A look at Arsenal's finances, in particular the pro's and con's of the clubs belief in an equitable wage structure.
One of the most common statements to hear is that Arsenal need to break their wage structure, and "spend some money on player's wages". What these people are probably not aware of is that Arsenal have the fourth highest wage bill in English football. Last years financial results show that Arsenal's expenditure on players salaries was £124m, behind only Manchester United at £153m, Chelsea at £168m and Manchester City at an eye watering £174 million (it should be noted that Liverpool have yet to release their financial results for 2011 and they have consistently been around the same level as Arsenal).
On the surface then Arsenal's current position in the league (4th at the time of writing) is fairly equitable to where their spending is currently at. However the issue has been brought into sharper focus given that Tottenham who currently lie 4 points above Arsenal in the table spent "only" £91m on wages last year. It would seem that whilst the Manchester clubs are placed where there spending would suggest and Chelsea are dramatically underachieving in relation to their wage bill, Spurs are having a remarkably successful season in terms of the wages to performance criteria.
I'm sure many people would be taken aback by how large Arsenal's wage bill is, given that the clubs highest earners (Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen and Andrei Arshavin) are all in the £80,000 to £100,000 a week range which pales in comparison to United, City and Chelsea whose top earners (Rooney-£210,000 Yaya Toure-£220,000 and John Terry-£160,000) are paid significantly more. The reason why Arsenal's wage bill remains so high despite not paying top level wages is that they have consistently retained their belief in a wage structure that attempts to retain comparative equality throughout the squad.
Instead of rewarding a few star individuals, the club believes that by maintaining equality in the first team avoids more problems than it creates. Johan Djourou's recent contract extension is a good example of this philosophy. The Swiss who despite showing signs of progress and consistency last year has hardly continued his improvement this season, admittedly not helped by playing at right back in most of his appearances, yet he has been reward with a new contract worth £50,000 a week. Maybe Swiss Ramble is right when he suggests that this new deal is more in recognition of the fact he gives regular interviews to Arsenal.com than his performances on the pitch.
The general belief at Arsenal is that by keeping the salaries of first team players within a fairly small range, there is less risk of players going public and demanding huge wage increases given that the vast majority of their colleagues are on a similar wage. Unlike the problems faced at Chelsea for example, where John Terry and Frank Lampard famously took um-bridge with the club when Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko where given huge contracts which ultimately resulted in the English pair being similarly rewarded which then resulted in players such as Didier Drogba doing the same until you reach the point the club has now with a ludicrously high wage bill and a group of players not performing to the level their salaries would suggest.
Equally Manchester United, once they caved to Wayne Rooney and Paul Stretford's demands and made Rooney the highest paid player in the club's history on over £200,000 a week, have now given themselves a potential problem in negotiating with top level players as exhibited by their pursuit of Wesley Sneijder last summer. How much you choose to believe over the transfer saga is up to you, but one fact that cannot be ignored is that the club faced the prospect of either demanding that Sneijder lower his wage demands (unlikely given that his deal at United would have been the last major contract he signed) or to pay the Dutchmen the same wages that he earned at Inter (said to be in the realm of £240,000 a week) and risk upsetting Rooney and other high earning players at United.
There is no doubt that Arsenal with their philosophy avoid such problems, but then again it is equally true to say that the prospect of the club being able to attract players of Sneijder's quality is practically non existent even if the club was still a realistic challenger. There has been much discussion amongst Arsenal fans recently over whether this policy is really the best way for the club to progress and their are certainly indications that the club is at least considering diverting away from this philosophy with Robin Van Persie rumored to be offered well in excess of £140,000 a week and Lukas Podolski set to be paid £100,000+ a week.
Additionally although Arsenal avoid the potential issues faced by Manchester United in the wake of Rooney's new contract, another problem that the Gunner's wage structure does pose is the immense difficulty in moving players on once the club has decided they are no longer part of their plans. Players who the club would be happy to sell include Manuel Almunia, Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson and Sebastien Squillaci yet all these players are earning wages that make the sides interested in them run for the hills. Put it this way would you want your club to sign the players above for £2-£5m and then pay them £50,000 a week? Didn't think so.
Arsenal face a critical summer in how they go about restructuring the club on and off the pitch. Those who like to think that Arsenal have endless money to burn should read Swiss Ramble's excellent blog on Arsenal's latest set of financial results. Ultimately there are pro's and con's to Arsenal's belief in seeking a sense of equality in their wage structure just as there is good and bad in the way that Manchester United approach their wage bill, the current stalemate between the club and the young but talented Paul Pogba is an example, as if Pogba were at Arsenal he would be offered a higher starting wage.
What is not up for debate is that if Arsenal are going to persevere with their current wage structure they need to aim at getting more "bang for their buck" like Tottenham have managed this season although the Tottenham's wage bill itself could be set for a significant increase if they give new deals to star performers such as Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and sign Emmanuel Adebayor on a permanent deal.
In conclusion if Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League this season then they may well be classed as a "failed economy", ultimately the wage structure at the Emirates is an example of how the clubs philosophy divides supporters and may well reach a breaking point this summer especially if Van Persie chooses to leave the club.
Arsenal's finances and how they compare to their rivals
Manchester City: £174m
Manchester United: £153
Liverpool (2010): £114m
Net Spend (Last Five Years)
Arsenal: Net spend of minus £31,350,000 per season net spend of minus £6,270,000
Manchester City: Net spend of £428,370,000 per season net spend of £85,674,000
Chelsea: Net spend of £155,900,000 per season net spend £31,180,000
Manchester United: Net spend of £51,600,000 per season net spend of £10,320,000
Liverpool: Net spend of £83,310,000 per season net spend of £16,662,000
Tottenham: Net spend of £73,200,000 per season net spend of £14,640,000
* For a full list of transfer spending see the Transfer League