(Reuters) – Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has told supporters that the club is hunting for top players to boost the squad and defended the decision to hand long-serving manager Arsene Wenger a new contract after a season marred by protests.
A vociferous section of fans turned on the manager as results faltered when Arsenal exited the Champions League and their hopes of a change of leadership were dashed when he signed a new two-year deal at the end of the campaign.
“We’re looking for top-quality players,” Gazidis said at a fan event on Thursday. “We’ve got three times as many scouts as we had four years ago. I believe that to be a world-class football club you’ve got to be world class off the pitch.”
Some fans are disillusioned with the direction the club is heading in under Wenger, a feeling compounded by the perception that he is unwilling to spend big money on players that can take Arsenal to the next level.
On the pitch, Arsenal won the FA Cup but finished fifth in the Premier League, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in Wenger’s 21-year tenure.
Gazidis denied there was an element of sentimentality behind the decision to give Wenger an extended stay.
“It wasn’t a sentimental decision,” he said. “It was a mutual one… I care about the club and those values. I want the club to be successful.”
With news trickling out of the Emirates that Alexis Sanchez — Arsenal’s best player over the past few years — wants out before the new campaign, the situation could quickly turn sour if results do not go Wenger’s way from the start of next season.
Gazidis implored the supporters to unite behind the team.
“There has been disagreement,” he added. “There has been a lack of unity and dissatisfaction. The board knows that.
“I beg you, please come together and give our manager and this team support. I want the atmosphere to be united and it has been a struggle because we haven’t had that.”
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(Writing by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru)