Ahead of Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City in April, CEO Ivan Gazidis addressed a small group of fans in hope of shedding some light on the clubs present and future. The usual topics – transfers, Stan Kroenke and ticket prices – were discussed, before a specific phrase was uttered that made a larger impact than expected.
‘Catalyst for change’. A phrase which, in isolation, sounds encouraging, with Arsenal often criticised for failing to move with the demands of modern football. But after their worst league finish under Arsene Wenger, another underwhelming transfer window and a slow start to the season, it quickly became clear that this promise needed to be delivered on before restlessness set in once again.
To his credit, Gazidis is one of very few executives at a major Premier League club to engage directly with supporters. It was an idea originally conceived to be a positive link of communication between club and fans, but on this occasion, a small slip of the tongue meant his every word would now be under the microscope. Thankfully for him, actions speak louder than words.
Arsenal recently announced the signing of Borussia Dortmund scout Sven Mislintat as their new head of recruitment, to replace Steve Rowley who is on the verge of leaving the club after 35-years.
Rowley, who was appointed the club’s chief scout by Arsene Wenger in 1996, is well respected both at the Emirates and in the wider footballing world, but remains emblematic of the stagnation under Wenger. He will be difficult to replace – but in Mislintat they will have appointed the brain and eyes of a man responsible for bringing some of the finest players in the world to prominence.
The 44-year-old, who joined Borussia Dortmund in 2009, is credited with spotting the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele who have played key roles for Die Schwarzgelben in recent years. He is also used to working with a relatively modest budget and has been repeatedly linked with a move to domestic rivals Bayern Munich, who tried to make him their new technical director two seasons ago before their efforts were knocked back.
Elsewhere, Fitness guru Darren Burgess was brought in over the summer alongside legal expert Huss Fahmy from Team Sky who will oversee player contracts – an issue very much raised to prominence thanks to Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. It remains to be seen whether these appointments will be significant enough to make the instant impact both Arsenal and Gazidis crave, but such high-profile changes even happening at all is a step in the right direction.
Gazidis’ intention to refresh an environment that had become rather stale are easier said than done. The creation of a director of football role would provide a bridge between the technical staff and the board, whilst offering a support network to the manager and ideally paving the way for an eventual succession plan for when Wenger leaves the club. Links to Michael Zorc and Raul Sanllehi – both of whom act as sporting directors for Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona respectively – hint to potential movement in that area.
There are obvious perks to a lengthy managerial reign, such as consistency, familiarity and stability, but those same perks can also become enemies of progress. Watching different players make the same mistakes, crumble at almost identical points every season and succumb to injury just as things start to look promising becomes tedious. This is what has happened in North London.
Arsenal have a number of issues to address within the squad, such as refreshing an ageing backline, adding quality to central midfield, planning for life without Ozil and Sanchez, plus trimming the fat on a hefty wage bill. They also need to appoint a head of youth development after failing to replace Andries Jonker, who left for Wolfsburg in February.
However, in Burgess, Fahmy and now Mislintat, signs are slowly beginning to appear that the culture is changing. Gazidis is no stranger to criticism but he speaks well to both the fans and media, making sure that Arsenal are in the best position to compete. Well-placed sources at the club suggest that he strongly opposed the renewal of Wenger’s contract, but as his ideal option couldn’t be achieved, refreshing everything around the manager will have to do. The complicated search for change continues but at least the right path is being taken.