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Feb 26, 2009

Highbury proving a millstone for Arsenal's finances

There was good news and bad news on Thursday as Arsenal reported their half-yearly financial results.

While the football side of the Gunners' business is in rude health with pre-tax profits up £4.5m to £24.5m thanks to increases in both broadcasting revenues and matchday turnover at the Emirates Stadium, the dip in the UK housing market is impacting on Arsenal's property business.

The Gunners remain confident that the Highbury Square development can tough out the current economic downturn and to underline the point the club's property business has reported a pre-tax profit of £4.9m for the six months ending November 30, 2008.

However, the redevelopment of Highbury into luxury flats could present some challenges. Construction is close to completion on the development which sits in the footprint of the old stadium but the concern for Arsenal is that the prevailing economic climate will mean sales income from Highbury Square could be slower than expected.

Consequently Arsenal admitted on Thursday that they could be forced to extend the term for repaying the £133.5m loan taken out to finance the Highbury's redevelopment, saying: ''Discussions with the banking syndicate are at a preliminary stage.''

The concern amongst fans will be that profits from Arsenal's successful football business could be used to prop up the property arm rather than be used to invest in Arsene Wenger's squad.

Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood said: ''Clearly there are some significant challenges ahead of us, both on and off the pitch, over the closing months of this financial year and beyond.

''We are closely monitoring the position with a view to ensuring, as we always have done, that the group is on a robust footing and ready to respond to any challenges this exceptional economic climate may bring.

''The UK property market has been particularly affected by the economic downturn and, inevitably, this has had an impact on the group's own property development activities in the period.

''The financial arrangements for the group's property activities are separate and largely operate independently from the financing of the football business.

''This has always been a key aspect of our financial structure for the group and is intended to provide us with the ability to develop the football team as with, for example, the signing of Andrei Arshavin, irrespective of the difficult conditions in which our property business is having to operate.

''I believe these results are all the better for having been achieved against a background of what is clearly a very difficult economic climate.''

Arsenal - who funded the move to Emirates Stadium with a 23-year loan at a fixed interest rate - have always sought to keep their property and football businesses separate.

Speaking earlier this month, chief executive Ivan Gazidis maintained matters on the field should not be adversely affected by the success of the Highbury Square development.

''It does not impact the club because we never based the budgets for the club on anything that happens at Highbury and the two are ring fenced from each other,'' Gazidis said.

''Obviously it is a situation we have got to monitor very closely, but it is not something that will affect the club negatively.

''It is possible, if it generates profit, that it will affect the club positively, but that is not revenue which we have got in our books that if we don't get we would be in trouble - that would simply be icing on top of the cake.''

Overall Arsenal's profits before tax for the six months ending November 30, 2008 were £24.5m, up from £20m, with increased contributions from both the football and property aspects of the Gunners' parent holding company.

The positive effect of the Emirates Stadium effect was shown by an increase in match-day turnover of £3.3m to £44.4m, while broadcasting revenues increased to £28.9m, up £4.5m, and overall pre-tax profit increased to £19.7m from £19.1m in 2007.

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