With the £30 million signing of Chilean superstar Alexis Sánchez, it feels like a new dawn for Arsenal. With a serious title challenge on the cards, can we say that Arsène Wenger and Ivan Gazidis have finally seen the error of their frugal ways?
Factoring in the signing of Mesut Ozil last summer, the capture of £72 million’s worth of elite footballing talent in the space of 10 months would suggest a sharp change of tack. The North Londoners even look poised to announce the signing of Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy early next week, and it’s rumored Sami Khedira will be next.
But while this may sound like historical revisionism, there’s a lot of evidence that says this was part of Arsenal’s grand plan, all along.
In 2000, the club purchased a site in Ashburton Grove, then a waste disposal estate, which was to be the plot for the magnificent 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium. The old Highbury ground was simply too small to create the revenue needed to compete with the elite of European football.
This long-term project, however, would come at a cost. Loans of up to £260 million would have to be repaid over an extremely lean period. Meanwhile, the club was locked into a pair of unusually long sponsorship deals with Nike and Emirates. Signed in the early 2000s, the contracts were necessary to secure funding to build the stadium, but have since been dwarfed by commercial deals made by other Premier League clubs.
When the deals ended, however, Arsenal were free to negotiate new ones on the open market.
Recently the Gunners announced a new five-year, £150 million partnership with German manufacturer Puma. It’s the most lucrative kit deal in British football, eclipsing even those made by Manchester United and Liverpool.
A similarly profitable deal with Emirates has been struck, and together it’s estimated these deals represent an additional £70 million in revenue each year. That means Arsenal will be able to capture the equivalent of a Sánchez-Mesut Özil double-swoop every season, on top of their current rate of expenditure.
What Wenger has done is remarkable and truly unique; he’s worked on a shoestring budget in order to set Arsenal up for a period of commercial and sporting success. The Frenchman’s doing means Arsenal fans need not worry about the club breaking Financial Fair Play rules. And what’s more, Wenger has delivered Champions League football every season. Yes, some years, qualification has been tight. But he’s done it nonetheless.
Arsenal insiders will tell you that the summer 2014 has always been something of a landmark. Now the party can begin. With new stadiums for Tottenham and Liverpool seeming a long way off, Arsenal are set to leave their top-four rivals in their dust.
With regard to these clubs, Arsenal have been cunningly strategic in their transfer market dealings.
Their two biggest-ever moves (Ozil and Sanchez) were instrumental in the sales of Gareth Bale and Luis Suárez, the main men for Tottenham and Liverpool, respectively. Many of Europe’s top-line players have switched clubs in the last two summers – all rejected by Wenger apart from Özil and Sánchez. Coincidence? I think not.
Everything seems to be falling into place for the Gunners. Give them credit – they’ve stuck to their guns, even when Wenger was roundly lambasted for being a specialist in failure, to borrow José Mourinho’s line. Living frugally, as well as the emergence of Manchester City and Chelsea, both backed by rich benefactors, has knocked Arsenal from the peak of English football for a decade now. They finally look primed to reclaim their place.