Arsenal director Josh Kroenke has revealed last season’s Europa League final humbling at the hands of Chelsea forced the club into an ‘aggressive’ rethink of their transfer strategy.
The Gunners were thrashed 4-1 by their London rivals in Baku back in May, conceding all four goals in a second-half collapse.
Winning the final, under three-time winning manager Unai Emery, presented the club with their only chance of qualifying for the Champions League – and their disastrous performance consigned them to a third straight campaign outside of Europe’s premier competition.
It also meant a big loss of potential transfer funds, with reports Arsenal had only around £40m to spend this summer.
However, supporters were surprised as the club splashed out on over £100m in a number of big signings, including Ivory Coast winger Nicolas Pepe, Scotland full-back Kieran Tierney and Chelsea’s Brazilian centre-back David Luiz.
And Josh Kroenke, the son of club owner Stan Kroenke, said their disappointment in Azerbaijan was the spark that led to the Gunners being one of the Premier League’s biggest spenders this summer.
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“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 in an interview with BBC Sport.
“We knew we wouldn’t have Champions League football and that’s what those type of talents are after. Coming back from Baku, my main message to Vinai [Venkatesham, managing director], Raul [Sanllehi, head of football] 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.
“The guys went out, worked their magic and I’m happy to have them on our side. We’re excited to keep pushing that now and into the future.”
Kroenke also said his father was “thrilled” with Arsenal’s new signings and that they have “come back with a stronger squad”.
Arsenal faced criticism earlier in the summer from supporter groups, who urged the club directors to fund a squad overhaul to get them back competing for titles.
It appears their prayers were answered, but Kroenke said the fan protests were not the reason why they finally splashed some cash this summer.
“I would say that if you’re reacting and doing club record signings based on public opinion, you’re not going to go very far as a club,” he said.
“We weren’t reactive this summer, we were actually proactive.
“It was unfortunate that the summer unfolded publicly the way it did with some of the supporters groups. I tried to answer some of their concerns to the best of our ability.
“The transfer market is an evolving, living, breathing thing. We identified key targets, worked on those deals and over time we were able to execute them.
“That’s hopefully a sign of encouragement for Arsenal fans that, when we’re out in the market place, you might never know what we’re thinking and you could be surprised by some of the names that come up.
“As for January, I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to evaluate some things in the short term and figure out where we might need to address going forward, so when January does roll around we’re going to be proactive again.”
And the goal of Arsenal’s ‘aggressive’ transfer rethink?
“Our ambitions are the same as the fans,” Kroenke said.
“We want to win and we want to win as much and as often as possible. And doing it a fun way, where they’re seeing some really entertaining football as well. I think we’ve got the group to do it.”
Arsenal finished 28 points behind champions Manchester City last season, but the Gunners are confident they can end their long wait for the title. It’s now more than 15 years since their famous ‘Invincibles’ victory – the last time the Gunners were crowned Premier League winners.
“We have the highest of ambitions,” he added.
“In North America, we are trying to win. The [Los Angeles] Rams were in the Super Bowl last year. I can only imagine what a Champions League final is like after being over in Baku.
“There are six great clubs in the Premier League and unfortunately only four [Champions League] spots that are guaranteed. The economics involved – to be able to reinvest back into the club, attract different players who only want Champions League football… our goal is to get back and to win the Premier League.”