Soccer

Kroenke family says it will not sell Arsenal as club owners battle to build bridges after Super League fiasco

There was a spectacular irony to a meeting that began with technical problems keeping the star guest from being heard. Josh Kroenke quite literally could not connect with Arsenal supporters.

When Josh, son of owner Stan Kroenke and the chief power at the Emirates Stadium, did eventually manage to get on the line he had a clear message for those who would like nothing more than for him and his father to be gone post-haste. They will not get their wish, he warned.

“We have big plans to invest,” Josh said, per fan group Redaction Gooners, when asked whether the owners would be investing any of their own money in a club whose on-field stagnation led to much mirth at their expense when they announced they were joining the Super League. “We want to be great again, but a long term model does not support long term high investment.” He added that his family have “no intention of selling”.

Regardless they are certain to face significant protests ahead of Friday’s home game against Everton even if the closure of English stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic means numbers may not be as numerous as might otherwise be the case. After years of divisive issues from the Mesut Ozil saga to the future of managers Arsene Wenger and Mikel Arteta, Arsenal owners have finally stumbled upon a cause that unites supporters. They want the Kroenkes out.

It was a message consistently relayed to Josh, his father not in attendance at the clubs regular supporter forums, which brings around 15 to 20 fans together with the club’s senior leadership. This was the second either Kroenke had attended in a decade.

That much was apparent when he explained the rationale for joining the Super League, something which Vinai Venkatesham insisted the club were not an architect of.

“We asked ourselves, what is worse: a European Super League or a European Super League without Arsenal?” Josh said even as he admitted that his club had made a dreadful mistake in joining the breakaway competition. “We also asked ourselves what do the fans want? 

“The global fan wants Arsenal against Barcelona as often as possible. English fans want to see more big matches, but you also still want your cold nights in Stoke.

“We got it wrong.”

There seemed something grimly appropriate about the teams he chose. Beating a Barcelona side that rank among the sports’ greatest ever 2-1 in February 2011 was one of the high points of Arsenal’s time in the Emirates Stadium. In part his reference to Stoke City was an acknowledgement of a banner that caught the headlines during Tuesday’s protests at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge but it still was a curious reference point. 

Stoke, now in the Championship, developed a reputation as the sort of physical side who the Gunners and their fans simply loathed playing against. It was at their Britannia Stadium that Aaron Ramsey suffered a tackle that left him with a double fracture in his right leg.

Of course anyone can make an occasional slip of the tongue especially when they have not slept much over the past five days, as Josh said was the case for him. Perhaps that explains why, according to one individual who was in the meeting, he described the 2019 Europa League final as “a great trip apart from the 90 minutes.” This was the match between Arsenal and Chelsea played nearly 3,000 miles away in Baku, Azerbaijan, one which Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan could not be a part of due to security fears. Those hardy few supporters who did make the trip spent thousands of pounds, some traveling over several days and modes of transport all to watch their team collapse to a 4-1 loss to one of their greatest rivals.

Craving even more coverage of the Super League drama? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for an emergency episode.

On the whole, those in the virtual room were not entirely impressed. “The feeling I got was Josh has a lot to learn to understand football,” Peter Host, vice-president of the Arsenal Denmark supporters club told CBS Sports after the meeting. “I think maybe he wants to learn but it’s difficult to tell whether he was being genuine.”

The word that Arsenal fans have most consistently used when reflecting on events since Sunday night is humiliation. Being a club that does things in the right way is something that supporters hold dear. There can be no suggestion that the Kroenkes reflected those values in a behind closed doors carve up of European football. “How can I have conversations with counterparts at Everton and not feel uncomfortable after everything that has just happened?” says Akhil Vyas, board member of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, who has had to take time off his day job to join the fan fight against the Super League.

From ownership down, Arsenal are keen to make amends for their part in the events of recent days. Venkatesham spent time during the week calling fellow chief executives across the Premier League to apologize for the actions of his club. Any fees associated with leaving the Super League will be absorbed by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the umbrella group which owns Arsenal.

And the Kroenkes are prepared to apologize. They phoned manager Mikel Arteta to do so on Wednesday and asked him to pass the message on to the first-team squad.

Arteta, whose pre-match press conference ahead of the Everton game was naturally dominated by the Super League, acknowledged the deep damage done to the bond between supporters and their club. He offered no attempt to quell the mutinous atmosphere that is expected to engulf the Emirates Stadium, or at least its surrounding area, before kick-off tomorrow. 

“The fans have to express, that is their right and they have to do it freely,” he said. “For me, what it shows is the power and the capacity when they show that determination and passion to achieve what they want. 

“If we can use this with our fans to support the team, I think that will be incredibly powerful and it will make us much, much stronger. So it’s time to leave them to express themselves and now, somehow, we have to engage them again, get them closer to us and believing in what we do. If we do that, we’ll be in a much better place.”

Increasingly the view that unifies Arsenal supporters is that they cannot be in that better place whilst Stan Kroenke owns the club. Some would acknowledge that it is a risk pushing one owner overboard when there is such a small pool of multi-billionaires that do not bring with them moral quandaries over the source of their money, that willingly write checks and who leave football people to get on with football decisions. Those within the club who defend the owners have always insisted that the Kroenkes let the experts get on without interference although in recent years that looks rather more like inaction than shrewd management.

Josh insisted he can change. He vowed to return to London and to consult with fans should another proposal for a Super League come along. He even spoke of his belief in fan representation on the board. Fans will challenge him to prove it; the Arsenal Supporters Trust, whose membership has swelled by more than a thousand this week, have invited Josh to attend one of their meetings.

Yet it is natural that they have doubts. It has been 14 years since Stan first invested in the club, nearly three since the takeover was complete through the compulsory purchase of shares. There has been time to take all these steps, to listen more as Josh Kroenke promised he would in the summer of 2019 when a fan-led movement asked We Care Do You? For many the events of the last days have offered an emphatic answer in the negative.


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