by Derlen Chiu
Frustration seems to be an accurate description of our season so far. What was a rocky season start has evolved, with the help of an injury list longer than Peter Crouch’s trousers, into a fully-formed defensive disaster. Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Stoke only served to amplify concerns about the threadbare backline and it seems the question is no longer whether players should be added but which ones. Limited selection and a perceived lack of value has always made Wenger, at best, a reluctant participant in the January transfer window. His frugality has been vindicated in seasons past but this time seems different, the entire situation feels more precarious than ever before and that’s because there is a lot more at stake now.
The UEFA Champions League is the most popular club competition in the world and it brings huge economic benefits from participation, prize, and television monies. Last year Arsenal earned €27.2m for participating through the Round of 16, a sum that represented approximately 7% of total revenue for the year (£301.9m). If matchday revenues for the games are included the contribution would be closer to 10% of total incomings. Missing out on Europe always held the potential to be an (economic) six-pointer where we are weakened while our rivals grow stronger; the difference compared to previous years is that the gap is widening as Champions League distributions will increase beginning in 2015-16.
A less obvious but arguably more important consequence of a European hiatus is the lost growth in the international supporter base. While it may be fun to snicker at United players hawking cup noodles and curry it becomes less amusing upon realizing those commercial partners are allowing United to exercise tremendous power in the transfer market. United is not alone, other clubs are developing global presences and tapping international revenues to power player investment. International audiences will be the most important source of growth for the club in coming years and failing to remain a European regular damages the club in a market where it is already playing catch-up.
The stakes are always high when it comes to the success at the Arsenal, but the price of failure has increased substantially. Liverpool’s struggles over the past five years provide a ready example of the damage caused by slipping out of continental competition; stumbling now would be an extremely costly mistake and could set us on a potentially disastrous trajectory for the next several years. Everything depends on whether Wenger can shelve his value-minded principles and treat January as a chance to secure our future, rather than a cost to be pushed off for another day. Prices for quality players will be high, but with money continuing to flow into clubs when are prices realistically going to drop? Perhaps Wenger is right and fees will drop but what is the cost of waiting to find out?