After Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League, one question was asked by most Arsenal fans and it is the one that has been asked all season: “Arteta in or out?” However, this is the wrong question, what is often called in science a first-order question, i.e. a direct question about a problem.
By contrast, a second-order question is one that requires a deeper understanding of a problem, which is asked to try and establish its underlying cause. So, the real or second-order question about Arsenal in 2022 is not, “Arteta in or out?”, but, “Can ANY Arsenal manager succeed under the Kroenkes?” On all the evidence so far, the answer has to be no.
How Arsenal Ownership Makes Managing Arsenal Impossible
Manager after Manager Struggles Under Arsenal Ownership
Brief History of the Kroenkes’ Arsenal Ownership
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment has been in charge of Arsenal for over a decade, completing their purchase of major shares in 2018 when they bought the last shares of Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Arsenal are lucky not to have been owned outright, or even in part, by Usmanov, an oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin, or they might have faced the same sanctions as Chelsea under Roman Abramovich. However, it is arguable that Arsenal dodged one bullet only to run straight into another one.
It’s Not Just About The Money
Most Arsenal fans’ main complaint about the Kroenkes is that they have not spent enough money to keep the club competitive. Although there is some debate about the exact amount the Kroenkes have invested, they have certainly not spent anything like the amount spent by either the Premier League nouveau riche (Manchester City and Chelsea, with Newcastle now added to that list) or England’s two traditional superpowers (Manchester United and Liverpool).
However, it is possible to put aside the issue of investment and still criticise the Kroenkes for their ownership of Arsenal, who remain the third most successful club in English history, with 13 League titles (including three Premier League titles) and a record 14 FA Cup wins. That is because the Kroenkes have been guilty of other glaring failures that show they are not fit to run a club of Arsenal’s size, stature and historical success.
Arsenal’s Wait For English Title Drags On
Next year, it will be 19 years (and counting) since Arsenal last won the English League title, which will be the longest period the club has gone without a top-flight title since they first won one in 1930-31, nearly 100 years ago. Since that initial triumph and the near-decade of domination that followed it, during which time Arsenal won four other League titles, they have twice gone 18 years without winning a League: first, between 1953 and 1971; and then again between 1971 and 1989.
That shows that, after the 1930s Golden Age, Arsenal have never been as dominant again. However, it also shows that there has always existed within the club and its fanbase an amazing resilience that has always enabled Arsenal to reinvent itself after fallow periods and return to the top again. That was true in the early 1970s, when Bertie Mee led Arsenal to the 1970 Fairs Cup and then the League and Cup Double in 1971. And it was true again in the mid-1980s when David Dein, a lifelong fan, bought into Arsenal and over the next two decades oversaw extraordinary success, in what might be called Arsenal’s “Silver Age”, which was made possible by his appointment of two great managers in George Graham and Arsène Wenger.
What Arsenal need in 2022 is a similar kind of reinvention, led by true Arsenal men (or women) who care about the club, know its history and know that it should compete for Premier Leagues and Champions Leagues, and not just domestic cups and Champions League qualification. However, what Arsenal have instead are the Kroenkes, which brings us neatly to the second major charge against them.
Arsenal Ownership Has Lack of Football Knowledge
The Kroenkes’ background is in US sport, where they have achieved occasional but not sustained success with the various NFL, NBA and NHL teams they own. Their knowledge of football has always been limited to the point of non-existent. That was proven again recently when Josh Kroenke, the junior Kroenke who is most closely involved with running Arsenal, admitted that he still didn’t really understand the fervour that most Arsenal fans (like most football fans in general) have for their club. He said that was different to the relationship most US sports fans have with their teams and he still struggled to understand it.
Stan Kroenke, owner of both Arsenal & NFL side LA Rams, lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Super Bowl LVI last night. #afc pic.twitter.com/5fvnIAYsWY
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) February 14, 2022
However, worse than the Kroenkes’ lack of knowledge of football is their lack of interest in it. That is proven by their absentee ownership. They have always adopted a “hands-off” approach, hardly ever attending games and initially leaving Arsène Wenger to oversee a long period of decline after his first great decade, simply because he always achieved Champions League qualification. However, that approach continued after Wenger left in 2018, with KSE leaving the running of Arsenal to successive executives and directors – Ivan Gazidis, Raúl Sanllehí, Sven Mislintat et al – and, worse still, abandoning the footballing side to successive managers who were not qualified to take over a club of Arsenal’s standing. First, there was Unai Emery, who, despite his success with Villareal, has always been more of a Europa League manager than a Champions League manager. And then there was Mikel Arteta, who had never managed any club before and would never have been considered as a manager by any of Arsenal’s major domestic rivals.
It is in comparison with those rivals that KSE’s shortcomings are most brutally exposed. Either they appointed a proven title-winning or Champions League-winning manager, as with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, or they installed experienced executives to oversee managers, as has been the case at both Manchester City and Liverpool but also Chelsea and now, in all likelihood, at Newcastle. By contrast, Arsenal are run by two relative novices: Edu, the director of football (in his first major club job); and Arteta, the manager.
What proves the Kroenkes’ lack of interest in football is the comparison that can be made with their NFL club, the LA Rams, which won this year’s Super Bowl. In January, when Edu and Arteta somehow weakened rather than strengthened Arsenal’s squad by allowing Aubameyang, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and others to leave without replacing them, the Kroenkes, especially Stan Kroenke himself, visibly supported Sean McVay, the still relatively inexperienced Rams Head Coach. They signed proven talent, such as Vonn Miller and Odell Beckham Junior, to see the Rams through to Super Bowl success. And now that they have won a Super Bowl, there is no doubt that they will be even more interested in their American football team than in their English football team, even though the former has traditionally been an also-ran and the latter traditionally a member of the elite.
Arsenal Ownership Seek Financial Returns
Finally, having begun by putting aside the issue of money, it is necessary to return it. That is because ultimately the Kroenkes only appear interested in owning Arsenal not for the glory it could bring but for the money it could generate. Like many owners of big European clubs, they believe that a “European Super League” of some kind is inevitable, despite the false start last year that was defeated by an alliance of fans, non-ESL teams and Governments. The Kroenkes want Arsenal to be a founder member of any ESL, at which point they would presumably sell it to the highest bidder and return to US sports exclusively.
However, the footballing tragedy for Arsenal and its fans is that that day may never come and it is certainly unlikely to come for at least another five years. In the meantime, KSE will continue to be absentee owners of Arsenal, entrusting it to a football director and manager who are learning on the job (and therefore, entirely understandably, continually making mistakes), while their real sporting love is in LA.
So, Will It Be Another 33 Years Before Arsenal Challenge For The League Title Again?
26 May 2022 was the 33rd anniversary of Anfield ’89, the greatest triumph in the history of Arsenal, which was celebrated by Arsenal fans, who rightly pointed out that even Manchester City’s two last-day title triumphs, in 2012 and again this year, were as nothing compared to Arsenal’s feat of beating arguably the best team in Europe in their own stadium by two clear goals.
However, many Arsenal fans fear that it might be another 33 years before Arsenal challenge for the League again. That is because the club is owned by a distant, disinterested sporting emperor for whom it is the most unimportant of far-flung outposts, as evidenced by his lack of investment and interest. That is why it doesn’t matter whether Arteta is in or out. Until the Kroenkes are out, it is incredibly unlikely that any Arsenal manager will ever truly succeed again.