Ivan, thanks for taking time out to speak to Firstly, we’ll kick off with the great news that Robin van Persie has signed a new long-term contract. Everyone at the Club must be delighted?

Ivan Gazidis: We’re very happy that Robin has committed his long-term future to the Club.  He is a world-class footballer and an important part of the team we are building.  He is 25 years old and will now be with Arsenal through the peak years of his career. Robin is also a very popular member of the squad – with supporters, team mates and staff – and, to accompany his skills, he’s a fierce competitor.

Sometimes, understandably, the public focus is on new signings, but, especially as the football world becomes more and more competitive for the best talent, re-signing a current member of the squad is as important as – actually, usually more important than – making a new signing. This is another indication that we are focused on keeping our best talent here and are building a strong foundation for the long-term success of the Club.

It’s been just over a month since we played our final match of last season, can you tell us what’s been happening at the Club during the close season?

We started focusing on next season the moment the season ended.  The focus is on doing all we can to give the team every chance of success next year. We moved quickly to make an important early signing in Thomas Vermaelen. Thomas was the Ajax captain and a defender with a great deal of club and international experience with both Ajax and Belgium. Arsène identified Thomas as someone who can add something to our squad and we are confident that he will be welcomed by the fans and make a big impact on our team.  He will be with us from the beginning of the pre-season.

We will continue to sign players like Thomas and Andrey Arshavin, but only if they add something to the squad.
In addition, we’ve been very focused on securing long-term contract extensions to six first team players. As well as confirming Robin van Persie today, Lukasz Fabianski, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere have all committed their long-term futures to the Club. As I’ve said, these signings, while they don’t get the same media attention, are as important as new signings in developing the team. Four of this group are full internationals, and the other two, Gibbs and Wilshere, are two of the finest young English prospects in the game.  It is important for the long-term success of the Club that we keep our best talent.

In addition to the on-field focus, I have been spending time identifying first-class executives to add to our terrific off-field management team. While this can seem unconnected to the Club’s success from the outside, as someone with 15 years of sports business experience, I know just how important having the right behind-the-scenes team is to our fan experience and on-field success.  I have been delighted by the quality of the candidates I have identified and they will help the current team in driving the organisation forward in the next phase of its growth.

In the meantime, we successfully hosted the Summertime Ball at Emirates Stadium, where 16 famous music artists, including Lionel Ritchie and Leona Lewis played in front of over 50,000 people.
And we’re also planning ahead for the Emirates Cup, which will be a great festival of football.  With Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Rangers, the tournament will also provide a high quality of pre-season preparation for all the teams. It’s a great introduction to the new season.

Finally, we are planning some significant enhancements to the stadium which I think our fans will love.

Ivan, there was a Board Meeting last Thursday, which we’re sure many topics were discussed as usual. It has been reported in the media that the Board was due to discuss the pros and cons of some form of capital raising. Can you just explain the background to this and tell us anything you can about the Board’s conclusion?

The Board, with its financial advisors Rothschild, considered thoroughly the proposal to use permanent equity capital to either pay down debt or to add to the Club’s spending in the transfer market. With regard to debt, the conclusion reached is that the Club has a very efficient capital structure with long-term debt on attractive interest rates. We can comfortably afford to meet the annual costs of this debt while at the same time generating surplus funds to invest in the Club. Using permanent capital to pay down debt would not, therefore, radically transform the annual cash flow of the Club.

With regard to players, the Board decided not to issue permanent capital in the hopes of signing one or two players in an inflated transfer market. Instead, the focus continues to be on securing the services of talented young players we have on long-term contracts and making very selective acquisitions, only where a new signing will add real value to our already strong squad.

We have developed some of the best young players in the world, as they showed by advancing to the last four in the Champions League. Simply spending money in the transfer market does not make a team or guarantee success. We have followed a slightly different route to most and have built, not bought, a team that has players who are highly sought after and valued by the biggest and best clubs in the world. But we intend to keep them!

The Club, supported by the talents of Arsène Wenger, has embarked on a longer-term strategy of building its team rather than buying it. There’s a football graveyard of clubs that have not adhered to these principles and have unfortunately suffered the consequences. Our responsibility is to build the Club so that it can be successful, not just this season and next season, but also ten and even twenty years from now.

So Ivan, with the 2009/2010 season just over a month away, what are your thoughts going into the new campaign?

We’re laser focused on next season. Our young players have some very valuable high level experience under their belts and will be one year older and better, mentally and physically. They will learn the lessons from last season and will be better players next year as a result. They are ready for the challenge, believe me. If we have a successful and healthy pre-season preparation, we will have extra depth in the squad, with a fully-fit Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky returning, and Andrey Arshavin eligible for all competitions. In addition, Thomas Vermaelen will be available from the outset.

Our young players proved they are the best Youth team in the country by winning the League and FA Youth Cup double, and so the pipeline for the future is also solid. It’s important we are realistic with ourselves and our need to improve. But it’s also important that we look at the positive side as well as the negative.

Last season, we reached the final stages of two major competitions in the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup, and qualified for the Champions League for the 12th consecutive season – a record matched by only Manchester United and Real Madrid. And remember, this was all achieved with a squad that has an average age of under 23.  There are many world-class teams around Europe who would have loved to have reached the last four in the Champions League.

And, while we had trouble finding our fluency at times against resolute defences, we began to achieve greater consistency as the season wore on, remaining unbeaten in the Premier League for 21 matches between November 2008 and April 2009.

Ultimately, we finished as the second highest scorers in the FA Premier League with 68 goals. Our Champions League run was underpinned by a superb defensive record, by not conceding at home until the semi-finals, keeping six consecutive clean sheets in the process.  And in 2009, no team has lost fewer games than Arsenal in the Premier League. There are plenty of reasons to look forward to next season with optimism.

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8 Jul 2009