Arsenal have their problems, that much has always been clear. Whether it be the injuries that continue to severely dent any ambitions the club may have going into a season, the fragility of a side who have shown in the past how spectacularly they can push the self-destruct button, or the apparent stubbornness of a manager who fails to address the glaring problems holding his team back. What yesterday’s AST meeting did was put into context just how much trouble-or potential trouble-the club could be in.
One of the main topics of discussion were the financial side of the club, where supporters were demanding to know why the club were so happily sitting on a confirmed budget of circa £50million while the team were performing so poorly on the pitch. It was as recently as the turn of the new year when Ivan Gazidis and Peter Hill-Wood claimed the club did not need the Champions League and it’s financial safety net, and that Manchester City were jealous of Arsenal’s position of still being in the Champions League and the FA Cup. While at the time those comments were highly embarrassing and not telling of the bigger picture, the club now look even more foolish having seemingly gone out of both competitions only a month later.
The fact of the matter is, Arsenal do need the Champions League; not because it’s imperative the club are in a good bargaining position with which to tie down players like Robin van Persie to long-term contracts by competing with the elite, but so they’re in a financial position to remain competitive and not having to remain a selling club in order to subsidise for the lose of earnings from failure to qualify. The lack of transparency at the club as to who is withholding the potential to sign players and, in turn, save the club a further £45million has become a typical and saddening trait of the club. The opportunity was there, the money was there, but no action was taken. Supporters were fed a number of varying reasons as to why deals couldn’t be done; but the truth is, there was no hunger from the boardroom to better the squad. The blame was passed around from manager, who claims to have his hands tied, to board members who continue to insist that funds are available.
The point is, that £50million will have to be moved out of the transfer funds in order to make up for the lack of Champions League income. What is even more worrying were the suggestions that the club would fall foul of the Financial Fair Play if they fail to qualify for the Champions League. The Uefa ruling that the club have so passionately hide behind in the past could actually strike at the Gunners first. The club made it clear that they needed to sell in order to buy-and that’s with income from European football.
It’s also quite clear that Stan Kroenke has little ambition to see the club do well. He is a collector of sports teams and spreads his purchases over a number of cities in America rather than staying in a centralised area. Can we infer from this that he has no desire to see the club competing and rather looking to make a profit when or if he decides to sell, or is it simply the fact that he has no money to invest in the squad due to his other sports interests?
The AST meeting, as well as the many people trying to gain a say through Twitter, were trying to figure out the direction of the club. The majority shareholder has not made himself clear, the board members, who have an average age of over 70, have not made themselves clear, nor is there any sense in the huge bonuses paid out to members of staff who have gone about their job poorly.
Worryingly for supporters is that if the board don’t know where the club is going or how they plan to compete in the future, then how can they possibly sell the idea of playing for Arsenal to future signings? How do the club plan on strengthening the side should they fail to quality for the Champions League, and what are the plans for the many over-paid players at the club if other clubs can’t afford to pick them up.
The level playing field that Arsène Wenger has tried to create in terms of the wage structure at the club has greatly come back to haunt him. From an outsider’s perspective, why is a club with a £130million wage bill unable to get the job done on the pitch? The fourth highest wage bill in the country should surely equate to fourth in the league at least. But that is not the clear definition the club have created. They are unable to give van Persie the kind of money he should be given because players like Johan Djourou and Manuel Almunia are taking significant chunks out of the wages.
What makes this situation even more frustrating for fans who would like to see a change in manager is the question of who would want to come to a club that can’t move on almost the entire squad? A new manager would bring in fresh ideas, his own plans going forward and, most importantly, his own players and staff. But with little hope of Wenger moving on these players then how can anyone else in the near future.
As it’s always been the case, the supporters just need a little clarity during a hugely unclear period of the club’s history. Calls for Arsène Wenger’s head at this moment would only exacerbate the situation, where a clearer perspective with which to evaluate in the summer would be the best move.
Written By Thomas Hallett