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Glass ceiling to growth threatens Gunners

Gloom sets in at the Emirates

Gloom sets in at the Emirates

On the face of it the business of football is in rude health at the Emirates. If anything, Arsenal’s financial performance has outpaced the on-pitch side of things with rising revenues, record match day income and a 25% hike in profits comparing favourably with four straight trophy-less seasons.

So, let the battle of the behind-the-scenes power brokers commence. Unlikely. Strange as it sounds fans have much in common with potential investors since past league and cup successes in football, just like yesterday’s profits in financial markets, should be regarded as no guide to future performance. Buying a stake in the club relies on optimistic assumptions on the clubs ability to continue to generate hefty hikes in profitability and cashflows in the years to come, yet evidence of such potential remains thin on the ground.

For a start, headline revenues have been boosted by the improbable sale of 208 plush apartments at Highbury Square, the clubs listed former stadium. Second, having stripped out this one-off gain, the resulting single-digit growth in overall income was largely because the club played more games than the year before, thanks to semi-finals in both the FA Cup and money-laden Champions League. Combined with a fourth-placed Premier League finish, the chances of significantly bettering this playing performance either this season or in years to come must be considered unlikely.

Also providing a significant cap to future performance is the fact that match day income growth offers very limited upside based on the dubious chances of stadium expansion while the club remains debt laden from building the thing, while season ticket prices are already just about the most expensive in the league.

Yet, like at football clubs across Europe, wage inflation continues to haunt the Arsenal bean counters. Players salaries rose from 101.3 million a year ago to £104 million last year. If this 3% increase seems modest, remember that player wages, for the time being at least, face none of the glass ceilings that the income side of the business does. And imagine what two or three big name signings would do to the figures.

Highbury Square offers best financial bet on Arsenal

Highbury Square offers best financial bet on Arsenal

The club has been supposedly ‘in play’ ever since American sports entrepreneur Stan Kroenke and Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov bought significant stakes in the club. The pair now own 53% between them. But football does not operate in a bubble immune from normal economic pressures.

Arsenal are currently valued at £470 million on the Plus Markets exchange and still burdened by close to £300 million of borrowings, a very full price for even the most frivolous billionaire. They’d be better off buying one of clubs 210 still for-sale flats at Highbury Square, at least their value has fallen in line with the real world.

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Wenger whinger: a catalogue of complaints that cut no ice

Arsene Whinger... up in arms again!

Arsene Whinger... up in arms again!

The date..? Monday 8th April 1996. The game..? Live on Sky under the lights at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday. The significance..? The last Premier League game Arsenal lost without bleating about refereeing decisions, diving debates or two-footed tackles. And the Gooners’ last league match before Arsene Wenger took charge at Highbury.

Since then it’s been a litany of moans, groans and Gallic complaints. For once Arsene, for once, could you show a little grace in the face of defeat… your youngsters haven’t the patent on high quality, high tempo play in the Premiership.

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The Number Cruncher says: ‘Defoe or Keano?’

Keane & Defoe: 'I score more Jermain', 'Shut up Robbie Rubbish.'

Keane & Defoe: 'I score more Jermain', 'Shut up Robbie Rubbish.'

Hmm, tough one this isn’t it? Robbie’s the club skipper and is a three-time winner of the club’s player of the year award. But then, you know, ‘Jermain Defoe, he is a Yiddo, Jermain Defoe, he is a Yiddo’.
The question takes extra significance this season for Spurs fans with the return of both goal grabbers to White Hart Lane, but while ‘Appy ‘Arry appears to favour the Beckton-born midget, the stats say Robbie should play.

Let’s go back to the start of the 2003/4 season. Defoe had just left the relegated Spammers for Spurs, so it makes it a level Premier League playing field. Since then  Defoe has scored double-digit league goals four times (2004/5, 2006/7, 2007/8 and 2008/9) including 15 for Portsmouth during the 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons. Not bad really. His best return, however, is a not terribly clever – 13 in 2004/5, while his entire Premier League goal haul over this time span stands at 63, or 10.5 per season.

Over the same period Robbie Keane has hit double-digits every single season, with a maximum haul of 16 in 2005/6 and a return greater than that of Defoe’s best season (13) no fewer than three times, 2003/4, 2005/6 and 2007/8.
With his total tally of 77 goals (12.8 a season) – 14 more than Defoe’s (or more than 2 better every season) – Keane looks a far better bet for a goals bonanza than Defoe currently does. Still, ‘Arry has his favourites and Defoe is certainly one of them, so my money’s on Defoe and Crouch lining up against Liverpool.

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