The Importance of Champions League Football for Arsenal

Why winning in Baku matters so much

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Denis Suarez – Quality of player recruitment has taken a dip since Sven Mislintat’s departure

Manchester United’s failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League is not creating waves about the club’s inability to have an active summer transfer market. You don’t read stories about players not wanting to join United because they are not in Europe’s premier competition. You do when it comes to Arsenal. This is put down to Manchester United being the biggest club in the world (although how that is measured I’ll leave to others). The reality is in fact very simple. Money talks.

Arsenal can still make UEFA’s blue riband competition if they win their Europa League final in Baku, and although William Hill makes them narrow outsiders to win their showdown with Chelsea, the stakes for the club are higher than any bet that will be made on the outcome of the match. This is because Arsenal do not have the financial resources of United. The Glazer family do not put money into the club, much like Stan Kroenke. However, their income dwarfs that of the Gunners because of the way the club has been run since 1991, when United were listed on the Stock Exchange. Instead of having to answer to shareholders who were fans (the Arsenal model), the club had to deliver profits to shareholders who often had zero interest in football. As a consequence, the boardroom was manned by men who were as focussed on business as football. United’s marketing operation grew, leading to the multitude of lucrative sponsorship deals they enjoy today. All of which gives them a massive financial advantage over other clubs with owners who do not invest their own funds.

Arsenal require every extra pound they can raise to compete with richer clubs, having fallen down the pecking order. Money invested by owners has, since Arsenal’s last Premier League title, led to success for first Chelsea and then Manchester City. Unfortunately, the board failed to realise that change was needed early enough, leaving Arsene Wenger in post because he was consistently delivering Champions League football. This policy has backfired, with the rise of Liverpool and Tottenham - who have benefited from good managerial appointments and superior work in the transfer market (and in Tottenham’s case, internal player promotion). Financially, Arsenal are now in the same ball park as the latter two clubs, but with a lesser pool of players. They need Champions League income, combined with some assiduous purchasing, to compete again. Clubs receive approximately £20 million just for participating in the group stages of the Champions League and, with gate revenue for the three group matches to add to that, that can easily turn to £30 million. With TV and gate revenue combined - at least £10 million for every round they take part in - progression in the tournament can quickly boost that figure. Liverpool and Spurs will have done very nicely this season, as well as already being guaranteed another feed from UEFA’s trough next time around.

And it is interesting to note that the final of this season’s competition in Madrid will be contested by none of the three most moneyed English clubs. On one level, it’s good for football. What used to be a settled top two (Man Utd & Arsenal – 1998-2004, Man Utd & Chelsea – 2005-2011) then became a top three (Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City). This season has demonstrated that clubs outside the super-moneyed elite can compete for the major honours – one of them will certainly win one in Madrid. However, it’s not so good for Arsenal. Their complacency has led to two seasons outside of the CL, and there is a 50/50 chance it could be three.

That could have negative consequences. Might the club’s need for cash to rebuild lead to them cashing in on Alexandre Lacazette, with multiple clubs around Europe snooping around the French forward? Unai Emery is obviously aware of the lack of depth he has in the squad, and needs both time and resources to build a team that could compete for the Premier League again. However, the club need the funds to attract the best, so – as Manchester United demonstrate – it’s not so much being in the Champions League that will entice them, as paying the type of wages that (for Arsenal) CL funding allows. More of the quality of as Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are required, and it would be helpful if Emery could get more out of Mesut Ozil, but that’s a long-worn debate.

In brief, should the Gunners win the Europa League, they can expect themselves to be shopping in a market different to last summer. Baku is a high stakes game for them, much higher than it is for Chelsea. While the signings in the 2018 transfer window have generally given value (remembering that Stephan Lichtsteiner arrived for nothing), the calibre of players that can be brought with the promise of Champions League football is much higher. The Gunners have been linked with Samuel Umtiti and Yannick Carrasco throughout the season, but it’s debatable whether such players would consider moving to North London should Arsenal be facing another year in the Europa League. It’s inevitable that the decision makers at the club would have made two different plans for the summer; each dependent on how the club finish the season.

The club has restricted its spending since the failure to qualify for the Champions League in the last two seasons; after Wenger had led the club to 19 consecutive seasons in the competition. That was evident in the January transfer window, when Emery openly admitted that the club didn’t have the money to spend so was only capable of bringing in players such as Denis Suarez on loan from Barcelona. It was also shown in the reluctance to offer Aaron Ramsey an improved contract, since they couldn’t afford to have him on higher wages than the likes of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, although Ramsey would have settled for less than Mesut Ozil. It is interesting that the plug was pulled on the Ramsey deal once Ivan Gazidis departed, a sign that financial reality had hit home. The club could not afford to pay the Welshman what he wanted if they could not guarantee CL football, and perhaps felt they could get more for their money elsewhere. That might have been true were Sven Mislintat still at the club, but now no-one outside the inner circles at Arsenal has a clue what is going on regarding talent spotting. The mooted arrival of former player Edu as a director of football won’t happen until after the Copa America has finished in July.

One thing is certain. Failure to win in Baku would almost certainly mean Arsenal’s plans to rebuild after the fall under Arsene will take longer – and the quality required for quick results will be beyond their budget.


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  1. Don Howe

    May 24, 2019, 22:12 #113900

    Mark. We are in a European final. Our fans can’t get there for less than £1000. We can only watch in the pub if we don’t have b t sport and not all of our players are allowed to play because it isn’t safe. We are paying a lazy **** 350 k per WEEK. We don’t just need gradual change - we need a revolution. Our game has been stolen and the thieves need to be gutted and expelled. Hooliganism won’t magically emerge just because the players are Scots, welshmen , Irishmen and Englishmen. Lose the tv money and we will return to sense. Loadsomoney doesn’t bring happiness - just the opposite.

  2. itsRonagain2

    May 23, 2019, 10:18 #113898

    Marky - i like Sarri anyway, but its a nice move on his part to challenge the owner there. Sarri seems a nice man i think and too good for them. Far too genuine and honest. Mourinho was made for that club. Cheap, sneering and classless. A bit like a great many of their fans. I think we ll beat them anyway. 2-1.

  3. John F

    May 22, 2019, 18:54 #113897

    I am quite impressed with the new kit looks good,best in a while .That's two of my boys birthday presents sorted out.

  4. markymark

    May 22, 2019, 16:35 #113896

    Sarri’s latest comment “If my Chelsea future hinges on winning final, sack me now, says Maurizio Sarri” I’m really beginning to like this guy, he’s right . Why should the buffoons at Chelsea continue this constant sniping at their own managers. Let’s hope this and disappointment over Hazard causes a negative vibe in their camp. But it is Arsenal so we always like to give away a present

  5. Pauljames

    May 21, 2019, 17:57 #113895

    Agree with Ron about Zaha, could do without another inconsistent forward on big wages, I’d be amazed if Emery blows most of his budget on him.

  6. itsRonagain2

    May 21, 2019, 12:47 #113894

    i hope the stuff about Wilf Zaha is untrue. If ever there was an over rated show pony in the bloated PL hes an example of it. Whats use is he to Arsenal for heavens sake? Hes a spud type buy. Pay over the top, go there and end up as the new sicknote.

  7. itsRonagain2

    May 21, 2019, 12:36 #113893

    Marky - there was hooliganism of course but its extent has always been very inflated and exaggerated by the middle class media and chattering classes and it spawned Thatchers fences ultimately. Footballs cost and its demography now has more or less cured the old problem. Football itself or the state has done little to nothing. I agree with you and i think there will be more progress under Emery next Season. Put it like this, if there isnt i think he ll be sacked in Summer 2020. I keep seeing this stuff about such as Wolves and Everton catching Arsenal up. Theyre a million miles behind Arsenal even as its stands at the moment. We re bang average but still a hefty slice of points in front of both of them, though they are both fine clubs. Wolves have really good owners and a good Chief Exec. Im not sure Everton do. Seems shaky to me there and they're buying a new ground.

  8. peter wain

    May 21, 2019, 11:45 #113892

    No Marky mark the gossip is we are trying to buy Zaha by using three of our players to reduce the cash we spend. I do not think that is a great deal. Nelson should be given a chance. Now I see Bould is going and Ljungberg is replacing him. Why when we need to improve our defence get rid of Bould. He should be coaching our defence- the comic certainly cannot do it.

  9. markymark

    May 20, 2019, 18:38 #113891

    Hakim Ziyech - is available for 25m with Ozil being his hero and a love for Arsenal. That’s the sound buy I’d be going for

  10. markymark

    May 20, 2019, 18:33 #113890

    Peter Wain - you’re suggesting we are selling 3 domestic players for Zaha? Doesn’t sound right to me.

  11. Bard

    May 20, 2019, 12:37 #113889

    Moscow I see where you are coming from, except shrewd signings and Arsenal havent been bedfellows for a decade or more. It was Wenger's strong suit in the early years. As I see it the club have to try and lighten the wage bill before we can expect any shrewd signings. Getting rid of the high earners is easier said than done. Who the hell is going to buy Ozil ? None are going to leave for less money. You are also overlooking the clubs just below us who are going to seriously invest. Wolves, Everton etc. I think we will have our work cut out to stay in 6th spot never mind challenging for the PL. The jury is out on Emery's transfer skills, it Suarez is anything to go by he needs to be confined to the training ground.

  12. peter wain

    May 20, 2019, 11:36 #113888

    so we are swapping three players chambers Jenkinson and nelson for Saha. What is the point of having a youth system if we give up our best young talent to get in a good but not that special talent? Once again the comic shows his lack of intelligence. Sack him today.

  13. markymark

    May 19, 2019, 19:23 #113887

    Just to add . Sunderland vs Bradford Boxing Day 2018. Crowd 46,000. That’s like something out of the 1930’s. Football needs tweaking , not complete reinvention. Btw . Imagine if you are Pepe bathing in your glory and a journos first question is ‘Did you take back handers ? I think the press know there is a story brewing . Things may not be so rosy for City as they seem

  14. Moscowgooner

    May 19, 2019, 18:25 #113886

    John F - of course right at the moment it does look as if City will win everything next season - but then they’ve missed out on the biggest prize of all this season and had a remarkably easy ride to the two domestic finals. I think the media are going over the top in proclaiming their invincibility: the Liverpool side of the late 70s and 80s achieved dominance over a far longer period of time. As to losing interest I don’t see it: the title was decided on the last day of the season - a rarity even in the 60s and 70s. We fell apart very badly towards the end of the season, but with some shrewd signings defensively in the Summer I think we can put together a genuine title challenge next year. I think it’s very much ‘a glass half full, glass half empty’ contrast in perspectives: Don H talks of non league clubs only surviving with millionaires backing them but attendances in the non league game are at their highest since the 1950s; the Chamionship - ie old Division Two - as well.

  15. markymark

    May 19, 2019, 17:58 #113885

    Don , when match of the day was the only football on TV I’m sure I used to regularly be in gated under 28,000 and so called supporters were beating the crap out of each other on a weekly basis. To attempt to destroy the structure of football to bring back some sort of good bad old days makes little sense. Probably best would be to really go for home quota players ( actually some of the best youth in the world ). Limited standing for say 5k with supporters strictly checked for behaviour. Relaxation of beer sales in seats and agreement on low price ticketing for youths. There could be a lot done with joint supporter enterprises such as extending the excellent food collection schemes . Within Arsenal they should set up groups with dispensation fromtge club. I’d be up for an Arsenal club which did player talks pre match gatherings etc. This could be AISA granted a space. Lots can be done to bring back some fan engagement

  16. Don Howe

    May 19, 2019, 16:34 #113884

    Peter, I agree with you. Many foreign players would leave. Maybe the premier league would die and clubs would have to live on their gate receipts. Perhaps when a players career is over at 30 they would have to go out and get a proper job. The league and football were fun when the only tv was match of the day. The only way to restore sense to football is to cut the big clubs off financially at the knees. We should also be leaving UEFA and FIFA and establish our own international competitions. No more world cups in Timbuktu. No more cup finals at 5pm. The only argument against any of this is thPAYE tax take we have at the moment.

  17. markymark

    May 19, 2019, 11:25 #113883

    Hoffenheim have just sent a warm goodbye tweet to Reiss Neilson saying good luck back at Arsenal so that’s one of our young tyro’s making a welcome return . I really shouldn’t be but I’m very hopeful for next season . Time will tell

  18. Pauljames

    May 19, 2019, 11:20 #113882

    Should clear out the deadwood and spend all we’ve got on one centre back and a more muscular central midfielder, think there’s enough elsewhere in the squad to build around that. Everton’s Keane and Dacoure at Watford might do the job. Don’t see the point in bringing in half a dozen cheap imports without PL experience in the hope that one or two come off.

  19. Bard

    May 19, 2019, 10:18 #113881

    Markymark, I totally agree. Whats the point of spunking £40-50m on bang average players. That market is going to massively inflated as some of the other PL sides look to strengthen. The Suarez loan deal has been an unmitigated disaster. Why dont we put a few of our young'uns Eddie, Wilcock Reiss etc. Yes it would be a roller coaster but in the long run would we do any worse? We arent going to win the PL any time soon and we might just have an Ajax situation on our hands. It's my view that they are a lot more likely to play well if there are a few of them coming through together. Add in Torriera, Gendo, AMN , Leno and Bellerin get rid of Xhaka, Ozil and co and and we have a properly young side. We would also get shot of those steeped in Wenger's way.

  20. markymark

    May 18, 2019, 19:07 #113880

    The thing I spotted is that City just like UTD did in their pomp go for the throat. Even when we effectively had the 2nd best team in Europe we often would drop energy and just do enough. We rarely blitzed teams. In regard to Man City trailing all in front of them . It could easily have been a potential double for Liverpool. I think the Scousers will keep things interesting

  21. John F

    May 18, 2019, 17:54 #113879

    If City go on to dominate the domestic trophies next year i can see a lot of football supporters starting to get bored and due to the predictability of some other countries Leagues may even hasten the formation of a dreaded European League.

  22. markymark

    May 18, 2019, 16:14 #113878

    Bard - I think what at least some are thinking is that the FFP is dampening some spend. I’m not sure there’s a great deal of value out there and plenty of players worth 45-50ml with suspect temperaments such as Rabiot and Martial. Arsenal could well do very well out of our youth and South American acquisitions. If Emery goes for Banega type players and doesn’t utilise the youth. We can’t be blaming Kronke. I think the argument over a vision will come out by the end of the season. Will the new troika have that vision? We stumbled along with a bland corporate meh from Ivan for a decade

  23. Bard

    May 18, 2019, 10:58 #113877

    This is a bit like shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. Whether we are in the CL or not we will still hobble along mired in mediocrity unless we sort ourselves off the field. We have no vision, we dont have much money and we have an owner who doesnt give a s***. I would like us to have another crack at project youth. At least we might have a team who really care about the club.

  24. peter wain

    May 17, 2019, 07:22 #113874

    look at the England squad just announced. No Arsenal player within a million miles of being selected so if you apply Don Howe's logic and tax the footballers 20% more all of our overseas players - normally 10 out of the 11 that start would just up and leave. This would also affect every other premier side and the quality of the football would fall dramatically. It's not Ozil's fault the club offered him and enormous salary far out weighing his talent - blame Gazidis the snake oil saleman.

  25. Don Howe

    May 16, 2019, 17:10 #113868

    Cash input. We sit here worrying about cash with which to play the bloated useless. We have a real homeless problem in this country and Ozil on £350k a week. Bolton are in shreds. Non league clubs cannot exist without millionaires happy to plough cash in. Why, because someone had the bright idea of monetising football and putting it on the TV. bad move. I would love to see Arsenal on top again, but what I wish to see much much more is footballers being charged 20% on top of tax and NI going to a fund for the rest of football. Get the top wages down. Get the TV money distributed, and ban agents. Let the little darlings represent themselves.

  26. markymark

    May 16, 2019, 16:03 #113867

    No Loftus Cheek in the final as he’s out with a ruptured Achilles . Got to feel sorry for the lad being brought on as a sub during an unwanted friendly. Now the commiserations are over that’s good news for us as he has been very good for them in this competition

  27. markymark

    May 16, 2019, 13:00 #113866

    There are lots of things happening, so many variables amongst the other clubs that we can only concentrate on ourselves . The UTD argument is over played. The team are in a poor state with the internal structure at fault . For UTD it’s not just about player acquisitions . It’s a major rebuild from top to bottom. Chelsea - no player purchases over the next season. The fanbase dislikes the manager. Spurs - on a thin edge with Potch potentially going. He’s over performed at Spurs which makes him very strong potential for UTD. A loss to Liverpool could see a number of players leaving for better salaries and chances of trophies elsewhere. Us - Young players coming through , two top forwards but a poor defence . A Europa win would be excellent to move us on

  28. peter wain

    May 16, 2019, 12:13 #113865

    what planet are you on? Quality of recruitment has dipped since the departure of Mislinat. This the man who bought us a free transfer 35 year old player who is rubbish, a slow Greek centre half to go with our other slow centre halfs. Ideal for playing a high line and pressing game. Or maybe not look at the goals conceded. I A young midfield player that hit the wall in the last two months of the season and a keeper who may improve and has to be given the benefit of the doubt playing behind this defence. No the quality in recruitment has always been poor and no improvement in expected this transfer window.

  29. ArsenalMagna

    May 16, 2019, 12:10 #113864

    A good article, John! I've come round more and more to the argument that we need CL football to help the rebuild. I think we're really at the stage where we need to try to quickly build around the solid core we have in Leno, Holding, Bellerin, Torreira, Auba and Laca. There are numerous other players like Guendouzi, M-N, Iwobi and even Kolasinac, amongst others, who have shown a lot of potential and deserve time (and better coaching), but we really need quick results to re-establish ourselves as top 4 regulars. It would also be great to strike now because United are in crisis and Chelsea will be awful without Hazard, especially with that transfer ban (think Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek are great but can they carry Chelsea given how poor the rest of that squad is?). On United by the way, I really think they could be in major crisis for years to come; their strategy is to keep pouring huge sums of money into player purchases on huge contracts. Now that Alexis is on £350k per week, they'll need to offer at least £200k to any major signing, probably more. Also, the whole culture in that squad is of lazy mercenaries. Given that they're already so well paid, they won't be able to get rid of that huge collection of deadwood any time soon. I'm hopeful for the EL final btw; Auba aside, the first team has been resting since last Thursday, whilst Chelsea had to play a tough away game vs Leicester on Sunday and then traveled to the US for a friendly vs New England Revolution which took place at 1am UK time! Even though most of their first XI only played the first half, Loftus-Cheek got an ankle injury so he'll be out or likely not near 100%, so that's a huge boost to us. Chelsea have looked totally exhausted at this season's end, as have we and Spurs, but they look to be the most jaded and will be a full week ahead in recovery.