Arsenal played out a stalemate against Everton at the Emirates stadium on Monday night, and with just five games left to secure Champions League qualification - and their London rivals hot on their heels - does the fact that they’re turning a tidy profit even matter? It might not, if they can’t keep attracting the big names that earn them wads of cash. By ANT SIMS.
With just five games remaining in the Premier League, Arsenal’s Champions League qualification is looking rather shaky. They currently sit third on the log with 60 points, but London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham are hot on their heels with 58 points each. Chelsea has two games in hand; Tottenham, one.
After a stalemate against a feisty Everton side on Monday night, Arsene Wenger still believes his side has what it takes to secure qualification for the competition. (But with the diluted and media-trained influence of the biggest league in the world, it’s not as though the club boss would say anything else.)
“We should have won the game, but it keeps us still in a strong position in the race for the top four. We are on a very strong run, with a fantastic spirit, so you do not want to complain too much about what didn’t go for us,” said Wenger.
“We dropped two points, but if we win our coming games, we will get there. The other teams have games in hand, but they play each other. My belief was always strong and still is. I’m confident we will do it.”
Last season, the North London outfit managed just two wins from their last five games, whilst drawing two matches and losing one. That run-up to the end of the season was also far less intimidating than the one they currently face. The Gunners still have to play Fulham, Manchester United, QPR, Wigan and Newcastle – all potential hurdles for Wenger’s misfiring men, who last season lost against Wigan as the season petered out.
While the game lacked any real quality, it did get off to a fiercely physical start, with some questionable moves from Everton. “It was a game of huge intensity. They decided to make it physical to disturb our game. I don’t blame Everton for that. To say we needed protecting is a big word – we just want the referee to make the right decisions. I don’t think the referee dealt well with the intimidating physical challenges in the first half,” said Wenger.
While Lukas Podolski was on the bench and came on as a substitute in the 69th minute, the Gunners struggled to finish – a typical tale of their season.
Wenger could be expected to find a scapegoat for his side’s shortcomings. And while those in charge of the club’s finances pride themselves on the fact that the club keeps turning a profit – mostly from money made out of the transfer market – not qualifying for the Champions League will cost them, both financially and in their ability to attract prime talent.
Just over a month ago, Arsenal announced a pre-tax profit of £17.8m for the six months to the end of November 2012, along with cash reserves of £123m. These are staggering sums of money for a club not entirely funded by sugar daddies. Those profits came largely thanks to player sales.
The North London outfit racked up a tidy £23.2m from selling players like Robin van Persie and Alex Song, all while penning deals with Podolski, Oliver Giroud and Santi Cazorla. Meanwhile, six of the first team squad members, including Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, all signed new deals. The cost of signing a player is spread out over the term of their contract, for accounting purposes – and the summer prior to these profits, Arsenal boasted a £49.5m profit for the six months to November 2011. This was after pawning off Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.
When the profits were announced, Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood vehemently defended the board’s approach and insisted that the strategy remained to recruit “the best players”.
“Let me be quite clear that our intention is to keep our best players and recruit new talent to make us stronger,” he said.
“Although we were disappointed to see Robin van Persie leave the club, we have taken steps to secure our best players and have recently signed Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson to long-term contracts.”
Wenger has always insisted that he is in control of transfers from the club and that there are no financial constraints on him, but the club’s heavy reliance on profit from sales suggest that he might be fibbing a little.
Nasri, the former Arsenal player, now insists that all the speculation is indeed true and that Wenger was under pressure from the club’s owner, Stan Kroenke, to sell him. The Frenchman moved to City for £24m and insists that while he has no regrets leaving Arsenal, his sale wasn’t as clear-cut as it was made out to be.
Speaking on beIN Sport, a French TV station, Nasri said: “I don’t regret leaving Arsenal. I won the league, while Arsenal have difficulty finishing fourth.”
“Wenger told me that if Cesc [Fàbregas] left, I would stay, but Kroenke wanted the money. The coach told me we’ll only take Gervinho. Cesc was already gone; I had only one year left so I decided to leave,” Nasri said.
Arsenal already has the fourth-highest wage bill of clubs in the country, and the full impact of new deals handed to Wilshere, Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not be felt on the balance sheet until the next set of accounts later this year.
But will they stay without the promise of Champions League football? Arsenal’s holds its destiny in its own hands, but from here, the future isn’t looking very sparkly. DM
Photo: Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla reacts after an unsuccessful attempt scoring attempt past Everton goal keeper Tim Howard (R) during the English Premier League match at Emirates Stadium in north London April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
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