Just two measly weeks ago, Arsenal board member Josh Korenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – told the public, “It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”
His words were in response to an open letter from Arsenal supporter groups that claimed the club’s “approach to both buying players and paying wages looks uncoordinated and appears to lack strategy.” Days later, despite media claims that the club is operating on a summer budget of just $50 million, the Gunners were reportedly smashing the club transfer record for Lille winger Nicolas Pepe. So what gives?
There’s no other conclusion: the club is betting on itself. The Pepe transfer tells the story, as the club has deferred much of the payments to installments over the course of the year, hoping to ease the immediate financial burden with the budget currently strapped.
The decision to spend future funds now is a dangerous risk, but could pay off should the club reach the Champions League. Kroenke explicitly said the team is currently operating on a Champions League wage budget, despite beginning a third consecutive season outside Europe’s top competition. It’s clear that three Europa League seasons in a row is beginning to have an effect on the operating costs at the Emirates. Adding a club-record transfer fee plus wages competitive to lure Pepe to the Emirates seems counter to a logical resolution, but by betting on the team, the front office is pushing the team forward in an ambitious and positive direction.
Undoubtedly, there’s huge risk involved with such a push. Should the Gunners yet again miss out on the Champions League either by a top four finish in Premier League play or by winning the Europa League, there could be disastrous consequences. The Premier League television money is free-flowing, but going another year without Champions League prize money and media rights could be disastrous for the current financial structure.
One questionable decision is the choice to bolster the attack rather than patch up the defensive line, an area the club struggled mightily with at times last year. With captain Laurent Koscielny pushing to leave the club, it leaves Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavorpanos as the only healthy central defenders, with Rob Holding still recovering from his ACL tear suffered, although he is expected to return soon. On the flanks are Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maintland-Niles, and Hector Bellerin, with Calum Chambers versatile enough to play anywhere along the back or in midfield.
Is that a Champions League defensive unit? It’s hard to see how it would be, yet Arsenal has decided to splash the cash up front and hope they can outscore teams enough to reach the promised land. Other than Pepe, the Gunners spent money on winger Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old Brazilian, and young defender William Saliba who was sent back on loan to St. Etienne.
The Gunners have taken a calculated risk, one they believe to be beneficial to the long-term health of the club. Should it pay off, Arsenal could be set up for a long stay near the top of the Premier League with a young attacking core and some youth at the back as well. But if they miss, the financial detriment to the club could be even more devastating than what they are set to potentially gain, as Financial Fair Play could be a factor down the road if Champions League riches never arrive.