By Frank Kamuntu
Arsenal director Josh Kroenke has revealed that conceding four goals in the second half of the Europa League final transformed the Gunners’ approach to recruitment this summer and praised club staff for “working their magic” in the transfer market.
The Gunners lost 4-1 to Chelsea in Azerbaijan in May, consigning them to a third consecutive season outside the Champions League and limiting their spending power.
But while speaking to BBC Sport, Kroenke said the disappointment of Baku was a turning point that led Arsenal to become one of the Premier League’s biggest spenders this summer and raise expectations about their prospects for the campaign ahead.
“As the second half of the match unfolded, understanding the position we were in and some of the targets as we headed into the summer from a transfer standpoint, we had to rethink some of our strategy based on that last 45 minutes,” said Kroenke.
The Club, owned by Kroenke’s billionaire father Stan, was criticised early in the summer by supporters’ groups who called on directors to “reinvigorate” the Premier League side with a new approach to player transfers.
Speaking about the aftermath of the Europa League final and the change in transfer targets, Kroenke said: “We knew we wouldn’t have Champions League football and that’s what those types of talents are after. My main message to Vinai [Venkatesham, managing director] and Raul [Sanllehi, head of football] coming back from Baku on the plane and then throughout meetings all day the following day with them and Unai [Emery, head coach], was: ‘Let’s be aggressive and find out what’s possible’.
“These guys went out into the market place and – through their contacts and our fantastic new team behind the scenes – were able to find some talented players who are really excited about playing for Arsenal Football Club.”
“I think we had a very strong summer. We addressed certain areas on the pitch for this season and in the years ahead. We had certain age profiles that we were after. Without Champions League football we weren’t exactly sure, but I encouraged our football operations department to be aggressive and when Arsenal Football Club knocks on a player’s door it’s a different knock.
“This summer, even though we weren’t in a position of strength coming out of Baku, I think there were a few people caught off guard that Arsenal Football Club still has the aura that it does. We’re excited to keep pushing that now and into the future.”
It was understood that missing out on Champions League qualification would leave Arsenal with a transfer budget of roughly £45m in addition to any income they could generate.
Although the signings of Gabriel Martinelli, Dani Ceballos (loan), William Saliba, Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz cost well in excess of £100m, much of that outlay will be paid by way of instalments over the course of their contracts.
Meanwhile, money was recouped via the sales of Alex Iwobi, Krystian Bielik, Laurent Koscielny, David Ospina, Dominic Thompson, Xavier Amaechi and Carl Jenkinson, Eddie Nketiah’s loan and sell-on clauses related to Ismael Bennacer and Jeff Reine-Adelaide.
When asked whether Arsenal adhered to their self-sustaining model or if finance was injected by their owners Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE), where Josh Kroenke is deputy chairman to his father Stan, the 39-year-old said: “I’m not going to go into too much detail – people can read between the lines of being aggressive and what that might mean.
“It’s going to be a private matter for us here at the club, but I hope our fans understand that by being aggressive that’s exactly what we were.”
“Going into the summer we knew we were going to have instruments in place that were going to allow us to be aggressive and they weren’t going to be dependent on sales. The guys went out, worked their magic and I’m happy to have them on our side.”