Is Arsenal's Future Really Bleak?

Not so long ago, they were known as "The Invincibles". Arsenal earned that epithet during the 2003-04 Premiership campaign, when they lifted the crown after going through the entire league season undefeated. No other team stood a chance against the mighty Gunners as they went about eliminating every rival that dared cross their path, with clinical precision. However, the guns have fallen silent, in recent years. They have gone past six trophy-less seasons since making the 2005 FA Cup their own. The current Arsenal team is a mere shadow of the Invincibles led by Patrick Vieira. They have not even been able to mount a title challenge during the ongoing season. The recent turn of events is sufficient to shake the belief of the most die-hard Arsenal fan. Arsenal critics foresee a downfall akin to that suffered by Leeds United. Can Arsenal prove their nay-sayers wrong? Or, is their future really bleak?

To understand Gunners' current predicament, one has to go back to the early 2000's when the team decided to shift from Highbury, their home ground for 93 years, to Ashburton Grove, now known as the Emirates. The construction of the £390 million stadium was funded by loans, sponsorship deals and sales of some of the club's star players, notably Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit. The loans put enormous stress on the club's finances. They were no longer able to compete with financial heavy-weights, like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea, in the transfer market. While other clubs spent millions of dollars on buying the best players in the game, Arsenal watched helplessly from the sidelines. To add to the inability to buy new talent, the Emirates outfit could not even retain its star players like Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri who left one by one. Things have come to such a pass that one cannot but wonder whether Arsenal can ever assemble another bunch of players capable of recapturing the club's past glory.

Despite their handicaps, Arsenal possess some powerful weapons they can bring to bear on their future prospects. Chief among these are the club's youth academy and the reserves team that provides an endless supply of exceptionally talented footballers to the senior side. The most recent examples are the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny, Alex Song and Kieran Gibbs, who are barely into their twenties, are already first-team regulars. Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo Myiachi and Wellington Silva are exciting prospects for the future. Gunners' scouts spot talented players at a very young age and train them in the academy. The scout system attracts young talent from the world over; the youth team and reserves comprise players from Bolivia in the West to Japan in the East, thereby underscoring how well established the system has become.

The Emirates side has one of the game's best managers in Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman is the primary reason behind the club's success in finishing among the top four, in the Premier league every season, thereby qualifying for the lucrative Champions League. Fully aware of Arsenal's inability to sign big-money players, Wenger has been judicious and shown great astuteness in his signings. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, who were unknown in the top flight, have matured into solid defenders and now represent their countries in the international arena. Mikel Arteta, signed during the last hour of the August transfer window, has brought much-needed stability to the Arsenal midfield. Wenger has also displayed the same shrewdness whenever he has sold players; Arsenal made a killing in the sales of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, Theirry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor.

From a financial perspective, the club's current fiscal situation is sound. The club, which had a staggering debt of more than £400 million a few years ago, has reduced its debts to less than £100 million. This was made possible by the drastic increase in match-day revenues after the club moved to the Emirates. Player sales have also helped generate millions of pounds in profits thereby contributing to reduction in debts. The club is poised for a further increase in its revenue as its sponsorship deals with Nike and Emirates Airline are expected to be up for renewal, in the near future. Therefore, lower debts and higher revenues are likely to put Arsenal on a stronger financial footing than it has been in the recent past. Moreover, Arsenal stands to benefit a lot from the financial fair-play rule that requires clubs to live within their means.

The club also has a clear vision for the future. Realizing the importance of establishing a global fan base, the team has undertaken pre-season tours to Asia and has plans to visit China again. Under-performing players like Bendtner and Arshavin have been sent out on loan, while there are plans to sell others during the next transfer window. The manager has also clearly indicated his intention to sign quality replacements before the start of the next season. While Arsenal might not be able to challenge for trophies in the near future, they have taken definite steps to ensure they can achieve their avowed goals, in the longer run.

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Gokul is an avid sports fan and blogger.

Article Source: Gokul_Muthukumaresan

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