Well…it depends who you ask. The Arsenal board may argue financially that it has been, but for fans success is first and foremost on the pitch.
Let’s go back to 2006. A time when Borat was a hit in the cinemas and Leona Lewis a hit in the charts. Arsenal finished fourth in the Premier League and their matchday income could simply not match the domestic nor European elite.
Arsenal made approximately 45 million pounds from matchday revenue in their last season at Highbury (compared with Manchester United’s 92 million pounds based on figures from 2005.) Highbury’s capacity of 38,400 was simply not enough. The message from the Arsenal board was clear, it was time for the club to join the European elite and chief executive Ivan Gazidis told fans their future spending power “could see the club compete with Bayern Munich”.
Naturally, there were mixed emotions. Highbury had been home for 103 years with innovators such as Herbert Chapman and Arsène Wenger both taking the club to new heights at both ends of the 20th century. But the club needed to move with the times. Wenger recently told beIN Sports:
You are always in a position when you are a football club to move forward or stay in the past. To compete with other clubs, we had to build a new stadium. The rules had changed.
The Emirates Stadium was opened in July 2006 at a cost of £390 million pounds. The dream of competing with the European elite, sadly remains still exactly that, even fourteen years later.
So what happened? It could be argued that despite Ivan Gazidis’ statement that actually the club were already competing with European elite at that time. In the year that the Emirates Stadium opened, Arsenal narrowly lost the 2006 Champions League final to a Henrik Larsson inspired Barcelona.
Arsenal funded the Emirates Stadium by taking out loans, leveraged against their future income. This lead to a period of austerity at Arsenal, selling star players to rivals, notably Robin Van Persie to Manchester United and Samir Nasri to Manchester City. Jack Wilshere recently spoke on BBC’s 606 Savage Social podcast about the big name exits and it was clear the sale of Van Persie particularly disappointed him:
I was devastated. He had scored 30 goals the season before. He was our captain. I felt we were about to challenge (for the title) again and all of sudden he left to join our biggest rivals. It was difficult to take.
While the increased match day revenue at the Emirates (a 107% increase in the first year at the new stadium compared to the previous season), has allowed the club to pay large wages for players such as Mesut Ozil (£350,000 per week).
However, the stadium could have made much larger than the current 60,700 capacity. According to SheWore.com, there are 44,000 people on the Arsenal season ticket waiting list, meaning it may take some around 11 years to finally get their hands on a season ticket.
Increased revenue whether by matchday income or kit sponsors isn’t improving results on the pitch. It can’t be said that Arsenal are competing with Bayern Munich in any regard. Bayern thrashed Arsenal 5-1 twice in 2007 Champions League. There was a vast gap then and things have only got worse since then with Arsenal currently 10th in the Premier League and Champions League qualification seems unattainable. But, pinning all of the misfortune on the Emirates Stadium seems harsh.
It is the increased competition at the top that Arsenal did not anticipate, Arsenal’s careful long term planning could not differ more from the financial injections at Manchester City and Chelsea by billionaire owners. According to Givemesport.com Chelsea have spent £1.2 billion this decade on transfer fees with only Barcelona and Manchester City spending more in the same period. Unlike the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich, one team does not dominate, there is now a ‘Big Six’ in the Premier League and it seems Newcastle also have aspirations to join the party.
To conclude, for most fans success is measured on the pitch. Of course, the rise of Chelsea and Manchester City has severely impacted Arsenal’s quest for trophies. Arsenal haven’t won the Premier League since 2004 and that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon. Despite the increased revenues, Arsenal fans have had to settle for mediocrity, partly down their self-imposed austerity in the 2010s.
Whichever side of this argument you fall on, I’ll leave you with a quote from Arsène Wenger. He told beIN Sports.
We built a new stadium but we never found our soul. We left our soul at Highbury.