Big loss for Arsenal underlines challenge to restore Gunners’ status

ARSENAL went into 2021-22 knowing they were not going to benefit from European competition for the first time since 1995. Finishing eighth for the second successive season, the club is still struggling to find consistency in the post-Wenger era. The latest financial report from the club emphasises that the Gunners’ continue to lose ground.

In 2020-21, Arsenal made a loss for the third consecutive campaign and the deficit increased to £ 127 million (pre-tax), up from £ 54 million in 2020 and £ 32 million in 2019. This was partly due to exceptional expenses of £ 39 million, but it also demonstrated the impact of covid-19. Since 2018-19, the last “normal” season, Arsenal have seen their revenues drop by 17% and between 2019-20 to 2020-21, they fell by 5% to £ 327.6 million. It is estimated the pandemic may have cost Arsenal around £ 80 million.

In the past five years, Arsenal’s position among the elite (aka the big six) has come under threat and they are now sixth in terms of total income and have been overtaken by their fierce rivals Tottenham. 

The club rearranged its debts and repayed some bank debt, which incurred a big chunk of exceptional items in the form of refinancing break costs. Arsenal rely on significant funding from KSE UK Inc (owned by Stan Kroenke) and they have a £ 70 million working capital facility with Barclays Bank. Their net debt has increased by 84% to £ 199 million due to a big reduction in cash.

On the pitch, while Arsenal have won four FA Cups since 2014, their league form has declined and from being a Champions League regular, they have spent five seasons outside the top four and four years in the Europa League. Rather clumsily, they went out of the Europa League at the semi-finals stage in 2020-21 to Villareal. Coach Mikkel Arteta still divides opinion among fans, although generally, he is popular and people appear to be buying into his “project”. His win rate, though, is 53.8%, lower than his predecessor Unai Emery, and there will be no silverware in 2021-22. Arsenal could still qualify for next season’s Champions League.

  • Revenues down 5% year-on-year
  • Pre-tax loss totals £ 127.2 million, net loss £ 107.3 million
  • Only Chelsea have posted a bigger loss in 2020-21
  • Wage-to-income ratio up to 73%
  • Profit on player sales drops by 80%.

Arsenal’s European run benefitted their broadcasting revenues, which increased by 55% to £ 184.4 million. Absence from Europe will obviously hit the club’s income in 2021-22, hurting almost as much as the ignominy of exclusion. Given the current climate, it was no surprise the Gunners’ matchday earnings fell dramatically from £ 78.7 million to just £ 3.8 million. With the return of crowds, Arsenal should see this revenue stream head towards the £ 100 million mark once more in the current season.  Commercial income fell slightly to £ 139.5 million in 2020-21, but was at a historic high level.

Arsenal’s profit on player sales fell by some 80% to £ 11.8 million, a far cry from the £ 120 million they made in 2018 and far less than the average over the past five years (£ 42 million). The club’s transfer market activity was relatively muted, their biggest signing being Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey, who cost £ 45 million, and Lille’s defender Gabriel, who was signed for £ 23 million. They sold goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez to Aston Villa for £ 20 million. Gross spend, according to Transfermarkt, was £ 77.4 million, the seventh highest in the Premier League, while their net outlay was £ 60 million. The club’s accounts show £ 115 million in additional player registrations. 

Even though revenues were 5% lower in 2020-21, Arsenal’s wage bill rose by 6% to £ 238 million, representing 73% of income. To the credit of the players, they agreed to a 12.5% pay cut during the peak of the pandemic. At the same time, the club made 55 people redundant, including their popular mascot, Gunnersaurus Rex. Since 2016, the Gunners’ wages have gone up by 22%, far less than the growth rate at the other big six clubs. For example, Tottenham’s salaries have grown by 105%, Manchester City’s 80% and Liverpool’s 51%. Interestingly, directors’ pay more than doubled in 2020-21. 

The financial news will do nothing to increase the popularity of the current regime at Arsenal, especially as they announced a 4% increase in season tickets for 2022-23 just before releasing their financials. However, Arsenal’s current malaise is a temporary thing and they will be bounce back. Whether they can become more successful depends on a more dynamic transfer policy that identifies talent at the right price as well as a longer-term view around developing a team that can be more competitive. A big change is also needed in the relationship between the club’s owners and the fans. If these factors can be improved, then Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium will be a happier place.

Everton, Leeds, Villa and Sunderland – all went close to winning football’s hallowed double

WHEN Arsenal won the double in 1970-71, it was the first time since Tottenham’s much heralded success of 1960-61. Everyone thought it was an astonishing achievement, yet it was only a decade after their North London rivals had swept up the major prizes. Prior to Bill Nicholson’s side winning

the double, you had to go back to 1896-97 (Aston Villa) and 1888-89 (Preston North End). It was popularly considered to be impossible to win both the premier prizes on offer.

Today we live in an age where the top sides want to win everything. But a leading club’s priorities don’t generally include the FA Cup – the Premier and Champions League qualification are the prizes that will be one and two on the “to do” list at the top clubs. The FA Cup and Football League Cup – wrongly – are consolation prizes. In the days when Tottenham and Arsenal earned their place in football folklore, success in Europe was a little bit of icing on the cake. The Football League and FA Cup, the everyday “bread and butter” competitions, were how managers and players were largely judged.

The creation of a group of “super clubs” has meant that winning a double is no longer out of the question. When you chase one prize, you go after two and when you position yourself nicely for two, you start to think about three or four. But you can aim for whatever you like and end up with nothing, as most clubs have found out.

Doubles started to become commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Double has been achieved 12 times, seven since Arsenal’s dramatic 1971 triumph: 1888-89: Preston North End; 1896-97: Aston Villa; 1960-61: Tottenham Hotspur; 1970-71: Arsenal; 1985-86: Liverpool; 1993-94: Manchester United; 1995-96: Manchester United; 1997-98: Arsenal; 1998-99: Manchester United; 2001-02: Arsenal; 2009-10: Chelsea; 2018-19: Manchester City.

Trbles of any kind are even rarer. The only time a domestic treble has been achieved was in 2018-19 when Manchester City were champions, FA Cup winners and Football League Cup winners. Manchester United pulled off the treble of League, Cup and Champions League in 1998-99. Liverpool have won two trebles, in 2000-01 (League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup) and in 1983-84, the League, League Cup and European Cup.

There have been many near-misses, where a club has won one trophy and finished runners-up in another, or even finished runners-up in both.

1903-04: Manchester City – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Newly-promoted City beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the cup final thanks to a Billy Meredith goal. They finished three points behind The Wednesday in the league, despite being top in the final week.

1904-05: Newcastle United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Newcastle won the title by a single point, but went into Easter a point behind Everton and finished with a flourish. Two weeks before clinching the title, they lost the cup final 2-0 to Aston Villa, after beating them by the same scoreline in the league a week earlier.

1912-13: Sunderland – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/1912-13: Aston Villa – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Sunderland Villa were neck-and-neck all season and shared the honours in 1913. Sunderland ended with a 10-game unbeaten run, including a 1-1 draw at Villa Park that all but won them the title. A few days earlier, Villa had won a rough house cup final 1-0 at Crystal Palace in front of 121,000 people.

1947-48: Manchester United – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
United finished seven points behind champions Arsenal in the league, but won the FA Cup, beating Blackpool in the final by 4-2 in an exciting 90 minutes. United beat six first division sides to win the competition, one of the toughest roads to Wembley.

1953-54: West Bromwich Albion – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
A goal three minutes from time from Frank Griffin gave Albion a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup final against Preston. In the league, they finished just three points behind Black Country rivals Wolves. Albion’s team, which included the likes of Ronnie Allen, started the season well and were unbeaten in nine games, but ended the campaign indifferently.

1956-57: Manchester United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
The “Busby Babes”, who won the league title by eight points, scoring 103 goals, were denied the double by an Aston Villa side who finished mid-table. In the FA Cup final, United goalkeeper Ray Wood was injured and Jackie Blanchflower took over in goal. Villa went two-up through Peter McParland and United’s only response came late on from Tommy Taylor, one of the Babes who perished in Munich.

1959-60: Wolverhampton Wanderers – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Wolves lost the league title they had won in the two previous seasons to Burnley by just a single point, scoring 106 goals. In the Cup Final y, Wolves crushed Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in a bad tempered game remembered for the loutish behaviour of the crowd, who showered Wolves in rubbish as they went off the field.

1971-72: Leeds United – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
These were the days when Leeds were challenging for everything. They won the FA Cup by beating old rivals Arsenal 1-0, Allan Clarke scoring the goal. Two days later, they travelled to Wolves in the final game of the campaign needing a point to clinch the double. They lost 2-1 and Derby won the title. “I’m as sick as a pig,” said centre-half Jackie Charlton.

1973-74: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Liverpool were always second best to Leeds in the title race in 1973-74 and finished five points off of top spot. But they easily won the FA Cup when they crushed Newcastle 3-0, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan and one from Steve Heighway. It proved to be Bill Shankly’s final triumph with Liverpool.

1976-77: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
“Pack up your trebles” said the banner at Wembley as Liverpool tried to add the FA Cup to their league title win. Champions by a point from Manchester City, the Reds lost 2-1 to Manchester United, but a few days later, won the European Cup. No treble, but not a bad season!

1984-85: Everton – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Howard Kendall’s young team emphatically won the title by a 13-point margin over Mersey rivals Liverpool. They were unlucky in the FA Cup, losing to 10-man Manchester United by an extra-time goal. Everton also won the European Cup Winners-Cup.

1987-88: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
This was the Liverpool team of Barnes-Aldridge-Beardsley, playing some of the best football of modern times. They lost just twice in the league and won the title by a nine point margin over Manchester United. The Cup Final produced one of the greatest shocks of all time, Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang” winning 1-0 with goalkeeper Dave Beasant saving a penalty from Aldridge.

1988-89: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Another great story unfolded at the end of the 1988-89 season. Liverpool won the FA Cup in an emotional Merseyside final, beating Everton 3-2. They were seconds away from winning the double when Arsenal scored right at the death through Michael Thomas to win 2-0 at Anfield and take the title back to London. It was one of those nights when you cheered, regardless of your allegiance (Tottenham fans excluded).

2002-03: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Arsenal were five points off retaining their title, coming in second to Manchester United. In the FA Cup, they beat Southampton 1-0 in Cardiff, goalscorer Robert Pires.

2004-05: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Arsenal won a dire FA Cup final on penalties against Manchester United. They were left trailing behind by 12 points in the Premier, Chelsea taking over from the “Invincibles”.

2006-07: Manchester United – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/2006-07: Chelsea – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Chelsea lost the crown they had worn for the past two seasons to United, who finished six points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s team. But Chelsea won the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley in a lack lustre contest, Didier Drogba scoring the only goal in extra time to beat United.

2016-17: Chelsea – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Chelsea were denied the double by Arsenal in the FA Cup final, Wenger winning his last trophy as manager of the Gunners. In the League, Antonio Conte won the title in his first season as manager of Chelsea.

Runners-up in both competitions
1927-28: Huddersfield Town – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1931-32: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1938-39: Wolverhampton Wanderers – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1961-62: Burnley – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1964-65: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1969-70: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1985-86: Everton – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1994-95: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2000-01: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2012-13: Manchester City – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
2017-18: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup.

Photo: PA

Dušan Vlahović: Big, brave and bold, but oven-ready?

THERE’s often a shortage of up-and-coming young strikers around Europe, so anyone who shows the ability to score 20-plus goals is always going to be a sought-after commodity. Big clubs want to bet their money on a sure thing, so the competition for notable names like Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé will always be fierce once the bidding starts. Other forwards who have potential and have not necessarily been centre stage also command sizeable fees.

Dušan Vlahović of Fiorentina is one such player, a 21 year-old Serb who lacks nothing in technique, drive and confidence. His hero is Zlatan Ibrahimović and he has told friends and associates that he is a Serbian Zlatan who will only play for the strongest clubs. He’s currently at Fiorentina, a club with ambition but whose last scudetto was in 1969 (their second) and their last piece of silverware was the Coppa Italia, which was lifted in 2001. The Belgrade-born youngster started his professional career with Partizan, but he also played at youth level for both Red Star and OFK.

Pundits and fans have been singing his praises for the past year or so, and unsurprisingly, he’s about to sign for Juventus for a fee of € 75 million, despite interest from Premier League clubs like Arsenal, who were very keen on breaking the bank to secure him. Champions League football was a prerequisite, however, and Arsenal cannot guarantee their involvement, unlike Manchester City, who were also interested in him at an earlier stage.

It does sound as though Juventus was always going to be his next destination as some rumours imply he had already agreed terms with them before rejecting a new contract with the Viola. As talks continued between Vlahović’s people and Juve, there was a negative reaction from some Fiorentina’s fans. He has moved from hero to zero, so much so that the Italian police are keeping an eye on the situation.

Vlahović’s entourage includes his agent, Darko Ristic, who has upset one or two people around the Fiorentina camp due to media reports that he asked for a € 20 million bonus. There is also talk of an attorney connected to the deal being pictured with certain individuals from the Serbian underworld. Rocco B. Commisso, the club’s owner, has allegedly said the club will not deal with Ristic and his colleagues again.

Meanwhile, Vlahović has said he never pushed to leave Fiorentina, although he did turn down a new five-year contract that would pay him € 3.5 million per year and make him the highest earning player in the club’s history. According to the Italian press, he currently earns € 800,000 a year at Fiorentina and Juventus are willing to give him a € 7 million annual salary.

Initially, though, Fiorentina were eager not to sell their leading scorer, but there has been something of a poker game going on. Juventus came onto the scene and told them that it was a deal now or they would wait until 2023 and get the player for nothing. Furthermore, Ristic wasn’t listening to other offers, including an extension to his existing deal. This really forced Fiorentina’s hand and hence, Vlahović is bound for Turin.

How will he fare at a bigger club where expectation will be high? His goalscoring rate in Florence has been impressive, 44 in 98 Serie A games, and his strike rate for Serbia, seven goals in 14 appearances, also underlines his potential. It should be noted that 12 of his 44 league goals have been penalties. In the calendar year, his 33 goals were beaten only by Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. By the time Serbia take part in the 2022 World Cup, Vlahović’s personal development will have further evolved and he will have had 10 months at Juventus.

He is an imposing figure, firstly because, at 6 feet 3 inches, he stands head and shoulders above most players. Naturally, at that height he is effective in the air, but he also has the close control of a smaller individual and he is adept at holding-up the ball. Not only does he have an eye for goal, but he does create for others and he has a good turn of speed. 

He has been called “the complete forward”, but in a bigger pond, will he have the same impact? Juventus already have Paulo Dybala, Álvaro Morata, Moise Kean and the young Brazilian Kaio Jorge. Interestingly, there are rumours concerning the futures of all four players when Vlahović arrives, with Tottenham interested in Dybala, Morata being chased by Barcelona, and 20 year-old Jorge going out on loan to another Italian club. Obviously, the expectation is the expensive new signing will be the first choice striker, so the spotlight will be firmly on one of Europe’s most exciting young talents in the coming months.