We spoke to Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis on Wednesday about Arsene Wenger's new two-year contract, the ambitions of the club and what the future holds.
Here is a transcript of his exclusive interview with Arsenal Player:
Ivan, the club and Arsene have signed a new two-year contract. What’s the thinking behind that decision?
I will start by stating what the ambition is. The ambition is to put this club in a position where we are winning the Premier League, where we are competing to win in Europe and pushing forward. Football is constantly evolving and we need to evolve and move forward and improve with that. That is the objective that the club has, that our owner has, that the board has and that I know Arsene has. Arsene is somebody I have worked with for over eight years now, and I know the quality of the man, I know the quality of him as a football person and I know the quality of him as a human being as well. Those values that he has, those qualities, are world class in every respect. His DNA is the same DNA as this club. He is driven to move forward, he is driven to evolve and he is driven to achieve those objectives of winning for this club and making those fans proud. When you look at the world of football, and you think about the great candidates that there are - and there are many great coaching candidates in the world and Arsenal is a club that all of them would want to work for because of the things we represent in football - but when you look around and make that assessment, you don’t find any better candidates than Arsene Wenger.
According to reports, there was a contract on the table in the autumn. Why didn’t the announcement come earlier than this?
It is not really a question about contract discussions, that is not the issue here. The issue is a deep conversation on Arsene’s side and on the club’s side about what is right for Arsenal Football Club. It is not about people, it is not about contracts, it is about Arsenal Football Club. It is a very mature conversation that involved conversations between people who have deep respect for each other and who care about the football club, and want to make the right decision to push the club forward towards its goals. That is a decision we wanted to think very deeply about: is this the right decision, both for Arsene and for the club, but above all for the club. That is the reason we have reached the decision we have, because I think on both sides there is a recommitment to the future and to moving the club forward, to evolving and to improving. We have the right person for that and I know Arsene is committed to that. Looking forward this is not a sentimental decision, this is not a backwards-looking decision, this is all about looking forward. Arsene does not look backwards, and neither does this club. We are looking forward and we are confident about the future with Arsene.
It’s a two-year deal. Do you know yet what happens after that?
We don’t. Football is constantly evolving, constantly changing. This is a two-year deal so we are looking at at least the next two years. Again, at some point of course we will have to transition to the era beyond Arsene and that is not a sentimental connection that we have, that is a connection that is driven by what is best for the football club. I will say this, this is not just the club not being sentimental, this is Arsene not being sentimental either. Arsene would not make this commitment if he did not believe he could push this club forward. That is an assessment we continue to make as we move into the future, and who knows what the future holds.
You’ve talked about building on the manager’s work and going to the next level. What constitutes the next level for this club?
The next level is to get us from where we are, to competing deep into the season for the Premier League. If we are at that level and of that quality, then we can compete in all competitions. That is what we want to do, and the differences in football are not massive - I know the judgements are black and white, but in reality the differences can be down to small details, periods when you in bad form but find a way to fight through, a player who is available as opposed to injured, the right mental decisions and right mental approach through the year, unity within the club and the support base - all of these things play a part and make a difference at the end of the season. So we have to get all of those things right across the club, on the pitch and off the pitch, to make sure we are in a world-class environment and have a world-class attitude with that goal in mind. Again, I would say we have discussed this very deeply, we have faced uncomfortable truths within the club, inconvenient facts, and we are looking at them squarely in the face and working out what we need to do improve and step up from where we are to that winning level. I am convinced we have the right person to do that.
The critics have said that a top-four finish seems to be enough for Arsenal. I presume you would say nothing is further from the truth…
I think that’s just absolutely not true. The objective is not [just] to finish in the top four. I know people will jump to that conclusion because we’ve done that so consistently for so long, but that’s not what where we’re moving to. If we think about where we finished last year, we finished in second place, invested over £100m in the transfer market, the biggest investment this club has ever made. It was made to push ourselves forward. There’s a lot of things happening under the surface that are not public. The new facilities we’re building, the new improvements we’re making all around our support staff, as well as on the field. All of this is driven towards the ambition of winning the Premier League. Does it mean you can win the Premier League every year? Of course nobody can guarantee that but that is the ambition. I think in football, the judgements are so black and white that often, if you don’t fire your manager, then you’re seen as being unambitious. I think that’s ludicrous. You don’t fire good people, you don’t fire people who are world-class, you don’t fire people who are driven to improve. What you do is work out how you can improve together and how you can move forward. That’s what this club is doing and we have a very clear ambition that we want to deliver it in.
You’ve touched on the fans’ frustrations this season. What message have you got for those fans?
I would say that what we want to deliver is pride to our fans, the kind of pride that we had at Wembley Stadium this weekend. Those are magnificent moments that live in the memories and the history of the football club forever. To me, that feeling of unity that we had at Wembley, that support that we had from our fanbase, made a massive difference to that performance and the way the players were able to respond. We’ve had a tremendously strong end to the season where we’ve seen some of the divisions that we’ve had put on the side for the sake of the football club. Again, I would say let’s put the football club above everything else. Let’s get behind this team because they deserve our fans’ support. Together, we can achieve great things. Remember, the motto of this football club is ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’, victory through harmony. We need to restore that harmony by getting behind the team to achieve success together. That’s where we have a chance.
What happens if the fans continue to criticise the manager and the board?
We have to deliver performances to get the fans behind this team. We’re very conscious of that. It’s up to us to lead through the commitment we have on and off the pitch. We need to show that to the fans and we will. I’m convinced that our fanbase will put the football club at the top of their priorities and will get behind this team. Together, we are much, much stronger than we are when we are arguing and trying to prove who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s get behind the team, let’s get behind the club. We’ve seen progression at this football club in the last few years and Arsene’s seen us through a very difficult period where financially we didn’t have the kind of capabilities that we have today. In the last three or four years, we’ve seen an era where we can sign players like Mesut Ozil or Alexis or Granit Xhaka and others. We’ve seen the club move forward and we’ve seen vast improvements across all our support operations underneath the surface as well. All of this had led to three FA Cups in four years. I don’t say that to say that’s our ultimate ambition and we’re satisfied and feeling self-satisfied about that, but I do think that the environment we’ve been in at times has been very difficult. Again, I would say that we can achieve a lot more together so let’s come together and push this team forward.
Where do we need to improve as a club on and off the pitch, and how do we go about reviewing that?
We do this continually by the way. We talk continually about how we can evolve and what’s happening in football. It’s constantly evolving and we need to be not only evolving with it, but we need to be ahead of it. We’re very conscious of that and we’re going to be very proactive again to improve both on and off the field in all areas. Today’s not the day to get into the specifics of that. I think you’ll see that commitment in the months ahead and I think you’ll see that commitment coming into next year.
What are your hopes for next season?
Well, what I hope is that we can start the season strongly, we can have that sense of togetherness and hope that drives football at every football club. And that we can achieve great things together. I want this football club, Arsene wants this football club, our board and our owner want this football club to be competing to win the Premier League. And that’s my hope for next season.
Before that we head off on tour - first stop Sydney. How excited are you about that - have you been before?
I have, I lived in Sydney for three months when I was a student and it’s a city that I love. It’s absolutely spectacularly beautiful. I’m delighted that we’re able to visit Sydney and I can reacquaint myself with it. I’ve got relatives there and it’s going to be a brilliant preparation for the team, a great way to connect with the very big Australian fanbase that we have and a wonderful, wonderful place for our players to visit that we’re looking forward to.
Let’s finish with that incredible day at Wembley. An FA Cup win is always special but what do you think made this year’s success so satisfying?
You know, I’ve spoken to so many fans, many of whom have been fortunate enough to see many Arsenal FA Cup victories, as many as 10 and 11. And all of them say that this was the greatest one. I think it’s partly because of the difficult period that the club went through and the team went through, partly because we were the underdogs in the match, playing against the champions who were coming off an absolute high, having finished the season so well and having won the Premier League. We ourselves had picked ourselves up and had an incredibly strong run of results towards the end of the season, but in the end had that disappointment, really profound disappointment of missing out on the Champions League places by one point. So for the team to have the leadership and the strength to pick themselves up and to come back, put in a performance like that for the fans, which really was such a strong performance against a top class team in a top class game, and to have the fans completely unified behind them, was an incredibly powerful statement about what we can do together. I was phenomenally impressed, not just by the performance of our players, but also by the way that our fans got behind the team and I’d love to take that forward into next season.
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