I attended the Arsenal Q&A at the Emirates Stadium on the 25th July 2019 – largely since I wanted to see first-hand what Messrs. Sanhelli and Venketasham had to say concerning the club’s direction, strategy and vision.
I applied via the Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST) and after some train disruption due to the insane heat, I took up a seat in the Woolwich Suite in the East Stand, eager to hear what they had to say.
The format commenced with the compere – Nigel Mitchell – asking about them about the side, signings, and the club’s technical development.
Sanhelli spoke of how the club’s transfer policy will be conducted – as well as saying there is a long way to go to get to our desired levels.
Venketasham echoed similar statements – in that the club is reforming and changing despite the worsened performances in recent years.
Both said that they were hurt at the club’s comparatively weaker performances and that the club in spite of this should be proud of its history and its special name. It still is respected globally and Sanhelli said that our heritage and name was a key factor in his arrival here. It was about utilising our strengths to forge a better future.
After answering some questions from the compere the floor was opened to various points from fans.
One question was – inevitably perhaps – about signings and money. This was met with some heckling, which perhaps wasn’t in good taste, but then it was understandable given our relative lack.
In response to saying that we lacked money – Venkatesham said that the oft-cited “£45m” budget is false. The club has never said nor corroborated this and due to potentially inflated prices, the club won’t divulge its transfer kitty figure.
Another question referenced safe-standing, with Venketasham, said the club supported in principle. The stadium though had to be analysed, since the lower tier is relatively shallow. This means potential structural works would be required, though the club would engage with fans via the Fans Forums and related media before making a dedicated decision. The government would also have to change legislation to facilitate this and the Premier League nor Arsenal can act unilaterally.
Sanhelli, in terms of transfers, stated that the club is working on deals and will do its best. But fans shouldn’t be over-expectant but have faith in the club handling matters. He said that it hurt that the club hasn’t competed lately, but he’s confident that the changes being made can be fruitful. As a long-standing member of the ECA (European Club Association), he said he’s often told how fortunate he is to have a leading role at Arsenal, given our prestige and status.
Legendary Invincible Edu, in his new role as technical director, came into the session midway and offered his thoughts on his work and intentions. He wasn’t responsible for signings, but for the holistic development of the first team, infusing a new culture in the team and club, and working with the academy head and head coach for medium to long-term results.
Another point was raised on short-termism in terms of planning – and Venketasham acknowledged that he is eager and recognises there have been mishaps in the club’s strategy lately.
Thoughts and impressions
I welcomed this opportunity, and personally, I’d never been in the Woolwich Suite before.
Though some of the questions and heckling weren’t in good taste, perhaps.
I hold two views in the manner. Yes, the tone perhaps was off-putting and terse. Fans were naturally angry and frustrated at the club for its lack of direction lately. And in fairness, Sanhelli and Venketasham acknowledged this and that it should be an impetus to correct it.
But then given that the figures involved were present, fans had all the rights to question them in probing tones.
Shouts of “spend some money!” or “where’re the defenders?!?” were possibly crass. But they were stemming from a good place – in that fans wanted answers on the poor strategy lately.
Moreover, the questions posed (bar safe-standing) weren’t as pervasive as they could have been.
Yes, transfers are on everybody’s mind currently.
But more could have been said on the club’s approach to the European Super League, ticket prices and Ticket Exchange enhancements, or food vending at the stadium.
Sanhelli, Venketasham and Edu looked a bit aghast at the heavy tone – but then I feel they should have accepted something like this would have arisen.
Neither of the Kroenkes – Josh and Stan – were there, though overall the points were well-made but what could be expected given the state of play. Some may have taken it as the standard PR claptrap – but then they really couldn’t have said much more. And they and we all know that action is louder than words.
It was, though, a welcome opportunity to see in person what they intended for the club.