West Ham and Arsenal are two clubs that few expected to lose their opening two fixtures. Ahead of what already looks like a must-win game for both clubs, we spoke to Arsenal’s The Short Fuse about North London’s thoughts on the game:
1. You have your first new manager in 22 years. What’s going to be different about Arsenal now, and have you seen any positive changes under Unai Emery already?
The meaning of the word “literally” has, of course, morphed into something different over the years, but in the classical sense of the word, literally everything is different about Arsenal this season from last. The only front office holdovers from Arsene Wenger’s time are assistant coach Steve Bould and Gunnersaurus. Everyone else - from Unai Emery on down through the fitness staff and people at every level of the organization - has gone now, and Ivan Gazidis, the architect of all this change, is reportedly on his way out the door, as well. So yeah, there’s been some changes.
As to whether those changes are positive or negative, well, it’s too early to tell. The one major difference I know of between Wenger and Emery is that Emery is a much more position-oriented, regimented, drill-this-into-your-head coach than Wenger was. Wenger was famous for acquiring smart players and letting them play together, and letting them figure stuff out on their own. Emery is very much the opposite of that - he has a system, he wants players that can fit in that system, and he coaches players in the specific roles he wants them to perform in his system. The players seem to like him and aren’t chafing at the sudden influx of rigid coaching, so that is definitely a positive as well.
2. Like us, Arsenal have lost their first two games. How do you see the season going for the club?
I honestly think this will be a pretty rough season for Arsenal, by their standards. A lot of people seem to think, for some reason, that a new coach will suddenly unleash some level of untapped awesomeness within Arsenal and they’ll rocket back up into the top four, but in all honesty, if they finish 6th again this season, that to me would be...well, not a success, really, but it would be fine. As mentioned, Emery is instituting an entirely new way of coaching and playing, and that takes time in any new job, much less one that the previous holder had for longer than a handful of his youth players have been alive. Once this season is over, Emery will have a better idea of what holes he needs to address and can spend next summer getting “his” guys in the transfer window. in order to address those holes and get Arsenal back in the conversation for the top four.
3. Do you feel like Jack Wilshere has made the right move? And what sort of reception do you think he will get on Saturday?
I do, 100%. Wilshere was obviously a long-time servant of the club, but between his unfortunate injury history and his also unfortunate tendency to underperform when he did play, I think a change of scenery will do him a world of good. I certainly don’t wish him ill, but it was definitely time for him to move on. I’m sure he’ll get a good reception, he was well liked, but I’ve been following his career long enough to also worry about him ruining that reception by taking a swing at Granit Xhaka and getting sent off after Xhaka spends 60 minutes getting under his skin.
4. Which of your summer signings should Hammers fans look out for on Saturday as danger-men?
I can’t actually believe this is my answer, but I have to go with defensive midfielder Matteo Guendouzi. He’s still just a kid - he’s 19 - but after signing this summer from Lorient, he’s done nothing but impress. We all thought he’d go out on loan for a season or two to get some experience, but he bossed his two preseason appearances, and while he’s still prone to make a young-kid mistake every now and again, he’s come along a whole lot faster than any of us would have expected, and I think people will be very surprised at how composed he is for a 19 year old, and hopefully his great run of form will continue.
5. Tell us more about Alisher Usmanov’s decision to offer sole ownership to Stan Kroenke and what effect you think that will have at the club.
Not much, honestly. Stan Kroenke is famously hands-off and mouth shut as an owner (his nickname is Silent Stan, after all), and the only difference that comes with the fact that he owns 100% of the club, and not 70%, is that now he won’t have to have an AGM where angry fractional shareholder fans show up and vent their spleens about whatever Arsenal Fan TV tells them is wrong with the club on the day of the meeting. Kroenke, for better or worse, doesn’t meddle in the affairs of any of his teams, and I have no reason to think that now that he is the sole owner of Arsenal, he’ll suddenly become either a hands-on trainwreck or a rapacious profiteer who will take money out of the club at every turn.
That is, in part, why Usmanov ended up selling his shares, I think - Usmanov, repugnant human though he is, always wanted Arsenal to spend a lot more money and join the Premier League arms race instead of picking at the fringes of it. Kroenke never took Usmanov’s bait, so Usmanov eventually just got fed up and sold off his interest rather than keep fighting a losing battle. I am not sorry to see Usmanov’s involvement with the club end in the slightest.
Off the pitch, the only real difference will be in the lack of transparency afforded a private business v. a publicly held one. Arsenal’s Company House filings (which every business is required to do annually, and which most football clubs do about a year or 18 months after a season is over) should provide the same basic snapshot of the club’s finances that anyone who didn’t dive into the minutiae of an annual report sees, though, so I really don’t think a sole Kroenke ownership will make a huge difference one way or the other.