The door to next season’s Champions League looks to be closing rapidly for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, but the manager can’t afford to blame falling finances for the failure to bounce back.
Arsenal announced post-tax losses of $34.6 million (£27.1 million) for the 2018-19 season in their latest financial report, leading to a predictable chorus from the club in regards to how that could affect future campaigns at the Emirates Stadium.
Olympiacos’ shock win in the Europa League round of 16 saw Arsenal exit the second-tier contest and lose what might have been their best chance of returning to the big time next term. Arteta, 37, told reporters of the harm being done by their Champions League hiatus prior to their 2-0 FA Cup win over Portsmouth:
“The damage caused by the club not being in the Champions League for the third season is really big. Financially the impact is enormous because the structure of this club is built to be in the Champions League and you can sustain that for one year or two, but then after you have to start making decisions.
“So we will have to make decisions one way or the other depending on the scenario we find ourselves in, whether we are in the Champions League, Europa League or nowhere near that.”
The former Manchester City assistant must have known the depth of the task when he took over at the helm in December, particularly considering the relevant inside knowledge he possessed having played at the club from 2011 until his retirement in 2016.
Arsenal sit 10th in the Premier League with 11 games left to play, their only saving grace being that fifth could be good enough for Champions League qualification with the Citizens currently set to sit out next term’s competition due to their two-year European ban (pending an appeal).
Win their game in hand and the club is only two points off that standard. But Arteta has just three wins in ten Premier League games at the club, two of which came in their last two top-flight games. They face Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and soon-to-be champions Liverpool in a string of fixtures that promise to make or break their season.
Football finance analyst Kieran Maguire pointed to Arsenal’s withering revenue compared to England’s other major powers over the past decade:
The Gunners aren’t the only titan to have discovered the cruel impact of a prolonged absence from UEFA’s first-tier competition. Manchester United’s report for the second quarter of 2019-20 showed they had seen total revenue fall by almost 12 percent in the past year, themselves having been affected by the rising competition among England’s elite.
Challengers abound, and not just the old guard
Premier League peers aren’t liable to wait around while Arsenal and Manchester United make adjustments.
Leicester have combined astute scouting and ownership with a more refined manager in Brendan Rodgers, settling in once again among the deserved contenders for Europe. Wolves—currently sixth and level on points with fifth-place United—also appear to be on a sustained rise under Nuno Espirito Santo, while eighth-place
Sheffield United’s short-term future could yet contain wonders as their fairytale campaign endures. And that’s without counting the inevitable challenges from Chelsea, United and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham.
Where is the return on investment?
It’s not as if Arsenal haven’t been investing in the post-Arsene Wenger era, either.
The combined £125 million spent to acquire forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe in the past two years could be the last we see of such signings at the Emirates for some time, with a greater need for emphasis on value now required.
The impending arrival of Saint-Etienne defender William Saliba—a £27 million deal agreed last summer—is exciting for the club and addresses a longstanding need in central defence. Rumours also indicate Thomas Partey joining the club from Atlético Madrid after a stand-out campaign.
Pablo Mari was brought in on loan from Flamengo this past winter and could be signed on permanent terms, though he’s had very few chances to impress among the first team as of yet.
It was under Wenger—who left the club in 2018 after 22 years at the helm—that the north Londoners qualified for 19 straight Champions League campaigns between 1999 and 2017.
Swiss Ramble highlighted how spending hasn’t dropped—quite the opposite, in fact—despite their absence from the more lucrative Champions League in recent years:
Just featuring in Europe’s headline tournament is worth $16.8 million (€15.25 million), while each group-stage victory is valued at $3 million (€2.7 million). Teams can generate at least another $10 million each time they advance a stage after that, so it’s easy to see how the deficit tots up.
What's next for Arteta?
Arteta inherited a talented squad despite what naysayers might have suggested when Unai Emery’s time at the club was called to an end. He’s succeeded somewhat in steadying an ailing defence with largely the same personnel, all while promoting a number of youngsters like Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to great effect.
While he may be a new face to senior management, Arteta is no fool. He called on his side to “go forward with no excuses,” accepting the fact some of those peers surrounding him are on the rise.
It’s a harsh truth that Arsenal’s three-year absence from the Champions League may yet endure for a number of seasons, though there’s an argument to suggest theirs is the most promising project among any of England’s established heavyweights.
Arteta’s sense of accountability puts him in good stead for a long-term future, though his first year in charge was always going to be considered a write-off given the manner of his arrival.
His maiden campaign as Arsenal manager could yet conclude with a place in next season’s Champions League, but the threat of diminishing revenue isn’t a new one–and won’t serve as a shield should he fail to make the proper improvements over the summer.
Arsenal return to action on Wednesday, June 17 against second-place Manchester City. The Gunners' remaining schedule features several enticing fixtures, including a match against each of the top-three in the Premier League, plus clashes with North London rival Spurs and fellow European qualification rival Wolves. The full Arsenal schedule is below.
Wed, June 17 - 3:15 PM ET – Manchester City vs Arsenal
Sat, June 20 - 10:00 AM ET – Brighton vs Arsenal
Thu, June 25 - 1:00 PM ET – Southampton vs Arsenal
Wed, July 1 - 3:00 PM ET – Arsenal vs Norwich City
Sat, July 4 - 10:00 AM ET – Wolves vs Arsenal
Wed, July 8 - 3:00 PM ET – Arsenal vs Leicester City
Sat, July 11 - 10:00 AM ET – Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal
Wed, July 15 - 3:00 PM ET – Arsenal vs Liverpool
Sat, July 18 - 10:00 AM ET – Aston Villa vs Arsenal
Sun, July 26 - 10:00 AM ET – Arsenal vs Watford