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Friday, 14 December 2012

Arsenal: Spend big or accept fourth or worse


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There are two ways of looking at Arsenal's current predicament and after being dumped out of the Capital One Cup by League Two Bradford City, those two views are in even sharper contrast.

View One - Sensible, morally acceptable and the long game

Under Arsene Wenger Arsenal have managed to relocate to the Emirates, while staying financially viable. They have a wage structure which doesn't break the bank, bring on young players and turn them into top performers and will be well placed when Financial Fair Play comes in.

Arsenal are not reliant on the largesse and whims of one person and have not had debt loaded on the club in the manner of Manchester United or Liverpool. If Financial Fair Play transforms the landscape Arsenal are in top shape to ride the transition - and currently they do not take reckless risks to put out a team of players whose wages they can't afford. Some teams do this and it is reckless and morally wrong in the current climate to spend money the club doesn't have.

View Two - Falling behind, too safe and naive

Football clubs in the elite levels like Arsenal exist to win things. Arsenal are currently operating with one hand tied behind their back because they don't go into the market for marquee players and this lack of ambition has encouraged their best players to jump ship.

Arsenal 2012 celebrateThe players leaving are not being replaced by players of a similar standard - many of those brought in are not good enough to be at a club challenging for the Champions League. By the time Financial Fair Play has an impact, the Arsenal squad will have fallen far behind their rivals in quality - it will take years to catch up.

And will FFP really have an impact? The truth about the game of football since the year dot is that money talks and usually rich and powerful individuals and organisations find ways to make their cash count, regardless of regulations. Arsenal might hold the moral high ground but that rarely translates into silverware.

Will FFP change the situation in Spain where Barcelona and Real Madrid have effectively locked up the league between them because of their control of TV revenues? And will those who back Man City not still find ways to pour resources into the club?

The reality

These two views go to the heart of what a football club is about. Undoubtedly, the past decade has seen football clubs behave in ridiculous and morally unacceptable ways. Glasgow Rangers were winning titles in Scotland by spending money the club didn't have and owed in part to the taxman. Portsmouth have also fallen into extreme financial trouble after supporting a squad and ambition that outstripped club revenues - and in the fallout from that local businesses have suffered.

In these terms Arsenal's stance is realistic and clear-sighted - but this tightening of the belt is set against the high ticket prices paid by supporters who have laid out a high proportion of their incomes to see their team. Many Gunners fans, especially younger ones, go to games in the expectation of success - and pay a lot of money for that.

Keeping Arsenal financially balanced means little to those fans when they see rival teams moving beyond their club's reach. The argument about FFP is very much a case of jam tomorrow; their priority is success on the park now. It's little consolation to them to hear how efficient the match day routine at the Emirates is in maximising revenue.

In the short term the facts appear clear. No unbiased observer can argue that the quality of the Arsenal squad hasn't declined over the past three years. There has been criticism of Arsene Wenger's transfer buys but essentially this is because he can't buy certainties - buying the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Mehmet Ozil or Sergio Aguero virtually guarantees quality. Buying Gervinho, Per Metersacker or Andre Santos doesn't.

Gems like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can be polished and worked into star players, but that takes time and in the meantime the squad deteriorates as others leave. Without making a very substantial entry to the transfer market Arsenal are condemned to scrapping for fourth in the Premier League and some success in cups. That may be acceptable to a section of the Arsenal support but there will be many who aren't prepared to accept that.

The Financial Fair play cavalry might be just about to come over the hill but by the time they arrive what will be left of Arsenal to rescue?

Calling all Arsenal fans: How do you view the current situation at the Emirates? Is Arsene right to hold on to the cash or should he splash it and bring a big name to the club for once? Can Arsenal stay in contention for a Champions League spot this season? Does Wenger have your support? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Hugh Larkin

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