Arsenal: Ivan Gazidis Now Has Nobody to Blame

After 22 years, Arsène Wenger has resigned. Now it’s time for the club’s CEO to step up.

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(Photo Credit: Ronnie Macdonald)

Ivan Gazidis says all the right things. Oxbridge-educated with a luxuriant tan, the South African is conciliatory and his gestures eager. He is a master of “engaging”, a glorious stage-manager and lithe maneuverer.

Watching him at a press conference on Friday, you could almost believe the departure of Arsene Wenger was a surprise rather than something he had been actively working toward.

Tieless in a solemn jacket and crisp white shirt, Gazidis’ expression was contrite and pained. Slouched over the desk and glancing down frequently at his prepared statement, his tone was plaintive as the cameras snapped.

“We’re not going to find a replacement for Arsene Wenger he mouthed.

“When we look forward, the football club is in a very different place than it was 22 years ago.”

He’s not wrong there. Arsenal’s manager was a relic from the pre-oligarch age, and his departure finally allows Gazidis to mould the club in the image of Europe’s elite. Gone is the domineering coach with the final say on sporting matters. Now, every function will be corporatised, every decision made by committee and spreadsheet. Gazidis, with his bottom lines and crafted statements, will be the new boss in a technocratic new era in North London.

He has worked scrupulously for this day. The arrival of Sven Mislintat, a move agreed in express defiance of Wenger’s wishes, was the most blatant bludgeon at his manager’s authority. Now, with attendances dwindling and the club on course for its worst finish in two decades, the knives have finally been drawn.

It’s important that Gunners fans do not ascribe too much of their angst to their chief executive. When the news of Wenger’s resignation finally broke on Friday morning, some of his most vociferous critics were flooded with remorse. In the search for someone to blame, Gazidis is an appealing target.

A cold-eyed analysis, though, can only conclude that the Frenchman had to go. A lack of tactical preparation and continuing bungles in the transfer market did as much to sully Wenger’s position as any boardroom backstabbing. His marquee investments in the Emirates era–Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Ozil–have failed to pay off consistently, whilst his players have been alienated too often by a dithering, ponderous playing style.

Gazidis might have finally got what he wanted, but he no longer has anyone else to blame if things go wrong either. Arsenal’s next manager, and the club’s strategic direction, as a result, will be decided by him alone.

In October, the club AGM offered a stiffening glimpse of what to expect. Receiving torrents of abuse from the crowd, Gazidis offered an impassioned response of the club’s recruitment policies.

On an objective basis, we perform very well and have over a long period of time,” he said of a strategy that has spent nearly £100 million on Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka. 

Over the next few weeks, Arsenal fans will devote themselves to giving their long-serving manager the send-off that his record deserves. They should also, however, pay close attention to how their club changes in the short and longer term. Wenger might have already gone, but the club’s soul is in peril too.

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