It has been a summer of immense change at Arsenal.
Unai Emery is leading the Gunners into the new season after 22 years under Arsene Wenger, and the new era begins this weekend to backdrop of upheaval at board level.
From the ownership to the playing squad, we assess the changes at the Emirates Stadium ahead of their Premier League opener against Manchester City on Super Sunday.
Arsenal supporters are generally more interested in what happens on the pitch than off it, but on the eve of a massive season, the news of majority owner Stan Kroenke’s deal to take full control of the club has sent ripples through the fanbase.
Kroenke, who owns NFL franchise Los Angeles Rams and NBA side Denver Nuggets, has made a cash bid of £550m to buy out rival billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s 30 per cent stake, with sources close to the Russian telling Sky Sports News that he has decided to accept the offer and pursue other opportunities.
The purchase of Usmanov’s stake will give Kroenke 97 per cent ownership and lead to the compulsory purchase of the remaining shares, many of which are owned by Arsenal fans. The deal will give Kroenke, a deeply unpopular figure among many supporters, a free rein over the club.
A statement from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust read: “This news marks a dreadful day for Arsenal Football Club.
“The most dreadful part of this announcement is the news that Kroenke plans to forcibly purchase the shares held by Arsenal fans. Many of these fans are AST members and hold their shares not for value but as custodians who care for the future of the club.
“Kroenke’s actions will neuter their voice and involvement. It is in effect legalised theft to remove shareholder scrutiny on how Arsenal is managed. The AST is wholly against this takeover. Arsenal remains too important to be owned by any one person.”
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August 12, 2018, 3:30pm
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Kroenke’s takeover bid is not the only boardroom change in the offing. According to Sky in Italy, Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s CEO and the man who has overseen the transition from Wenger to Emery, is set to leave the club in September to become AC Milan’s executive director.
Or should that be head coach? There’s a new man – with a new job title – in the Arsenal dugout this season, with Emery signing a three-year contract to succeed Wenger in May just as the Gunners seemed set to appoint their former midfielder Mikel Arteta.
Emery won’t wield anything like the same level of control as Wenger did, but the hope is that the focus on coaching will benefit a group of players who lacked direction under the old regime.
Emery arrives from French giants Paris Saint-Germain, where he won a Ligue 1 title and six other domestic trophies in two seasons, but his work at previous clubs Valencia and Sevilla was perhaps more appealing to the decision-makers at Arsenal.
At Valencia, he secured three consecutive third-place finishes in La Liga despite the club’s perilous financial situation, and the fine work continued at Sevilla, where he inspired an unprecedented run of three Europa League wins in a row.
Emery is known for a high-intensity playing style and an obsession with video and tactics, which should make Arsenal a very different proposition from last season.
The new structure
Gazidis began implementing major structural changes at Arsenal long before Wenger’s departure.
Sven Mislintat joined from Borussia Dortmund in November to head up recruitment, driving Arsenal’s moves for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lucas Torreira in the last two transfer windows, with Raul Sanllehi arriving from Barcelona in February as Arsenal’s new head of football operations. Mislintat and Sanllehi are working closely with Huss Fahmy, who joined from Team Sky as their contract negotiator.
Arsenal stalwarts such as former chief scout Steve Rowley and former transfer negotiator Dick Law have moved on, with the new continental structure intended to take the power away from the manager. What’s unclear now, however, is how Gazidis, the man heading it all up, will be replaced if he moves to Milan.
Emery has retained Steve Bould as a first-team assistant head coach but there is a host of new faces on Arsenal’s coaching staff.
Juan Carlos Carcedo, who has worked with Emery since his Valencia days, has taken the same job title as Bould, with Pablo Villanueva joining as a first-team coach, and Julen Masach taking care of strength and conditioning under new director of high-performance Darren Burgess, who previously worked at Liverpool.
Javi Garcia, another of Emery’s trusted lieutenants, joins as goalkeeper coach and will work with Englishman Sal Bibbo, but there was no room on the team for Jens Lehmann, who reacted angrily to his release in the summer.
Emery has also brought in Victor Manas, who he first worked with at Almeria, to work as a data and video analyst. Manas is expected to play a key role in the filming and editing of the videos Emery uses to educate his players.
There have been changes at youth level, too. Per Mertesacker has become Arsenal’s academy manager, with Freddie Ljungberg returning to the club to coach the U23s.
Following on from the January signings of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, there have been five new additions since Emery’s appointment.
The 46-year-old has added experience to his defence with the signings of Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus and Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund.
Torreira looks set to play a key role in midfield following his arrival from Sampdoria, while Matteo Guendouzi, an £8m recruit from Lorient, has also impressed in pre-season.
In goal, Bernd Leno will provide competition for Petr Cech following his arrival from Bayer Leverkusen.
There have been plenty of departures, too. Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere were among the players let go, while Mertesacker moved behind the scenes and Calum Chambers has joined Fulham on loan. There are expected to be more exits before the transfer deadline, with Lucas Perez on his way to West Ham.
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