By Tony Attwood
“By the time the stadium opened in 2006, Arsenal had slipped into financial purgatory, with wages trimmed and transfer budgets reined in.”
I’m going to stop that there – there’s no evidence of that and the figures simply don’t back it up.
Right, carry on…
“The Emirates was supposed to take Arsenal to the next level; instead, it led them into an era of underachievement. Frustration rather than fervour has echoed from the stands, culminating in the ugly Granit Xhaka incident a year ago. It remains to be seen if Mikel Arteta can finally make the Emirates a happy home.”
OK so somehow we are invited to see the move from Highbury in 2006 as culminating in the Granit Xhaka incident. And how was that exactly?
Granit Xhaka got angry on the pitch because he was fed up with being attacked by a small group of “fans” who having spent their time attacking Wenger (at the behest of the media, AST, AFTV and Black Scarf) transferred their anger to Xhaka – who as we saw before and since that situation, is a very fine player certainly capable of holding his place in a Premier League team.
Let’s try some perspective here, something which might reveal what Niall McVeigh, a Guardian sub-editor was thinking when he persuaded his employers to print this story.
We all know that the club did not have owners such as Chelsea and later Man City and Liverpool who would put whatever it took into the club to win things. Arsenal was a “survive on your income” club.
From 2006 to the present day Arsenal have had these positions and achievements year by year.
- Premier League 2nd: once
- Premier League 3rd: four times
- Premier League 4th: four times
- Outside the top four: four times
- Champions league R16 and above: 11 times (one final)
- Europa League: 3 times (one final, one semi)
- FA Cup winners: 4 times
So now to measure this 14 year spell with the previous 14 years at Highbury:
- Premier League 1st: three times
- Premier League 2nd: five times
- Premier League 3rd: once
- Premier League 4th: twice
- Premier League 5th: once
- Premier League 10th: once
- Premier League 12th: once
- FA Cup winners: 5 times
- Cup Winners Cup: 2 times (once won, once runners’ up)
- Champions League: runners up once
- Uefa Cup: runners up once
So on that basis, yes the most recent 14 years is not so good as the previous 14 years, and yes this can be put down to the cost of building the stadium, and repaying the debt slowly over time.
On that basis the argument is true, but was that really the cause of the decline? In fact not – it turns out the whole thing is a typical journo trick. Set up a story with the conclusion already written in, and then assume we won’t worry about the facts,
What’s missing is the fact that most of the earlier period of Arsenal success was pre-Abramovich at Chelsea (he joined in 2003) and all of it was pre-Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan at Manchester City (took over in 2008). And of course all of the new Liverpool+money period.
Second, Chelsea are still in their original stadium, wiith building of a new stadium having been abandoned, while Manchester City were gifted their new stadium in 2003. True they have expanded it since then, but it is leased to the club for around £4.5m a year. It would take 86 years for Man City to pay in rent what Arsenal had to pay to build their new stadium, so in effect neither club has had stadia costs.
Our record in the years at the Emirates has not been as good as it was at Highbury, that is obviously true. But supposing we had stayed at Highbury, and not had to pay for the new stadium. Would we have kept up in any way with Manchester City and Chelsea?
From 2006 to the present day the League titles gained by Premier League clubs have been:
- Chelsea: 4
- Manchester United: 5
- Manchester City: 4
- Leicester City: 1
- Liverpool: 1
Manchester United have no stadium build costs. But since last winning the league they have come second once, third once, fourth once, fifth once, sixth twice, and seventh once and have won the FA Cup once, the League Cup once and the Europa League once. Which shows money is not a guarantee of winning.
But, the three clubs with the massive incomes (Man U with income generated by its worldwide marketing scheme, and no stadium costs), Man C and Chelsea with multi-billionaire owners who will invest in the club and no stadia costs) have won the league between them 13 times in the last 15 seasons.
The question thus is, would Arsenal have been able to compete with these teams while living on its income from Highbury, without massive investment from a multi-billionaire or the long term project that Manchester United had the foresight to set up from the 1960s onwards?
The answer is obviously no. Money buys the league title. It is not guaranteed, as Manchester United have found of late, what with not winning the league since 2013, but without that money it is pretty unlikely. Leicester indeed did it once, but is noteworthy that Liverpool’s win has come with the help of FSG’s investment in players from 2014/15 onwards.
In fact the whole premise of the article, seeing Arsenal’s stadium move as culminating in “the ugly Granit Xhaka incident” is nonsense. The point is how much clubs are willing to spend on new players. This doesn’t mean that spending lots of money on new players guarantees success, but the money at Chelsea and Man C meant the clubs could buy, buy and buy, and then sell off anyone who didn’t come up to scratch, and then go on buying again.
And it is important to realise that is the model. They have enough cash for 50% of their purchases not to work, and for it not to matter. Arsenal could not do that and without huge investments year after year in players while selling failures at a loss, it is hard to stay up with the clubs that do this without any fear of running out of money.
Arsenal as a club have not been given money by their owners to compete with Manchester City and Chelsea and of late Liverpool – that is the key point. But had the new Arsenal stadium not been built, the club would have had far less money – and far less of a chance of attracting aspiring young players and established internationals. With others around them all with vast amounts of money and most with new or renewed stadia, Arsenal would have looked like poor relations.
What Mr Wenger did by winning those three league titles was only overtaken by sheer money – money of the type that none of the clubs have ever been able to generate from the stadium income alone. As such Arsenal’s position in the league has nothing to do with the stadium, and comparing the current Arsenal stadium to the situations relating to Coventry, Darlington, Oxford, Derby and Sunderland shows just how far the Guardian will stoop these days to continue its eternal Arsenal-knocking programme.
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