UPDATED (3/2): Numbers in the Europa League prize money paragraph changed to reflect those in Swiss Ramble’s (@SwissRamble) excellent Twitter breakdown thread of the Arsenal financial release. I would highly recommend you check it out for more in-depth analysis.
Arsenal lost £27.1M in 2018-19 after posting a £56.6M profit in 2017-18. It’s the club’s first year in the red since 2002. The Gunners aren’t in trouble yet; they still have a “robust” year-end cash position at £167M, but that’s down from £231M. Things are moving in the wrong direction. It’s concerning.
Our player trading profit for this financial year was limited and this combined with a second consecutive season of Europa League football has meant the club recorded its first overall loss since 2002. For 2019/20 we will see increased commercial revenues from Adidas and our renewed deal with Emirates but another season outside the Champions League will continue to apply pressure to our financial results.
As Keswick said, the main reason behind the swing is a significant dip in player sales — the 17/18 numbers included more than £120M from the sales of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud, and Theo Walcott whereas the 18/19 books had less than £17M in player sales. Even if Arsenal hit their per-year average in player sale revenue from the last five years (£34M), the club still would not have been in the black. Letting Aaron Ramsey walk for free and not getting cash for Alexis Sanchez hurt; selling one or both likely sees Arsenal turn a small profit in 18/19.
If “another season outside the Champions League will continue to apply pressure to our financial results,” imagine what a season without any European football will do to the books. The Champions League is a slush fund — reaching the group stage is worth nearly £13M and the Manchester clubs made more than £80M for making the Quarterfinals last season. For comparison, by my napkin math, Arsenal have averaged £25M from their Europa League campaigns. So yes, Arsenal need to get back to the Champions League for the long-term financial health of the club. But when you’re operating at a loss, the Europa League money is nothing to sneeze at. If everything else on the financials were to stay the same but the Gunners missed the Europa League, losing that £25M average prize money would increase the bottom line loss nearly 100%.
This financial report does not include the £99M signing of Nicolas Pépé, which was a rather large cash outlay, the £60M from the Adidas deal, which is an upgrade over the Puma deal reflected on 18/19, nor the £35-40M sale of Alex Iwobi to Everton. The Gunners will also lose a few million pounds from season ticket holder refunds/discounts for next season for not meeting the allotted seven-match minimum for home cup games. That will all be reflected on the 2019/20 books. Any transfer business the club does this summer, and there might be a good deal with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Özil all entering the final year of their contracts and Mikel Arteta looking to remake the squad, won’t hit the books until 2020/21.
Speaking of those three, one of Arsenal’s issues is having “a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget” as Josh Kroenke said over the summer. That trio are the highest earners at the club. Özil’s £350,000-a-week contract is an albatross (which isn’t his fault, the club gave it to him), and his agent reaffirmed his plans to remain at Arsenal through its end. Of course, agents say a lot of things only some of which are true, but it’s not an encouraging sign. While Özil isn’t producing what you’d hope to get from a player on his wages, he still has value on the market. If the Gunners aren’t going to re-sign him to a lower number, they need to find some way to sell him. They can’t let him walk. They need the money. The same goes for Aubameyang and Lacazette. The Gunners aren’t in a position to let quality players leave for free.
Sidenote: this season at Arsenal is what you get when two of your three highest paid players are under-performing.
Another sidenote: the placement and timing of the release is mildly amusing. Not in the “funny haha” way, in the “yeah, Arsenal are still a business” way. The write-up is not on the main page at Arsenal.com; it’s under the “News” heading dropdown. It was released on Friday afternoon when organizations proverbially “take out the trash” and piggybacks off the massive disappointment of crashing out of the Europa League, perhaps hoping to blend all the negative press together. It’s not a shot at Arsenal; it’s what all companies do. You try to bury bad news, and this definitely qualifies as bad news.
My overall takeaways: (1) the club is alright financially right now, but trending in the wrong direction, (2) the 2019/20 books might look worse, and (3) Arsenal need European football next season, even if it’s Europa League. I’m not hitting the panic button quite yet, but I’m worried. There is still time to turn things around, but the clock is ticking. Arsenal have one, maybe two more seasons operating as they do now and getting these results before being forced into changes.