I don't see them making it past the semi-final stage. Without David Villa they lack their best centre-forward, and will be relying on Torres and Llorente to step up to the plate. The loss of Puyol means they will be even weaker at the back, so any team that can get behind their midfield will be in with a chance of success.
A lot of Arsenal fans will be keeping a close eye on Holland, and I fully expect Robin Van Persie to continue where he left off last season with Arsenal. He was the dominant force in their hammering of Northern Ireland on Saturday, and his growing understanding with Affelay could be hard to contain.
Other Gooners will be very keen to watch Germany. We already have interest there with Per Mertesacker, while Lukas Podolski will also be in their team. The Germans might have been beaten by Switzerland the other week, when missing their Bayern Munich players, but I think we'll see a different beast when things get going. I felt the Germans were the up and coming team two years ago at the World Cup. I believe that, over the next few weeks, we will see them fulfil their potential. Germany are very much my pick for Euro 2012, and I think they will be deserved winners (or at least very close to it). I can't wait for it to get started now.