... and we're back, starting our week on a Wednesday. I wish all weeks started like this.
This evening I have the pleasure of attending an Ask Ivan Q&A with the AST. This year he's not taking open questions from the floor so he can research the topics and give better answers.
What? That's perfectly plausible?
To be honest, I shouldn't pick holes in the evening. Not many CEO's arse themselves with things like fan forums so we should be grateful. Hopefully he'll take a few curve ball questions from the floor, but even if he doesn't, these are the topics he's promised to cover off.
Those key themes are:
- The club's footballing expectations for this coming season, 2012/2013, and whether qualifying for the Champions League is the extent of the club's ambitions
- The new Elite Player Performance Plans being introduced and what this will mean for youth development at Arsenal
- The future of the Arsenal Fanshare scheme and club support to promote continued plurality in the ownership through supporter shareholders
- What progress Ivan Gazidis feels has been made in his first three years at the club and an update on the club's five year strategic plan
- What lessons have been learned from last summer's transfer window to make sure things go more smoothly and successfully this year, and the position regarding Robin van Persie
- How the club will drive commercial income aggressively in the short term given the long-terms tie-ins on stadium naming, kit rights and shirt sponsorship and the need for more tertiary and overseas deals
- The club's view of Financial Fair Play regulations and what plans we have should they have little impact
- Given that Arsenal now has two billionaire investors owning over 96% of the club, is there a case for them investing funds to put us on a competitive footing before FFP starts to bite?
- Arsène Wenger's statement that he does not intend to do much business in the transfer market this summer and a feeling from many AST members that the team needs further strengthening. Can the Board reassure supporters that there are funds to invest?
- The club's wage structure and whether it is hindering Arsenal's chances of success by not being spent efficiently
- How many more shares Red & White holdings need to obtain before they have access to the full accounts and why won't the Arsenal Board at the very least engage in dialogue with Mr Usmanov and Red and White Holdings?
Some pretty meaty topics in there to cover off. My worry is that we sit through and hour of cliched Arsenal PR. That's kind of what last years was like. My question was the only one that tripped him last year. The rest of his answers were so slick he could be working for Obama.
My questions would definitely be similar to the ones Geoff has posed over the past few days. What exactly has he achieved outside some supreme administration? As far as I can see, the club hasn't progressed one bit from where it was when he took over. Unless we truly do enjoy bragging about what a slickly run organisation we are when we're down the pub with our mates?
'Seriously Dave... our electronic invoicing systems reduced price errors by 32% inside a year, do you realise what that's done to our bottom line?'
We've become progressively worse at striking deals for players we're interested in (Kagawa, Hazard, Vertonghen), we've lost our best players every year and we've had an absolute disaster at signing our stars down to long term deals whilst having a hugely succesful run at tying our worst players down to 14 year deals. Like Geoff said yesterday, it's ok pointing out that we're an incredibly well club when it comes to outlay on player purchases, but we're not exactly sensible with the money when it comes to dishing it out to people who don't deserve it.
If we were a normal company, like say a bank, you'd probably suggest the pay structure was a bit like pigs in a trough. Spending almost exactly our limit of wages regardless of who you're compensating...
As Ivan knows he might get a rough ride tonight, the club have prepared this little transcript for your viewing pleasure.
On the 2011/12 season…
Ivan Gazidis said: It was a challenging season, we went through a lot of transition in the team with nine new players coming in. We really lost the creative hub of the team for different reasons, with Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere so that was a challenge for us going into the season. I think we were under intense pressure at times during the season but I felt that the team and the fans came together at critical times. We have ended the season in third place with guaranteed qualification for next season's Champions League and that allows us to plan with certainty going into next year.
But none of this is cause for popping champagne corks at Arsenal. We want to win things. So while it is a creditable performance it is not achieving our ambition. What we have to work out this summer is how we can take the Club on and take a step forward. That is what we are working hard on at the moment.
I like the last paragraph, but we've heard it so many times before.
On the supporters…
Ivan Gazidis said: Our away fans are magnificent, we have the best away support in the league. Everywhere we go we know we have their backing and that really does make a difference. To have it come together here in a similar kind of way at Emirates Stadium [is great]. It has happened in the past but I think the way it has happened week after week, you felt that this place was becoming a really difficult place for opposition teams to come. Even when we were down a goal with two minutes to go, you always felt like we could get there and our fans had that belief. That is something I would love for us to carry forward into next year.
One for the fans, do you feel the love?
On football ambitions for 2012/13…
Ivan Gazidis said: We want to win major competitions, we want to win the Premier League. We want to compete to win the Champions League and that is our ambition. That is what we are planning for during the course of the summer and everything we do is geared towards that, it is very simple.
Again, so simple, yet so incomprehensibly difficult for the club to execute. What does it say when you know what you're supposed to be doing, but you don't do it?
Developments this summer…
Ivan Gazidis said: I think the good thing about this summer is that there is more certainty in terms of our Champions League position. We have acted early to get the critical signing in Lukas Podolski. Our fans will be able to see him compete at the Euros and see what a very good player he is. The great thing about Lukas is that not only can he contribute goals, but he can also play in different positions so you get tremendous versatility and Arsenal class. He is technically a top-class player and that was a good early addition for us.
I think the way that the window will pan out is with some activity before the Euros, particularly with respect to the European players who are playing, the quieter period while the Euros are actually taking place and then a period of activity afterwards. We always try and conduct our activity as early as we can, everybody wants to do that. But I would say an even bigger overriding priority is to make sure that we get the right pieces in place. We have a good squad which is very solid across all areas, we have developed a very solid British core of young players and this is the youngest squad in the Premier League. They are developing year on year.
Some of the players we have brought in, for example Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny at the back, are developing in the Premier League and I think this is a year for them to really step forward and show what they can do with some experience under their belts.
Then we have some experienced players who bring know-how into the team, players like Mikel Arteta, Andre Santos - those types of players who come in and add something a little bit different. The key for us is not the volume of signings we might make but that the signings we make add something to the squad. That is something Arsène thinks extremely carefully about and for all of the pressure he is placed under, he tends to make good decisions.
*Ivan, I think after watching our team disintegrate year after year because the squad is so wafer thin, maybe it's a little bit about the volume as well as the quality? Let's be honest as well, it's not like it's going to take worldclass to make a difference to quite a few areas in our squad. Arteta isn't world class and look at the difference he made.
Robin van Persie…
Ivan Gazidis said: Robin sat down with us at the end of the season and we had a good discussion. What we agreed at that meeting was that we would keep all the discussions we had over the summer to ourselves and make announcements when it is the right time. We have to respect the fact we have agreed to keep that among ourselves. Robin is clearly focused on the Euros at the moment and we wish him well, and at the right time we will make the right announcements. But at the moment we are not saying anything.
Hmmm... it doesn't sound positive, but at the same time, it doesn't sound negative? I'm lost with this one...
Ivan Gazidis said: One of the things we have to do as a club is become less reliant on our match day revenue. As a big club we are very reliant on the revenues we generate in the stadium, more so than any other big club. That has really been the impetus and catalyst for what we do globally and how we develop ourselves around the world. We take advantage of the fact we have fans all around the world and we can connect with them.
So you are seeing the Club go on international tours for the first time. That is a tremendous step forward and has been welcomed by our international fan base. Our partners are also welcoming that development. We are developing our commercial revenues and our commercial partnerships well ahead of our five-year plan. They are going very well and we are seeing renewal of major partnerships like Citroën. We are seeing new partners come in like Indesit or Betsson and most recently we have just announced Malta Guinness in Africa. So there are tremendous developments on the commercial front and that is important for the Club that we have partners who can help us to connect with fans all around the world, develop our commercial revenue streams and take some of the pressure off locally-generated revenues here in London. We are well on track in that.
Commercial partnerships are always going to be significantly lower if your'e selling a club without star players and prestigious trophies in the cupboard.
Commercial activities to fund on-field activities…
Ivan Gazidis said: The reason we are doing all of this is to invest in what we have on the football side. We don't take money out of the Club, all of it is reinvested and as we develop our commercial revenues all of that money goes back in onto the pitch and enables us to compete at higher levels. Arsenal Football Club has developed from one which certainly had a wonderful tradition and history, but we have an ambition to be one of the best clubs in the world. That is not an easy ambition to fulfil, particularly in a way that asserts your independence. We are not relying on anybody to do that for us, we are doing it on our own two feet and that is challenging.
It's difficult to become the best club in the world without spending any money, which appears to be our strategy.
But when you look at the steps this club has taken throughout its history, they have always been forward-looking. Where we are aiming to be is at the very top table of clubs in the world. That is a journey in which we are still on because we are not where we want to be yet. But we are making progress. The stadium is one tremendous representation of that and a major step forward. But the next major step forward is going to be driven by people in the Club and our ability to grow our commercial revenues so we can continue to compete with the very best clubs in the world for the best talent.
Looking ahead to Nigeria...
Ivan Gazidis said: This year because we don't have an Emirates Cup tournament, we took advantage of that free weekend to go to Nigeria, which is a place where Arsenal has a tremendous following. We have really experienced that on the visits we have made out there this year. Of course we have Kanu too, who is a legend in Nigeria and has strong Arsenal connections. From the outset it was very clear we would get a fantastic reception in Nigeria. This is not something I see us doing every year going forward - a long weekend break - but this year we had the opportunity.
In future years we will go back to the Emirates Cup format right back here in Islington. We will be celebrating 100 years in Islington [in 2013] and it is important that we don't lose that focus. We talk a lot about the global brand because it is is very important. We have spoken about the development of our commercial revenues and connecting with our fans around the world. All modern football clubs have to do that if they want to be successful. But the roots of this club are very much here in Islington. We have a new stadium which we were so proud to deliver in our own ancestral home and these are very important things for us. In future years we will be coming back to the Emirates Cup format where our fans will be able to see the new team unveiled in their home environment.
No Emirates Cup? What are we going to win now! Jokes aside... I think it's great we're heading out to Nigeria. Just keep an eye on Arsene, he'll be out in the Niger Delta tapping oil as a revenue stream.
Working closely with Stan Kroenke…
Ivan Gazidis said: Stan Kroenke has been on the board for a number of years and has been working very closely, especially in the last year since he assumed majority ownership, with Arsène Wenger and with me. We have had his full support in everything we have wanted to do with the football club. We have had tremendous input from him along the way - bearing in mind he owns sports teams across all kinds of different sports and has years and years of experience. He is not just a successful businessman in his own right, but he is also a very experienced and knowledgable sports owner. That has been a fantastic asset for us to have on the board and now as a majority owner. He could not have been more supportive and his ambition is very simple - he wants this football club to win trophies. He has supported us every step of the way as we have tried to put the pieces in place to do that.
That awkward moment in a board meeting when Stan suggests a hot quarter back we could sign...
Message for fans...
Ivan Gazidis said: I would like to thank the supporters. This at times has been a really challenging season. This football club was placed under terrific pressure at times and I think, for a different club, there would have been the possibility that we would begin to fall apart, panic and make decisions that would have been bad. That is not what happened.
When we had our most difficult times this football club came together. The supporters, the team, the front office staff, the back office staff - they all came together. It was that strength and that unity that managed to pull our season back on track this year. My message to our fans is that we are doing everything in our power to make sure that Arsenal can challenge for trophies next year. That is what this summer is about and that is what we are focused on for next year. We have a good team, we have a good young core of players and we need everybody involved to have belief so that we can push forward into next year and make a run at the Premier League trophy and for the Champions League. We believe we can do that.
Right, there you have it... the official spin. Let's see what he has to offer later on this evening. The full report, on your screens, tomorrow at 0900.
If you want the early snippets, follow us on twitter for all the goss.
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