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Becoming Europa League regulars has been very costly for Arsenal

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We always knew it was going to be. Now we see exactly how much.

Arsenal FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

There are a few truisms in Arsenal fandom. First, and not specific to Arsenal, if you want reliable information about what next year’s uniforms will look like, check out footyheadlines dot com or their Twitter account, and there you’ll find out. For player rumors and club news, check with David Ornstein, he’s got connections that you and I could only dream of having. And lastly, for financial news and information, Swiss Ramble is the Twitter follow you need.

He is very good at diving deep into the financials of football clubs and teasing out the “truth” of a club’s numbers. I put “truth” in quotes not because I don’t believe what Ramble says, but because he doesn’t do any sort of interpretation of the numbers - he just does extremely deep dives into them, and presents what he finds, leaving the rest of us to interpret them as we see fit. For someone like me, whose relationship with numbers is similar to an ex-hostage’s relationship to their captor, this is an invaluable service. He does the work, I can then take his work and figure out what I think it means.

And today, he put out a small piece of work that confirms what we already knew - not being in the Champions League has resulted in a very stark drop in revenue at Arsenal.

While the “Oh, Arsenal” is, in my view, an unnecessary little dig (they didn’t do any of this on purpose, this wasn’t exactly the plan), this does show the effects of not being in the world’s most lucrative competition on a club’s finances, and those effects are painfully real. Their revenue dropped from a high of €65M in 2017 to €39M this season, a loss of €26M. If these salary numbers are to be believed, and that’s a big if as salary numbers are very oblique in the Premier League, that’s a quarter of Arsenal’s payroll. That’s a lot!

But here’s the thing. We knew this was going to happen, as did the club. So while the illustration of how big the drop is can be a bit shocking, the actual event isn’t, at least not to me. “The Champions League is the world’s most lucrative competition” isn’t exactly news, after all. And if you want another example of just how dramatically CL participation can impact a club’s finances, just look at Manchester United on this same graph. Their first calendar year back in the CL saw their revenue more than double, from €40M in 2018 to €93M this year (they were in the CL in the 2018/19 season, but not 17/18, so this year’s is a full calendar year’s worth of CL matches).

Whenever I see these numbers, or other illustrations of club revenues, I look back on all the seasons that Arsenal were derided for setting, and achieving, a minimum target of fourth place. I remember all the mocking of the Fourth Place Trophy as a thing a club shouldn’t aim for, as if saying “fourth place is the minimum acceptable finish” was a bad thing to aspire to. Particularly in the age of the petroclub, and even before that, I never thought shooting for fourth was giving up on a title, or was a sign of a diminishment of ambition, precisely because of the state of affairs indicated in Ramble’s tweet above. And then I laugh, because I remember that being a top club requires money, and the top four is where that money lives.

If you’re not in the top four, after all, you’re never going to be in a position to win a title, and that’s what I want. I want Arsenal to win titles, for sure, but mostly, I want Arsenal to be a structurally and financially sound club that is perpetually in the conversation for a title, even if they don’t win one in any given season. The best way to do that, in this modern age of football where money buys happiness, is to be where the money is, and in this case, that’s the Champions League.

If that means Arsenal, once again, become Fourth Place Trophy contenders every season, then the rebuild Arsenal are about to embark on will have been worth it. They probably won’t be in that conversation this season, unless Mikel Arteta can work miracles with a defense on track to give up 57 goals this season, but if Arteta’s appointment is a first step in getting us mocked for being Fourth Place Trophy winners for several consecutive seasons starting next year? I’m 100% fine with that.