Arsenal Football Club
Arsenal Football Club is in a strange place. The once successful two-time Double Champions, the ‘invincibles’ of 2003/04 and Champions League finalists in 2006 have now slowly withered to a shadow of their former selves. Still regarded as one of the finest footballing teams in Europe; recent failures, poor performances and the inability to keep their best players have left many Arsenal supporters questioning the club’s ambitions. In addition, it’s left many footballing fans questioning their masterful and once untouchable manager Arsene Wenger. Since 2005, the Gunners have yet to finish a season with a trophy. Appearances in finals have been rare and this has been mooted as a major catalyst to the departure of many of their influential footballers which in turn has diminished the quality of the team. So what has contributed to the downfall of a once feared Arsenal team? Why has the club failed to keep hold of their star players? Is the once purist Arsenal philosophy of playing the beautiful game hindered their chances of silverware? Or does the club favour their finances over the success of the football team? Furthermore, is Arsene Wenger really to blame?
Firstly, let’s talk numbers. The move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 was a logical move for the club to solidify Arsenal’s status as one of Europe’s elite clubs. It would also be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen the club financially, bringing in more revenue from ticket sales. It’s become common practice for clubs with European ambitions and pedigree to either expand or find a new base for a larger stadium. Ticket revenue can be increased significantly. But such a move comes at a cost. The Emirates Stadium cost Arsenal £390m and their current debt of around £254m is being paid at a rate of £15m-a-year. This debt has been estimated to be completely paid off by 2031. Total revenue the club brought in for the 2011-12 season was £235m, £10m more than the previous year. Revenue amounts from ticket sales (£95m), broadcasting rights (approx. £85m) and commercial and retail sales (approx. £53m). Significantly, the 6.5% rise in ticket prices had little effect on ticket revenue from gate sales as this only saw an increase of a mere £2m. Furthermore, commercial and retail sales may have seen a 13% increase but Arsenal are still way below giants Manchester United, who are bringing in a cool £120m-a-year in commercial income alone. Much to the irritation of Arsenal supporters, the club raised a substantial £66m profit from selling some of their prized players in the last couple of years. Arsenal are perceived to be penny-pinchers when it comes to offering high wages to their star players; some citing this as one of the reasons they are forced to sell. Their wage bill would suggest otherwise as this rose by 19% to £143m last season; making Arsenal the fourth highest spenders on wages in the Premier League. Not forgetting the fact that Arsene Wenger is reported to be on a salary of £7.5m per year, which would make him the 5th highest paid football manager in the world. So with all these costs, debts and incomes pouring in and out of the club; one of the vital questions on many Arsenal supporters’ lips is whether the club has significant funds to spend on transfers. Arsenal could realistically spend £50m on top players in the current transfer window (January 2013) and afford to pay top salaries of £100k +. With revenue from TV rights increasing in 2013-14 along with other financial deals; Arsenal’s income could reach the £300m mark in the next couple of years. Money is available, yet the attitude(s) on how to spend it may not be.
This season’s poor performances; most notably their League Cup defeat to League Two side Bradford City has placed Arsene Wenger and the club’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke under more pressure than ever before to change their ways and deliver. Arsenal’s indifferent form, which is becoming all too frequent each season, is a direct consequence of the stubbornness shown from the boardroom and manager over the years. Arsene Wenger has persisted with his tiring philosophy of buying young footballers with potential for the future. This philosophy is effective when you can mix your young players with those with considerable experience; to give the team balance and an attitude to win when things are going against you. No matter how experienced your manager is, he’s not on the pitch. You’re only as good as the team you put out. Arsenal have become victims to the flaws in their own philosophy. Wenger’s persistence to nurture a young side over the years into a championship winning team has utterly failed. This is due to the fact that not all of his recruited young stars have either fulfilled the potential envisioned by the manager or there has not been enough experienced and established footballers being brought into the club. When the time does come to buy new players; old habits die hard and Wenger’s mentality has been to replace his flops or add to the squad by buying yet again young, cheap and mostly unproven footballers. It’s become all too repetitive at the club and things need to change. Arsene Wenger needs to change. The Arsenal board needs to change. Arsenal have arguably missed out on too many winnable trophies by waiting for their team to develop. It’s not by coincidence that Arsenal have failed in signing some of their transfer targets. Wenger’s reluctance to embroil the club in bidding wars has resulted in the likes of Juan Mata, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones to join their rivals. It’s remarkable to think what players Arsenal could have brought but failed for one reason or another; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pepe Reina, Vincent Kompany, Jose Enrique, Peter Cech, Yaya Toure, Christiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba. Take your pick. The Gunners have a lot to offer to any great footballer. It’s the politics off the pitch that have hindered them from signing the top stars. Of course, Arsenal have benefitted from their scouting system; they brought Cesc Fabregas to the club as a youngster and he has gone onto become a World Cup and European champion. They have also nurtured one of England’s brightest stars in Jack Wilshere, who has been brought up through the Arsenal Academy. What it ultimately boils down to is how much Arsene Wenger and the board want the club to succeed. To succeed, you need a foundation and a team of real quality. When it’s necessary to buy quality footballers, Arsenal Football Club need to stop being so stubborn and buy.
The discontent from fans is justified. They do not want the sole purpose of their season to be solely finishing in the top four of the Premier League. They want their team to be genuine season-long title contenders; not to fall short after the first three months. They want trophies. They want and need players of real, established quality being brought in to collaborate with their young nurturing talent. Furthermore, they must keep hold of their star assets. The club’s reluctance to renew contracts has begun to show the lasting impact it has had on the quality of the team. So much so, their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur are now a bigger threat than ever to the club sustaining that all too important fourth Champions League spot. Arsenal season ticket holders are being held to ransom with no rewards in return. Not acceptable. It’s no wonder most Arsenal supporters are now beginning to question the direction in which the club is heading. Arsene Wenger has done so much for Arsenal Football Club; he turned them into one of the best footballing teams in Europe; a footballing philosophy which is still desired by many top clubs today. Whilst guiding them to three Premier League titles, four FA Cup’s and four Community Shield’s; Arsene Wenger masterminded Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ in 2003/04 by going a whole season unbeaten in the domestic league. It would be hailed as one of Arsenal’s and Arsene Wenger’s greatest achievements. But it has been seven long years since Arsenal got their hands on another trophy. More importantly, Arsene Wenger has to shoulder part of the blame for their downfall because it is his mentality that is part of the reason why the club are at risk of being mere contenders each season rather than possible winners.
The Arsenal fans are most loyal to their manager and quite rightly so in what he has achieved at the club. But I’d have to put forward the question to those Arsenal supporters; as to whether or not they agree with Wenger that prioritising a top four position in the league over domestic cup competitions is justified? At Arsenal’s recent AGM meeting, Wenger was quoted in saying that his priority was to win the Premier League first, Champions League second, qualify for the Champions League third, win the FA Cup fourth and League Cup fifth. ‘For me, there are five trophies’. Funnily enough Mr. Wenger, qualification into Europe is not a trophy. A necessity for a club like Arsenal yes, but one which doesn’t present a trophy after qualification. Earlier in the year, Wenger stated ‘I love the FA Cup; I think it is a top-level competition and I will always fight to win it’. But the reality is that Arsene Wenger won’t ‘fight to win it’ as much as qualifying for the Champions League. Is that a mentality that is acceptable at a club like Arsenal? To prioritise a league position which will far from guarantee a trophy over the prestigious FA Cup? Arsenal are far too behind in terms of quality to win the Premier League or Champions League. Chelsea finished 5th last season but successfully went onto lift the FA Cup and Champions League respectively. Let’s say Chelsea had won the FA Cup in May, lost in the final of the Champions League and still finished 5th in the league; as a Chelsea supporter I’d have been disappointed but remained somewhat content. A disastrous league campaign can be rectified by having a trophy to show for at the end of the season; regardless of whether it is domestically or in Europe. Chelsea have managed to win the FA Cup four times in the past six years and to think it could be a well-respected cup competition that is prioritised as fourth in the list of five targets at a top club who is in desperate need to end a season on a high is beyond comprehension. You simply cannot tell your fans that you will try your best to win all cup competitions when as a manager you are clearly prioritising one over the other. It’s like saying the infamous defeat to Birmingham in 2011’s Carling Cup Final can be brushed away and considered understandable. Winning the League Cup that year may just have transformed Arsenal going forward and getting back to winning ways in cup competitions. More importantly, kept some of their star players. Winning trophies when the opportunities arise is evidence of success, ambition and demonstrates a will to win. Just to compete is however not. In my opinion, this is one of the key areas in which Arsenal Football Club has suffered, continues to suffer and where Arsene Wenger is to blame.
Semi-finals: 7 Won: 3 Lost: 4
Finals: 3 Won: 0 Lost: 3
*Arsenal have not finished above 3rd in the Premier League since 04/05.
Semi-finals: 9 Won: 4 Lost: 5
Finals: 5 Won: 4 Lost: 1
**Manchester United have won 4 PL titles; finishing as runners-up on three occasions.
Semi-finals: 11 Won: 8 Lost: 3
Finals: 7 Won: 6 Lost: 1
***Chelsea have won 2 PL titles; finishing as runners-up on two occasions.
Semi-finals: 5 Won: 4 Lost: 1
Finals: 3 Won: 2 Lost: 1
****Liverpool have finished as runners-up once.
Statistics don’t lie and what the above emphasises is that Arsenal have failed to win any of their previous cup final appearances in all competitions since their last win, the FA Cup in 2005. You may argue that on two of those occasions, they lost to formidable opposition in Chelsea and Barcelona. But their most recent defeat in a cup final was to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup. Birmingham were also relegated that same season. As much as Wenger has praised the spirit of his young team over the years and how maturity would one day make them champions; Arsenal fans are still waiting.
Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke are also two men under heavy scrutiny from Arsenal supporters. Maybe more so than Wenger due to how funds for transfers have not been made available. All three men have a vision of Arsenal being a club that can pay for transfers and wages from its own finances; unlike the immeasurable amounts of money spent by the billionaire owners of their rival clubs. It’s a vision which is shared by UEFA in the format of Financial Fair Play. Arsenal’s current debts are their repayment costs towards their stadium; which are around £15m-a-year. Taking into account their total profit from the previous season and the expenditure on players’ wages, the Gunners realistically have around £50m to spend on transfers and wages. So why are they not renewing contracts for their most valued players? Has the board refused to keep their star players at the club? In Samir Nasri’s case, it seems so as Wenger was adamant that Nasri would not be sold to then suitors Manchester United. He ended up in Manchester, but at City. A year later and their talisman Robin Van Persie is sold to Manchester United; having not been handed a new contract. The same year, another key player in Alex Song is sold to Barcelona. More often than not, he now sits on the bench. Why are they so hesitant to spend money which they clearly have, on one or two key signings? Arsenal can be a successful football club on and off the pitch by continuing their self-sustainable business model. German giants Bayern Munich are a prime example of how to be a self-sustainable club which is successful on the pitch. Bayern Munich and Arsenal are very similar in terms of their business model. Yet what sets the two clubs apart is that Bayern Munich are not afraid to spend and have continuously been successful. Bayern Munich’s current squad boasts five players who cost £20m+ each. With around £70m profit being generated at the club over the last two years, the Gunners have yet to make one big name signing. More importantly, Arsenal have never spent more than £20m on one player. The bottom line is this; Bayern Munich have an ideology which mirrors that of Arsenal. But when problems need solving on and off the pitch, they are solved. Managers come and go at the Bavarian club but Bayern Munich are always willing to use their resources to strengthen the team in order to remain successful. Their nine trophies since Arsenal’s last is evidence. Maybe Arsenal’s failure to be successful in recent years is the result of not having enough decision-makers at the club to consult with Wenger on a sporting level. Bayern Munich have a Chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and a Sporting Director, Matthias Sammer; both ex-footballers. Arsene Wenger has no consultants; there’s Arsene Wenger and then there’s the Executive Board. We can only speculate whether relations between the board and Wenger are strained or not. Are funds being released to Wenger to spend or is Wenger just refusing to use them effectively? Maybe this is an area where Arsenal need to look at to improve the direction of the club going forward. Fresh ideas to revise ambitions can only improve the club.
Football today has changed; transfer fees and wages have increased considerably and this change can be attributed to the upsurge in foreign ownership and investment. Experts and fans are divided on the subject as it has widened the gap between the top teams and those at the bottom. Yet foreign investment has also improved underachievers and sustained continued success for those clubs who only occasionally tasted victory. Clubs have had to adapt to the large spending sprees in order to compete whilst the hike in transfer fees is something top teams have had to accept in order to acquire the services of the top players. Ever since Roman Abramovich brought Chelsea Football Club in 2003, the Russian oligarch has splashed out millions on players and managers. We can argue how fundamentally wrong this is but the fact remains that Chelsea have an ambitious owner who genuinely has a passion for success. An owner who is willing to take risks in return for reward. Chelsea’s trophy cabinet since his takeover is proof of his and the club’s collective ambition. Arsenal’s philosophy is one to be admired. They foresee a vision where the club becomes self-sustainable and competing at the top level. They want to distance themselves away from the mega-rich foreign owners and uncontrollable spending which is present in today’s game. However, Arsene Wenger’s ideology of how a club should be run is part respectable yet part driven by finances. This has started to become more apparent over the past few years; evidence is in how Wenger prioritises qualification for the Champions League over domestic cup trophies as this ensures larger revenues for the club. Former vice-Chairman of Arsenal Football Club David Dein understood that to attract the big players, you sometimes had to pay a little bit more than you desired. Although at a cost, never putting the finances of the club in danger. As much as Wenger has taken the Gunners to great heights, ironically he has all the attributes to now be considered a successful General Manager at Arsenal, in the way he goes about his business. This begs the question; has Arsene Wenger become less a manager and more of a businessman to the detriment of Arsenal Football Club?
The mentality at Arsenal has changed. Very few seem to want to change their ways in terms of prioritising the quality of the team over finances. Not that the quality of the football played has ever come into question; it’s the character and ambition of the club that has. Since that 2004/05 season, Arsenal have constantly been one step behind their main rivals. Although Wenger has been shrewd in previous transfer markets, Arsenal are crying out for a marquee signing, or two. Arsenal’s priorities should have always been to win trophies. Yes, they want to be a self-sustainable football club and do it all the right way but until the Financial Fair Play rules come into effect, Arsenal will not be able to compete effectively against their rivals. Furthermore the FFP regulations will not guarantee anything due to all the reported loopholes. Arsene Wenger needs to realise that Arsenal fans want a renewed ambition for success. They want their football team to once again show grit and hunger for trophies as they once did. But this lack of success all stems from the Arsenal bigwigs and their manager. Champions League qualification should be a cast-iron certainty for a club like Arsenal but their lack in quality in recent years has forced Wenger to approach it as a priority over other cup competitions. But that’s no excuse to count winnable trophies such as the FA Cup and League Cup as less of a priority. In my opinion, Arsenal have become a club that favours finances over the success of their football team. It’s about time they adapted to the current state of football or risk being nearly-something’s each season. As for Wenger? The pressure will continue to mount until there are clear signs of that same ambition he showed when he and David Dein formed an invincible team and an invincible club; transforming the Gunners into one of best teams in European football.