Have Arsenal failed to take advantage of 15 years of riches?

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Arsene Wenger has prided himself on the 15 consecutive years that Arsenal have qualified for Europe’s most prestigious cup competition, the Champions League. Further than priding himself, the Gunners boss has used the impressive feat as a justification for the club’s inability to keep up in the title race over the past five years; although failing to get past the round of 16 for three campaigns in a row is hardly anything to write home about.

In addition to the glory and pride that comes with playing in the Champions League, comes huge financial rewards in Television revenues, which is calculated by a rather complex formula to divide UEFA’s overall earnings accordingly between each club based upon domestic standing as well as which round they reach in the European competition. Additionally, there are win and draw bonuses, and fixed fiscal prizes for each stage.

For example, in the 2011/2012 season, according to The Guardian, UEFA cashed in  €1.1billion in selling TV rights and sponsorship deals. 79% is then divided between all of the participating clubs, and the rest is kept by UEFA to cover the tournament’s running costs. The remaining €865 million (79%) split between the clubs is divided into two pools, firstly the fixed rewards, such as €3.9million for reaching the Group Stages, plus €550K per win, and secondly for their final standings domestically and in the European competition.

Perhaps the £25million Arsenal earned from the Champions League in the 2010/2011 season is not as much as one would have first thought, and although it creates a big difference between the clubs at the bottom of the table in the Premier League, it is still a fraction of the club’s overall revenue; 11% in fact for the year in question.

But along with the financial rewards of the Champions League itself, comes a number of commercial opportunities for exposure and sale of merchandise. Essentially, being in the competition gets your club’s name heard around the world, as it’s broadcasted in 220 different countries, and therefore boosts your profile globally, allowing for independent sponsorship deals to be made.

So how have Tottenham Hotspur, a club with a single year of Champions League experience under its belt, come to eclipse their local rivals in terms of league standing as well as quality in their roster, despite the obvious financial rewards and commercial exposure Arsenal have benefited from for 15 years straight?

I am not arguing it is the end for Arsenal, or that they will now and forever always be a lesser team than Spurs, but excluding Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, would any of the Gunners starting XI be guaranteed a hypothetical place in the Tottenham first team? Furthermore, whilst Arsene Wenger possesses a squad full of injury-prone-has-beens and lacklustre flops, Andre Villas-Boas is spoilt for choice in defence and midfield, with a balance of young and old, and a natural pecking order established at White Hart Lane.

The Arsenal wage structure has come under scrutiny this season and it’s easy to see why. According to The Independent, the club’s total wage bill is verging on the £150million mark, whilst Tottenham’s stands at just £90million. The difference is more understandable when taking into consideration the contracts of players like Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci, who are both on £50k per week deals for literally making up the numbers at the Emirates and doing nothing more.

Squillaci has made just a single league appearance over the past two seasons, whilst Chamakh has now been farmed out, along with Johan Djourou, Denilson, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young and Nicklas Bendtner, but all are on deals that vastly surpass their roles at the club considering none have been first team regulars for quite some time. Of course, Champions League clubs are held to ransom by agents demanding Champions League wages for their players, but considering much of the Gunners roster are now not Champions League quality, the club’s wage structure, which has been described as “socialist” by a number of the newspapers, clearly isn’t providing value for money.

Furthermore, some of the blame has to be attached to Arsene Wenger. His lack of ambition in the transfer market has left the squad deteriorated in depth, and similarly the first team have depreciated in value and quality over the past five years. Without Robin Van Persie carrying out a talismanic role up front this season, the rest of the team has been shown up for its widespread lack of talent compared to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

The club’s record transfer fee is currently the £16million spent on Santi Cazorla in the summer, whereas Chelsea’s is £50million, City’s is £37million, Liverpool’s is £35million and United’s is £31million. Out of the five clubs, who have all been Champions League regulars at one time or another, Arsenal’s is by far the least, and is even £2million less than Tottenham’s record fee of £18million for Luka Modric. It’s clear that whilst other clubs have taken advantage of the additional revenues and commercial exposure provided by the Champions League, the Gunners quite frankly have not.

Arsene Wenger has used the building of the club’s new stadium as a justification for his reluctance to spend big in the past. But now that all debts are paid, he should have a free reign in the next transfer window, and has already discussed an apparent £80million transfer and wage kitty that will be at his disposal in the summer. However, it could easily be a case of too little too late if the Gunners miss out on a Champions League spot to their local rivals, which will seriously hurt the Arsenal supporters.

Whereas in the past, Wenger had the opportunity to pay large fees for players desperate to play European football, which he turned down, he may find recruitment for the 2013/2014 season much harder should the North Londoners fail to qualify. Similarly, he will now have a group of players on Champions League wages, who aren’t Champions League quality, without the additional revenues of the tournament to cover their salaries.

Of course, being in the Champions League is no guarantee of success. Liverpool won the competition in 2005, and have since slid down the Premier League table and now find themselves squandering in the middle order of the English top flight. But the fact that Tottenham’s rise has collided with Arsenal’s decline highlights just how the inefficiently the club is being run, with the majority of profits being sucked up by the wage bill alone, leaving little left for transfer funds. Furthermore, and most importantly, it symbolises how Wenger has failed to take advantage of his 15 years of success, and has now allowed local and league rivals Tottenham to better him.

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