It’s time to make a decision at Arsenal. With financial fair play looming on the horizon, the financial playing field that clubs have to play on looks to be leveling out – no longer will smaller, wealthier clubs be able punch well above their weight. Gooners everywhere will breath a sigh of relief. For them, it can’t come too soon. However, it is going to take a little while longer before it makes the impact that Arsenal need it to.
In the mean time Arsene Wenger is staring at the possibility of losing the latest crop of his established stars. Van Persie, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Djourou and Walcott are all now two years off the end of their contracts and the club will be looking to secure them on long-term deals in the very near future.
Without the long-term contracts, Arsenal will find it hard to fight off offers for their best players next summer. Before the introduction of financial regulation, wealthy clubs will use this last opportunity to pay inflated prices to try and prize the key assets away from other teams. The vultures are already circling the Emirates and the rumours have already started as to who and when.
So Arsenal have a choice. They can, just this once, break the bank and secure their best players on lucrative, long-term contracts. Or they can sell them and invest this money in youthful replacements and debt management.
What is most painful for Arsenal fans is knowing that their two majority shareholders are both billionaires. Whilst it looks as though Usmanov (one of the richest men in the world) would happily invest some serious money into the club, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke seems much more interested in seeing a regular profit sliding into the bank.
The danger is that if Arsenal become less competitive on the field, they become significantly less competitive off it. Maybe now is the time that Arsenal takes a step away from the moral high ground, spunks some cash and in doing so, protects its short-term future. The long-term seems to be reasonably assured thanks to the strategy in place at the club, but could sticking to their guns leave Arsenal vulnerable because of financial markets outside of their control?
It’s a tricky dilemma for Arsenal and its supporters. Every fan that I know is incredibly proud of the way that the club is run. It is good to know that the team they support has been built organically. Yes, there are a few dissenters calling for private investment, but by and large they are a small (but vocal) minority. The main problem for many supporters is frustration; they pay the highest prices in the league to see their team play, but they don’t see the same level of investment made on players that the other teams make. This is largely due to debt attached to the new stadium, which many fans seem to have forgotten is still being paid off. Still, it’s undoubtedly frustrating for everyone.
So what are the possible solutions and outcomes?
1.Arsenal carry on as they are, lose a few players and bring a few new faces in. They stay in or around the top four, financial fair play kicks in, they become more stable and as the stadium is paid off, they are able to offer amongst the highest wages on the planet, attracting quality players and future success.
2.The club invests money now and pay their established players the wages needed to keep them. They invest heavily in new players such as M’Vila, Hazard and Benzema and continue to be competitive domestically and on the continent.
3. Kroenke stubbornly refuses to step up and take some responsibility for his team. They don’t respond to the financial market and in doing so they drop away from the top of the league. They can’t compete financially and lose all their best players and so don’t stay competitive. The loss of additional revenues slows the mortgage repayment and it takes Arsenal many years before they are stable enough to challenge again.
There are many more permutations and possibilities. These are the big three. Carry on as is and succeed, increase short-term investment and succeed or fail to respond to the market and in doing so set the club back as many as five to ten years.
What makes this such a horrible predicament is the choices that it presents. Does Arsenal abandon its principles – the very principles that make it the envy of every responsibly run club in the world – and throw cash at their problems? Or do they stick to their guns and hope?
This supporter would like to think that they can weather the storm and turn things around before it gets too bad. Arsenal are a great club and given their ethical approach to the financial side of the game, they should be applauded. FIFA and UEFA should be doing more to make sure that clubs that stick to budget are rewarded on the field. The current suggestion is that UEFA will ban overspending clubs from playing Champions League football. We can’t expect the big clubs to take expulsion from European competition laying down, they’ll just form a new ‘super’ league, fracturing the sport beyond repair. Financial penalties for irresponsible clubs are never going to work; I think points deductions for serious offenders are the only way it’s ever going to change the game.
Arsenal has some decisions to make. Do they stick or twist? Do they stand by their principles or move with the times? One thing is for sure, the next season is going crucial for the Gunners. Even if they don’t win a trophy, they’ve still got to keep moving the club forward, because without momentum they might just go off the rails.