All summer long, the message was spread across everywhere: £45million. It’s £45million Arsenal have to play with. Failure to qualify for the Champions League for a third straight seasons means the budget is just £45million.
And then suddenly it wasn’t.
The £6m spent on Gabriel Martinelli early in the window was used as evidence that it was, and fans became frustrated with Arsenal’s failure to capitalise on further targets.
But behind the scenes, the club were working diligently away to smash through that barrier – and Arsenal’s transfer record.
With the young Scottish left back Kieran Tierney joining at the eleventh hour, Arsenal’s summer spend rose to £130million, more than half that figure coming from the £72million capture of Nicolas Pepe.
Teenage centre back William Saliba, who won’t wear an Arsenal jersey until the summer of 2020, also blew in for almost £30million to cap a material window for the Gunners.
Yet the reality is Arsenal are not a Champions League side, and the tens of millions spent on fees – rumour is that several of the deals are to be paid over a number of years, given the club’s current standing – will come hand in hand with another huge bump to Arsenal’s already creaking wage bill.
To their credit, Arsenal refused to offload any prize assets to help bankroll these signings, using instead, presumably, their own cash flow in place of profits generated from rumoured targets Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Only Krystian Bielik commanded a fee higher than £5million, with captain Laurent Koscileny exiting in ignoble circumstances for a mere £4.6million – albeit saving the club that every year in wages.
Cash flow is an issue for every side in the Football League, and it’s particularly pertinent when a club, like Arsenal, is running a Champions League budget while playing on Thursday nights.
This situation is worsened by the fact that Arsenal have an owner who won’t put a penny of his own cash in, on top of that absence of a significant injection of capital from players out.
That was until 4pm today, when reports emerged that Everton had agreed to pay £40m for Alex Iwobi, the academy graduate whose affiliation with the club stretches back to the Invincibles season.
How much of that cash is upfront, how much later, how much conditional, is anyone’s guess, but the point seems clear: for a player Arsenal weren’t particularly looking to sell, £40m was just too good of an offer to turn down.
It brings the price of Pepe down to a much more reasonable £32m, viewed at from one angle; or on the other hands it pays around one-sixth of the club’s annual wage bill from their most recently-available figures.
For the net spend crowd, it cuts the club’s outlay from a net £113m to a net £73m – still more than 60 per cent higher than that £45m figure, although it was never abundantly clear if that was net or gross.
And, finally, around £100m was owed on transfers by the club from the summer of 2018 onwards, which may go a little way to explaining why it was the appropriate time to cash in on the young Nigerian.
As well as being a good chunk of capital to help smoothen Arsenal’s enormous operation, it’s also a savvy move from a Financial Fair Play standpoint, especially had Arsenal had previously been forecast to post a financial loss for the 2018/19 season.
Being an academy graduate means Iwobi has no value on Arsenal’s books, and as such the club will be able to declare a clean profit on his sale.
This was the problem last season, and what could well lead to a financial loss for Arsenal, when the club invested without making any real dent on their profits from player sales.
By contrast, Arsenal’s 2018 season provides insight into how clubs function to ensure they don’t have UEFA breathing down their necks for reaching beyond their means.
Culled from Football London