Exactly one-year to the day that Unai Emery was announced as Arsene Wenger’s successor, Arsenal’s hierarchy are on the charm offensive.
Following Ivan Gazidis’ acrimonious departure from north London back in September, the boardroom at Arsenal has been marooned in a state of flux.
The sudden exit in January of Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat added to the disruption, after what had been touted as an exciting voyage into a new era for Arsenal, with a shift towards progressing with a modern football model, was seemingly crumbling in its infancy.
Raul Sanllehi, a man originally appointed as Head of Football Relations, formed a coalition alongside Vinai Venkatesham to cover the vacant Managing Director role following Gazidis’ departure.
During his time with Barcelona, Sanllehi forged a reputation as one of the smoothest operators in European football.
However, in his one-and-a-half year stint with Arsenal, fans are yet to see any evidence of the boardroom guru who was supposed to return the club back to its former glory.
This summer could be a tipping point in the future of Arsenal.
The bulk of fans have reluctantly renewed their patience with Stan Kroenke for a few more months, born more out of hope than expectation, as it’s now the first summer window in which the American’s KSE company have full ownership of the club.
With pressure on Kroenke to provide the funds, Sanllehi, alongside Venkatesham, have the sizeable task of appeasing fans with quality signings, as well as appoint a new Technical Director – widely tipped to be former ‘Invincible’ Edu.
In their latest bid to right the wrongs of the previous regime, Arsenal’s brains trust took part in a duel interview on the club’s media channel to project some much-needed transparency to fans.
The conversation has almost exclusively been well-received and, for what you would have expected to be an interview draped in red tape, it provided a robust analysis of Sanllehi and Venkatesham’s work to date and also quizzed them on their future plans.
The interview, spread out over two 20 minute-long videos, saw Venkatesham give a staunch vote of confidence to Emery at a time when rumblings over his long-term future are becoming increasingly prevalent.
“I can say, absolutely, categorically, (if we had the chance to) we would have appointed Unai again,” he declared.
“We’re really pleased with the impact he’s having at Arsenal and we’re delighted with his appointment.”
After their show of faith in Emery, Sanllehi went onto reassure fans that transfer targets have not only been identified, but discussions with potential signings are ongoing and have been for a number of months.
“What I can tell you is that we have identified very clearly and unanimously with our head coach and technical people, we know what we want to prioritise,” he said.
“We’re already in the market and we’re already talking with the people that can help us to cover those positions.
“I feel quite strong on the inputs that I’m getting so far. I believe that we have a very good plan to cover those positions to be much stronger next year to deliver the success that we’re all hoping for.”
The pair, once again led by Sanllehi and his superbly husky voice, continued their charm offensive by taking responsibility for the mess that the club made of Aaron Ramsey’s failed contract renewal.
“He was really keen on staying with us, he was ready to make the effort but at the end of the whole process we had to be responsible for ourselves and protect the interests of Arsenal,” Sanllehi declared.
“We realised we were going to cause an imbalance (if we paid over the odds to keep him) that would have been very harmful for the team’s sake in the medium and longer term.”
The pair go onto acknowledge the club’s bloated wage bill, insist that precautions are in place to deal with the potential of another season without Champions League football, and reveal that Kroenke remains in almost constant contact about club affairs over WhatsApp.
On the surface, it’s a nigh on faultless performance from the pair.
However, is all actually as it appears?
The sceptics among the Arsenal faithful have pointed towards a timely coincidence that occurred following the release of the second part of the interview on Wednesday evening.
No more than an hour after Sanllehi can be heard declaring that the club are already in negotiations with new signings, season ticket holders were hit with emails about renewals for next season.
A conveniently-timed leak of the frankly glorious new Arsenal Adidas kits added further fuel to the conspiratorial fire.
However, more so than a rumoured master plan designed to sell season tickets and shirts, it’s the endless false dawns of the past that should give Arsenal fans cause for concern when listening to Sanllehi and Venkatesham.
Far too often have the Gunners been on the cusp of a turning point, only to be let down by stubbornness in the transfer market, or impotence in the negotiating room.
Failed pursuits of Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain are still talked about to this day, with the contract fiascos of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Alexis Sanchez flying the flag for the latter.
Ultimately, it’s actions that will always speak louder than words.
Sanllehi and Venkatesham have played a masterstroke on this occasion and their words have largely filled Arsenal fans with confidence and optimism for the future.
However, what happens in the summer will be the true measure of how fans should judge the work of the pair, rather than what was said before the clutch months.
Arsenal fans, see you in August.
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