Arsenal is hardly enjoying an ideal start to its 2012-13 campaign. As explained below, however, there is cause for optimism. Short-term underachievement may pave the way for long-term success, both on the field and off of it.
The good news for the club is that its finances are well in order. Despite middling on-field performances, Arsenal is one of the few Premier League clubs to post a profit in the past few years.
Its latest financial statements indicate a profit of £65.5 million in player sales, not including the profit made in the summer transfer window, where Robin van Persie and Alex Song were sold, and a pre-tax profit of £36.6 million was registered. Outstanding debt from the construction of the Emirates stands at less than £100 million, a manageable sum for a six-year-old construction.
Combined with news that Arsenal are negotiating with Adidas for a lucrative jersey deal, one that would see the club earn £25 million a year—almost double what it earns with current sponsor Nike, the financial future of the club is rosy. This is a position that many clubs would very much like to be in.
With the introduction of Financial Fair Play, Arsenal is poised to be financially self-sufficient, and not wholly reliant on wealthy benefactors, such as rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. While there are skeptics who question UEFA’s willingness and ability to enforce Financial Fair Play, it is likely that the financial regulatory regime will significantly curb the spending habits of Arsenal’s direct competitors.
This will allow Arsenal to be more competitive in the transfer market.
The club is well positioned when it comes to its infrastructure, as well. The Emirates is a state-of-the-art facility, with a 60,000 seat capacity, second only to Manchester United’s Old Trafford. Its London Colney training facility is a bit older, but an impressive facility nonetheless.
Whatever grief some supporters will lay at the feet of “Boss” Arsene Wenger, his sustained run of success since his arrival in North London is impressive, and only Manchester United, with the singular Sir Alex Ferguson, can boast such a strong managerial foundation.
So, too, with the Gunners’ academy and scouting network. Starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, starting left back Kieran Gibbs and starting midfielder Jack Wilshere are all academy products. Before them was Ashley Cole, also known as Judas Iscariot, Johan Djourou and Sebastian Larsson.
And the scouting network is unimpeachably first-rate. When Carl Jenkinson took the field throughout the 2011-12 season, there was a collective groan among Arsenal supporters, one not too dissimilar from when Nicklas Bendtner or Marouane Chamakh would be introduced as substitutes during the 2010-11 season.
No longer. Jenkinson will likely earn his first England cap this afternoon, an event that arguably even the most optimistic Gunners fan could not have seen coming, ever, let alone 15 months after his first club appearance.
With German starlets Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfeld having joined the club from Germany in the last year, it’s no surprise that Arsenal are reportedly expanding their German scouting network. And why not? The number of exciting German youngsters is almost as impressive as Spain’s, with Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Lewis Holtby and Julian Draxler all looking to be hugely promising players.
It’s no surprise to Arsenal fans that the squad has been perpetually short of key talent since the mid-2000s. The policy of selling key talent has no doubt contributed to this ongoing state of flux.
In the past two seasons, Arsenal has lost Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. Imagine if a pair of those players had been kept. Imagine if all of these players remained. One can be assured that the North London side would not currently be sitting in eighth place in the Premier League.
Despite the decidedly misfiring offensive options currently at Arsene Wenger’s disposal, it has to be said that, when healthy, Arsenal still has a terrific midfield. Between Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Abou Diaby, along with veterans Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin, and youngsters Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, there’s a lot to like.
While the defense hasn't been playing well in the past few matches, it can’t be chalked up to a lack of talent. Carl Jenkinson and Bacary Sagna are lovely on the right-hand side, while Kieren Gibbs was finally living up to his potential before his injury. Central defenders Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen are all active members of their respective national teams. The nightmare of Andre Santos aside, for once the defense looks to have enough talent to weather a season’s worth of injuries.
The offensive vacuum left by Robin van Persie is obvious. While Olivier Giroud is beginning to prove his worth, it’s unfair to expect the late-blooming forward to acclimatize himself to the difficulty Premier League so quickly. As for wingers-cum-strikers Gervinho and Theo Walcott—they are best left for another article.
In aggregate, the squad is solid, if unspectacular. There’s enough talent to secure fourth place come next May, but there’s little to indicate that there is anything beyond that.
Current Form, and What to Expect Going Forward
Arsenal are currently trying to ride out their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign. It’s far from dire, as they sit only four points outside of a Champions League spot, but it’s also far from ideal. This was a side that used to challenge for trophies, and not just that trophy of qualifying for the Champions League.
Prior to the last international break, the squad looked coherent, driven and worthy of challenging the established elite of Manchester and cross-town rivals Chelsea. Yet against Norwich, Queens Park Rangers and Schalke 04, the team looked thoroughly befuddled and bereft of creativity going forward. Such is life after the departures of Fabregas and van Persie.
Going forward, it’s hard to see where consistent goals will come from. Presupposing Olivier Giroud and Gervinho combine for 30 league goals this season, who is to say that Arsenal won’t contrive to drop a great many points along the way? It must be said that Everton look a likelier side to secure a Champions League spot than Arsenal do, and that’s as much a compliment to Everton as it is a dig against last year’s—miraculously—third-place team.
Nor will the January transfer window offer much respite for Arsenal fans. Names like Edinson Cavani and Edin Dzeko have been bandied about in the past few days, but stalwart Arsenal fans know better than to pay such rumors any mind. Wenger may well unload some dead wood (please let the thoroughly listless Sebastian Squillaci be a part of this). He may also make a purchase or two, but don’t expect fireworks; it’s not how Wenger operates.
Despite current travails, Arsenal’s pedigree, and Arsene Wenger’s tutelage will likely see the side inexorably limp its way into fourth spot, where it will be the best of the rest, rather than a member of the league’s elite. Do remember, there are worse fates. Just ask Liverpool fans; their team can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary under “Fall From Grace.”
Come next summer, I expect to see Arsenal’s future take shape. There should not be any important players in the midst of contract disputes, nor wrangling over whether Arsene Wenger should keep his job. A laundry list of players will be shown the door, if they haven’t already, including: Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, Denilson, Emmanuel Frimpong, Lukasz Fabianski, Ju-Young Park, and thankfully, Andre Santos.
Once the house has been cleaned of mostly overpaid, mid-level players, expect the renaissance to begin. Like the phoenix from the flames, Arsenal fans can expect a 2013-14 squad that is bubbling with the potential that the current squad is largely missing. Until then, say a nightly prayer for the health and well-being of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere.
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