LONDON (Reuters) - With 120 million pounds sloshing around in the club’s bank accounts, the pressure on prudent Arsenal to start splashing the cash will intensify again when what looks like another trophyless season ends in May.
If silverware was handed out by accountants and economists the north London club would have cleaned up in recent seasons, such has been their reluctance to spend big money to sign the world’s top names.
On the surface it has been a policy endorsed by long-serving manager Arsene Wenger, a man with a degree in economics and with a passion for adding value to lesser-known players rather than paying for ready-made models off the shelf.
He has often criticised the spending habits of other sides in the Premier League and with UEFA’s financial fair play rules coming into force, Arsenal will be well-placed when the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City rein in their budgets.
Yet, as has been proven by a non-existent Premier League title challenge, two humiliating exits to lower division opponents in the domestic cups and a first-leg humbling by Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, there is a fair amount of catching up to do.
Arsenal are even being left in the shade by north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who have managed to muscle their way into the Premier League top four without risking the club’s financial future.
The cash conveyor belt provided by the Champions League is therefore by no means a certainty next season for fifth-placed Arsenal.
The Gunners have reached the knockout stage of the Champions League for 13 consecutive seasons under Wenger’s astute management, a fine achievement considering that run spanned a move to the 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium which, thanks to clever financial management, is now paid for.
Bragging rights among England’s football fans tend to be about league titles and FA Cups rather than balance sheets and the last time Arsenal’s fans had anything to crow about was in 2005 when they beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup.
So, the news that Arsenal made a pre-tax profit of 17.8 million pounds in the six months to November, have no short-term debt and have cash reserves of 123.4 million pounds will have been met by shrugs and raised eyebrows by fans, especially when reading the comments of chairman Peter Hill-Wood.
“Our ability to compete at the top of the game here and in Europe is underpinned by our financial performance which gives the club strength and independence,” he said in Monday’s statement.
“Our desire is to make everyone connected with Arsenal proud of the club. We know that comes through winning trophies but also through the way we do things and that will remain our constant guide.”
While Arsenal spent 40.9 million pounds in the July and August transfer window on Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud as well as extending player contracts and signing left back Nacho Monreal in January, there has been an outward drift in quality.
Robin van Persie’s sale to Manchester United in August was the final straw for many fans who have watched the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy leave to win silverware elsewhere in the past five seasons.
The incomings have hardly been resounding success stories.
Andrei Arshavin, signed for 15 million pounds in 2009, has faded badly, while others such as Ivory Coast forward Gervinho, German defender Per Mertesacker and Brazilian Andre Santos have not cut the mustard.
Wenger’s own position has come under scrutiny and the Frenchman endured some of his most difficult days since joining in 1996 last week when an FA Cup loss to Blackburn Rovers induced a bad-tempered rant at journalists, preceding a 3-1 home defeat by Bayern in which they were outclassed.
With Premier League clubs about to receive another huge financial windfall courtesy of a new television deal, plus the benefits of a lucrative sponsorship from Emirates, fans of the club are already drawing up shopping lists of players.
Wenger, who has one season left on his contract, will have a large war chest in June and the likes of Barcelona striker David Villa, Lyon playmaker Yoann Gourcuff and Fiorentina frontman Stevan Jovetic will surely be on his radar too. (Editing by Mark Meadows)