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Feb 25, 2013

Arsenal profits prompt transfer scrutiny

Arsenal Holdings PLC may have announced a £17.8 million pre-tax profit for the half-year to the end of November 2012, but their soaring wage bill and huge cash reserves will leave many irate supporters asking questions of manager Arsene Wenger and his board.

• Blog: Profits raise questions

Chairman Peter Hill-Wood claimed his chief desire was "to make Arsenal fans proud of their club" as they announced another glowing set of financial figures that confirms the club now boasts financial reserves of £123 million, although they now boast the fourth highest wage bill in the Premier League.

Only Manchester United and their neighbours City, along with European champions Chelsea, boast a bigger wage bill than Arsenal, with reports suggesting the Gunners now pay their faltering players a collective total in the region of £155million per year.

While the substantial profit puts Arsenal in a strong position, the Gunners have failed to make a significant difference on the pitch, with Nacho Monreal the only acquisition in the January window.

The impressive financial figures have been hailed by chairman Peter Hill-Wood as evidence that Arsenal's "ability to compete at the top of the game here and in Europe is underpinned by our financial performance". However, the timing of the announcement is in danger of inflaming the tensions simmering under the surface among Gunners fans.

After a week that saw Arsene Wenger's side crash out of the FA Cup at the hands of Blackburn and then suffering a Champions League humbling against Bayern Munich, supporters calling for the club to increase their investment in player recruitment are likely to be riled by these latest figures.

A club statement has confirmed that the £17.8 million pre-tax profit was "was driven primarily by player sales of £42.5 million". Yet the Gunners also invested £40.9 million in signing new players Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, and signed contract extensions with existing players, including Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

Football turnover dropped from £113.5 million to £106 million as a result of four fewer home fixtures compared to the same period last year. However, overall operating profits from the club's property operation increased to £1.9 million, compared to £0.5 million in 2011.

The club has no short-term debt and continues to have a robust financial platform from cash reserves of £123.3 million, which is an increase from the £115.2 million figure posted in 2011.

The report also confirmed the extended partnership with Emirates, which will be worth up to £150 million. This comes in addition to deals with Airtel and Malta Guinness, as well as additional sponsorship linked to the pre-season tour.

Hill-Wood sought to fend off criticism from supporters who will claim the club are prioritising profits ahead of sporting ambition.

He said in a statement: "Our ability to compete at the top of the game here and in Europe is underpinned by our financial performance which gives the club strength and independence. Our desire is to make everyone connected with Arsenal proud of the club. We know that comes through winning trophies but also through the way we do things and that will remain our constant guide."

The robust financial health of Arsenal is a triumph for those charged with securing the club's financial stability. And Wenger hinted on Friday that the Gunners' solid base will now provide him with the chance to launch a more aggressive approach to his transfer dealings.

"I am not reluctant to spend and if we find tomorrow a player of top, top, top quality, we will take him," Wenger said, before claiming he would be willing to spend £40 million on one player if he felt it would enhance his team.

"First of all, we only had money recently (after the Emirates Stadium move). Secondly, in England there is a way of thinking that every problem is sorted out just by spending money but that's not always the case. If it was like that, the same teams would win the Champions League every year.

"I believe that the problem today is not the money, it's to find the talent that strengthens your team. We went out to spend money at Christmas but we didn't find the players."

Wenger's positive sentiments over the health of Arsenal's finances are backed up by these latest figures. However, continuing off-field success is unlikely to satisfy an increasing clutch of supporters who are losing patience with the team's annual failings on the field.

A spokesman from the Arsenal Supporters' Trust said of the numbers: "These figures contain few surprises. They show that Arsenal yet again made a profit from the sale of their best players and that the club has large cash reserves.

"Arsenal fans have contributed to this financial health through paying some of the highest ticket prices in world football. AST members want to see this money used for more, and better, investment in the team.

"The results also show the club does spend considerable money on wages, approximately £150m per annum. But the football decisions made on player investment, player selection and player wage levels are not delivering a more competitive team.

"The AST believes the club are financially well set to improve on the decline of the last few seasons. The remaining question is whether it has the boardroom leadership and football decision making expertise to make the money count.''

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