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A Lack Of Leadership At Arsenal Hinders it’s Progress

Stan Kroenke Arsenal Owner FFP Finances

When we were in the height of what we lovingly refer to as the “banter years” and most people had already decided it was time to move on from Arsene Wenger, many were worried about the vacuum that would be left behind. Some nine months since Wenger last closed the door to his office, a lot of the worries, especially about leadership were well founded.

Whether it’s true or not, there is a growing perception that Arsenal keeps stumbling into an organizational mess of epic proportions. On-the-pitch and off-the-pitch the absence of leadership are firmly out in the open and is one of the prime reasons we seem listless and are sliding back even further from the rest of the big six.

There is all over the place a lack of accountability. On the pitch when players make mistakes, no one is holding them accountable in that moment. When the manager seems to veer from his philosophy and the “Arsenal way” so quickly and so often, no one is holding his feet to the fire. Finally, when there is no one at the top providing a clear vision of the path forward and the expectations for the club and HOLDING everyone below them. Arsenal will find themselves in the state they are in.

The players

A long time ago, in a footballing era, far, far away, we had players of fire and brimstone who forced their teammates to tow the line or face the scorn of the captain. Who can forget the story of Tony Adams grabbing Lee Dixon by the throat and forcibly telling him “We do not lose to Tottenham?”

The message from captain to player was clear, you do your part to make sure we don’t lose this match. And they didn’t.

Adams and Vieira, they held their teammates accountable and the fire and brimstone captain is gone, we’ve not had it on the field since Paddy left.

Of course, football has changed, and that type of player is no longer around. It’s been replaced by players who are more focused on themselves and only care about what they get out of being in a squad – be it paycheck or trophies.

There is no longer an attachment to the squad, club or locality they play in. They are only concerned with themselves, the social media outreach to fans and their next big contract.

No longer do they hold each other accountable. Sure, there is pointing and gesticulating and some yelling, buts it’s more because they don’t want to look like they did something wrong.

Sure, some of what is happening on the pitch is systemic and isn’t the fault of the players. But there are individual errors happening in all facets of our game and at the time it happens, no one is holding someone to account.

Of course, we’ve made more difficult by appointing no less than five captains. Two of those five don’t play with any regularity and one is being publicly ostracized. Another is the back-up goalkeeper who also doesn’t play. Our supposed primary captain has never displayed any true leadership skills and is part of the problem that our back-four looks disorganized when playing.

Maybe in this era of the “only-me” player, we’ll never get captains like the old greats. We have to accept that, but someone out there has to step up and force their teammates to take a good hard look at themselves.

The manager

It may seem a little unfair calling out Unai Emery for a lack of leadership. By all accounts, he is one who tends to hold his players accountable – at least on the surface.

Unlike Arsene, he doesn’t tend to stick with players who need time to get into a rhythm. No, if he thinks you aren’t cutting it, you are not likely going to be on the pitch too long with him.

Still, leadership comes in many forms and we all got in line with Emery, even those who weren’t for his appointment, when he talked about his playing philosophy and being antagonistic on and off the ball. He was keen to retain Arsenal’s playing values while adding his own take on it.

Now, late into the season, Emery has abandoned his playing philosophy and gone is trying to build up from the back and press from the front. He’s fluctuated from three at the back to four. The creativity is lacking from the side and we seem to set up more to play defensively then we do to be antagonistic in any phase of the game.

It’s that lack of leadership and commitment to his philosophy that has Arsenal playing without any identity or sense of cohesion when they take the pitch. The team looks as lost and disorganised as it did under Arsene Wenger.

As each week goes by, more and more questions must be asked. It would be one thing to see Arsenal struggle with the press and building up out of the back, but you’d likely see improvement over time as the players got more comfortable with that style of play.

That’s not happening, however, and we simply look listless each week without any sense of how we will play from match to match.

If Emery hopes to extend his stay at the Emirates beyond his first contract, he needs to show the leadership and vision he extolled when he was first introduced to the supporters. Without it, his tenure will be woefully short.

The owner

Wait, no Raul? Raul has been clear on where he sees us going and what we want to do. Now whether he gets us there is another thing. I do have worries because when he assumed his new role in the wake of Ivan’s departure, he talked about being pragmatic with our squad (my words not his) and immediately let the one person who could really help us achieve that leave but I will spare Raul right now.

Since he assumed a controlling interest in Arsenal, Enos Stanley Kroenke has remained true to his nickname – silent. No one truly knows why he owns Arsenal or what he envisions Arsenal being because he has never said so.

Sure, there have been fluff pieces by an English journalist or two or even the odd piece in the States that doesn’t fully grasp the nature of English football and thus misses the mark when talking with Stan or his son Josh.

The fact is the other two leadership components we mentioned can be forgiven for a variety of reasons, but a lack of leadership from the owner himself cannot be forgiven.

Never once has he articulated his vision for Arsenal in any way that would make Arsenal supporters excited. No, all we are met with are silence and speculation.

The internet is a terrible thing when there is silence from certain corners. Without any statement of leadership from Stanley or Kroenke Sports Entertainment (KSE), we are left to speculate on motives for one or another.

When he took over as a single owner, no statement accompanied that move and we were all left that to wonder if he had made this move so he could Arsenal as leverage in some of his other sporting ventures, most notably, the Los Angeles Rams.

It may or may not be true, but we’d never know because Stan and his progeny haven’t so much as uttered a word about it.

What Stan fails to recognise is that unlike sport in the US, owners in the English Football are at least engaged on a level that sets the overall tone and direction of the club. Even though John Henry at Liverpool isn’t that much of a hands-on owner, he’s been public about the direction of Liverpool and seems to be spending more time with them as they race after silverware.

Admittedly, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. This simply is how Stan operates and has operated since his first involvement with the club.

It will be hard to shake that feeling of a rudderless, leaderless organisation until that day when Stan or maybe even Josh, get up on the soapbox they have by right of their ownership and tell us all where they want to take Arsenal to.


The argument about Wenger leaving was that in the wake of his departure we’d still be without solid direction from the top. That is still very true in the nine months since the Frenchman left.

Stan Kroenke has every right to be a hands-off owner and as has been reported, leaving the football to the football people. And it could very well be he’s articulated that vision to the likes of Raul and others, but we won’t know because he’s never said it to us.

Until that moment when Stan does take a visible leadership role at Arsenal the fears will remain that we will be left behind because of a vacuous gap in leadership starting from the top.

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