WITH the owner under siege and a team stuck in no man’s land, Arsenal are facing their biggest crisis since George Graham was sacked.
It was in February 1995 that Graham was dismissed after an ‘unsolicited gift’ of £425,000 from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge.
Three months later Arsenal limped home in 12th, their lowest finish of the Premier League era.
They were then beaten by Real Zaragoza in the final of the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup courtesy of former Tottenham player Nayim scoring from the halfway line.
Now history is in danger of repeating itself as the Gunners prepare for a meeting with ex- boss Unai Emery on Thursday.
Failure to beat Emery’s Villarreal over the two legs of their Europa League semi-final will all but confirm Arsenal’s absence from continental competition for the first time since Graham was bundled out of Highbury’s marble halls.
Friday’s 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton leaves Arsenal tenth in the Premier League with five fixtures to go.
They are 12 points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and seven behind Tottenham in seventh.
Last week’s disastrous decision to sign up to the European Super League is threatening to tear this club apart.
But Arsenal’s American owner Stan Kroenke is not going to relinquish his grip.
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He has spent more than ten years of his time and around £1.8billion to acquire sole ownership of the club.
When he bought out rival shareholder, Russian Alisher Usmanov, three years ago he took out a £557million bank loan.
He was already around £720m in debt over the construction of a new stadium for his LA Rams American football team.
Yet those figures were just a drop in the ocean for the man whose marriage to Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke gives the couple a combined fortune of £11bn.
So Swedish tycoon Daniel Ek is going to have to come up with one hell of an offer to convince Kroenke to sell.
In the ten years since Kroenke bought the shares of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith to become majority shareholder, Arsenal have spent £730m on new signings and recouped around £335m from player sales.
But since Arsene Wenger stood down as manager in 2018 there has been a mass Emirates exodus on and off the pitch.
Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech, Danny Welbeck, Emiliano Martinez, Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis are among those who have been allowed to leave over three seasons.
And they have been followed through the exit by manager Emery, chairman Sir Chips Keswick, chief executive Ivan Gazidis, head of football Raul Sanllehi, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, head of football operations Huss Fahmy and head of analytics Jaeson Rosenfeld.
Add in the forced redundancies of more than 55 staff last year and the chaos is clear to see.
Last season’s surprise FA Cup victory allowed Arsenal to secure European qualification.
Yet the Wembley final win against Chelsea papered over the cracks of a crumbling giant.
And now Arsenal are again in danger of missing out on Europe as they prepare to travel to Villarreal this week.
The last time these teams met was also in the semi-finals of a European competition, when Jens Lehmann’s last-minute penalty save secured Arsenal’s place in the 2006 Champions League final.
But defeat by Barcelona in that year’s final proved to be the end of an era for the Gunners and they have never since reached those heights.
Now the club is in danger of ripping apart at the seams as Kroenke desperately clings to power like an old-time dictator.
He has already sold Arsenal’s soul to the Super League. Convincing him to trade his shares might not be so easy.
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