By Sam Limbert
In the week leading up to the first game of every new season, I get an irrational burst of optimism that makes me think Arsenal will win pretty much everything. Even in the more challenging years under Arsene Wenger when the squad was nowhere near ready for the opening match, I’d get that excitement that anything was possible.
Up until Tuesday, I definitely had that blind optimism going into 2018-2019. In reality, a top-four finish is the aim for Unai Emery in his first season, but that doesn’t stop fans dreaming ahead of the new campaign.
There’s no better time for ridiculous amounts of optimism than in August as you can’t embark on another long season already feeling downbeat. At this point in time, we haven’t lost any games and we’re not a few points behind in the title race. It’s the hope that keeps us coming back and supporting the team after all.
And there is plenty to be positive about from the summer. Unai Emery’s first pre-season has been quite interesting with some decent results, a few different formations and combinations to observe and new signings arrived early in the window. There are still a few uncertainties around the futures of
Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, and other squad players, plus the departure of Calum Chambers on loan has got me scratching my head, but on the whole, there’s been some good business done by the club.
Then there are the attacking options. There’s a full season of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to look forward to. Alexandre Lacazette has looked really sharp in pre-season. Mesut Ozil will hopefully play freely, unburdened by all the negatives that impacted on his summer with the German national team. Along with Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and Ramsey, if Unai Emery gets the system right, this should be a very exciting team to watch and one that could score plenty of goals.
There also appears to be a really good team spirit building among the players. I know the club aren’t going to put out any negative social media content from pre-season, but on the evidence of players’ own social media activity and the reaction of the squad on the pitch during the pre-season games, there does seem to be something genuine there. The squad looks united, there are some good characters in it and that makes it a lot easier to get behind them.
But just as my excitement was approaching fever pitch this week, the news came that Alisher Usmanov was selling his shares in the club to KSE, enabling Stan Kroenke to eventually take full control of Arsenal. It had been mooted that this was a possibility over the summer, and was probably inevitable in the long run, but it does feel like the timing has caught a lot of people out and really impacted on the mood around the club.
In the spirit of being positive before the new season, it’s not impossible that Stan Kroenke taking on full ownership of the club will be a good thing. If he fulfills the ambitions and promises mentioned in the statement released with the news of the deal, then that’ll be great. The majority of clubs have a similar ownership structure, so much like the changes that were made with the hiring of different football executives in the last year, this deal arguably is another step into the modern footballing world for Arsenal.
Although this isn’t an exciting new owner who is swooping in looking determined to make Arsenal Football Club the best club it can be. This is a man who has had a lot of power at the club for years and overseen a period of stagnation on the field. This is where the key issue lies for me. If Kroenke showed himself to be determined to make Arsenal truly competitive again on the pitch in the Premier League and the Champions League, and Arsenal was going to be the main focus of his work, then I’d feel more positive about this. But Arsenal is just another business investment in his portfolio of sports teams, none of which have been significantly successful in recent years. For those of us who emotionally and financially (either through going to games or TV subscriptions, merchandise etc) invest a lot in following the club, that’s a worry. As Kroenke has not properly engaged with Arsenal fans in all the time that he’s been the majority shareholder, it feels like there is a lack of empathy from him to the supporters.
In addition, it is sad to see the club no longer have any fans as shareholders, and for the transparency that came with the club being on the stock exchange to come to an end. This is another source of the negativity around this deal as I don’t trust Stan Kroenke to make decisions that are in the best interests of Arsenal Football Club, in the best interests of the fans or in the pursuit of sporting success, and the fans might not know about some of these decisions as the club will be a private company.
I’ll get to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday and I’m sure I’ll get hit by the child-like excitement I have before every season. It’s still Arsenal Football Club and there are some things to be genuinely excited about. But the atmosphere on Sunday will be an interesting one. Whereas on the footballing side, there should be plenty of positivity and everyone should be behind the team and the manager, there could be an underlying unease that this is now the start of a new era in more ways than one.