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Jem Maidment analyses Arsenal's 'top of the league' financial position

PUBLISHED: 10:04 06 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:34 07 September 2010

Recession? What recession? Britain s shrinking manufacturing industry, City institutions and small businesses may be bracing themselves for financially lean times ahead, but Arsenal are truly bucking the trend. Success on the pitch, at least regarding pot

Recession? What recession? Britain's shrinking manufacturing industry, City institutions and small businesses may be bracing themselves for financially lean times ahead, but Arsenal are truly bucking the trend.

Success on the pitch, at least regarding pots in cabinets, may have been a little thin on the ground since that memorable penalty shootout win in Cardiff 2005, but the number crunchers are clearly top of the league.

"The recession will not affect Arsenal," promised chairman Peter Hill-Wood, a man who knows a thing or two about fiscal prudence after a long and distinguished career in the Square Mile at Hambros Bank.

And despite a standing debt of a shade over £318million, he and his fellow directors clearly believe a shrinking turnover won't hit N5 in a hurry.

"I won't even go into Tottenham's figures," joked perennial acting managing director Ken Friar MBE, raising an eyebrow, as the shareholders at the club's AGM roared their approval.

It may have been a cheap shot, but Arsenal's board, bolstered by American Stan Kroenke, have much to be proud of.

The figures don't lie.

Group turnover's up by £22.3m to £223m (putting them in the top three in Europe, so invariably the world), profits before the taxman gets his claws on it have reached new heights of £36.7m, an increase of just under £10m, and matchday revenues - still the club's significant cash raiser despite Sky and Setanta's silly money - edge ever closer to the £100m mark at a healthy £94.6m.

Wages may seem astronomical at £101m, but that still represents just 48 per cent of turnover which is well within the "safe" 70 per cent mark.

"They are very impressive results," football finance expert Alex Fynn told Ham&High Sport, "but future financial success still relies on two things: Arsene Wenger staying with the club and Arsenal continuing to qualify for the Champions League.

"While they achieve both of those things, the revenues will continue to pour into the club at a very healthy rate."

But Fynn, widly recognised as the "architect of the Premier League" warns that a top four finish is no guarantee of a seat at Europe's top table - a friendly warning to a club which has enjoyed 11 successive seasons of Champions League fare.

Fifa president Michel Platini, he says, is going to make it harder for the continent's big clubs, Arsenal included.

"Platini wants more clubs from the smaller countries to make it to the group stages. His plan to make big clubs play each other in the qualifying stages will make it just that little harder to make it," he says.

"There's greater pressure now to finish in the top three, not the top four. Arsenal should be concerned, particularly with Manchester City's new-found wealth and Liverpool finally getting their act together."

Arsenal's policy of "self-sustainability" - take note Chelsea - will be tested to the max, but another surprising directive could, he argues, benefit the club's attempts to continue their Champions League consistency.

"Platini's backing of the 6+5 idea, in which clubs must have six homegrown players, will see Arsenal at an advantage," said Fynn. "With English talent now coming through the ranks, it's a wonderful situation to be in.

"Also, I believe having English players is important for the club's identity, and for its relationship with the fans - they see the players as 'one of us'.

"Wenger has said he wants to produce quality Englishmen and now they are breaking into the squad on pure merit."

Currently, the Gunners are bringing in roughly three times as much profit as they need to pay out in loans on The Emirates Stadium and the Highbury Square housing development, which has sold nearly 600 of its 690 units to date. Again, a more than comfortable situation to be in.

Fynn believes the club is at a distinct advantage over Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, all of whom have a combined debt of approximately £1.2billion.

"United and Liverpool's debts were made by the owners to take those clubs private," he said. "Chelsea's is, currently around £600m, and is owed to Roman Abramovich.

"If he decides to go it would be a big problem for the club, although he is so wealthy it does not appear to be a problem and, anyhow, he appears likely to stay around.

"Arsenal may have a large debt but it is very different. The club has big assets, such as the stadium, Highbury Square and a talented playing squad.

"If they were to suffer unexpected financial problems, you can be assured they'd survive it. Arsenal, I have no doubt, will continue to be profitable."

And while success on the pitch is inextricably linked to financial success off it, Fynn is clear on why Arsenal are in such a healthy position.

"It's the board," he said. "The shared love of the club, the lack of egos, the desire to do the right thing for the club - doing things the Arsenal way.

"They do things differently at Arsenal, they always have done. The Board tries to always do things for the benefit of the club.

"None of them are in it for personal gain - they have the club's welfare at heart. And as long as they keep Arsene Wenger at the helm, the club will continue to strengthen."

editorial@hamhigh.co.uk

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