JOSH KROENKE claims Arsenal can still finish in the top four this season – because he sacked Unai Emery this week.
American director Kroenke paid a special visit to the training ground today to deliver a rallying cry to the bungling squad and tell them the board still had confidence in them.
Then the 39-year-old, son of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, said they had axed Emery to keep alive their target of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
He said: “Ultimately we started to fall short of several goals that we set.
“We still feel that we can achieve those goals this season, which is why we decided to make the change now.”
Kroenke made a surprise journey out to the club’s London Colney training centre as they prepared for Sunday’s trip to Norwich.
He explained the board’s thinking behind the decision and then made a point of telling interim boss Freddie Ljungberg and the squad that the board have every faith in them to turn the season round.
Kroenke added: “My message to Freddie and the players was let’s get back to basics and most importantly let’s get back to having some fun.
“I think footballers are at their best when I see smiles on their faces and going out there and winning matches.
“That’s a winning formula to me.”
The Gunners director, watched on by Per Mertesacker who the Gunners have also promoted to coach, then urged the players to stick together after what has been a difficult time for the club on and off the pitch.
Kroenke hopes his rallying call will go some way to reassuring the squad that the board are doing everything they can to bring in a top class replacement for Emery.
Ljungberg has been placed in temporary control of the first team, stepping up from his role with the development squad.
But the sight of such a senior member of the board at training on a weekend is a clear indication the club’s bosses realise how serious their plight is right now.
The Gunners are now considering who to turn to next, in the knowledge they may struggle to attract the very top level coaches to the Emirates with the club such a long way short of being able to contend in the Premier League.
Kroenke added: “Our process is already underway.
“Because of our confidence in Freddie we’re very fortunate that we’re going to be entering into our process and doing a thorough search and it’s about finding the right candidate, it’s not about finding the first candidate.
They have been urged to go for former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, but the Argentine is thought to prefer holding out for a bigger role such as Manchester United or Real Madrid.
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Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers is another option, but he would be hard to prise away from the Foxes who would demand a huge compensation fee for their man.
Ex-Juventus manager Max Allegri is another contender although his problems with speaking English count against him.
Club legend Patrick Vieira has been touted by his former team-mates, while Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche of Burnley and Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder have also been mentioned.