A plane banner was flown above Villa Park on Tuesday calling for the Gunners to splash the cash but that might not be wise in the current climate. what is it with Arsenal, plane banners, and the Midlands?
Three years ago, there was the infamous afternoon at the Hawthorns where two separate planes flew over with banners in tow, one calling for Arsene Wenger to go, the other offering their support for the legendary Frenchman.
On Tuesday evening at Villa Park, that familiar buzz of a low-flying plane could be heard circling overhead once again, but this time the message on the banner wasn’t aimed at the manager – but Arsenal’s owner, Stan Kroenke.
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“Back Arteta, Kroenke out,” it read.
On the touchline, Mikel Arteta did his best to ignore it, but plenty of his players did glance up to the sky to see what all the fuss was about.
Arsenal were wretched against Villa, failing to muster a single shot on target as they were sunk by Trezeguet’s thumping first-half strike.
Kroenke is not a popular figure at Arsenal, even at the best of times, but least of all after defeats to sides at the wrong end of the table.
But the club’s financial situation is complex. It’s not as straightforward as simply arguing that Arsenal need to ‘back Arteta’ in the upcoming transfer window.
The coronavirus pandemic is having a crippling effect on the finances of football clubs and Arsenal is suffering as much as any other.
Before Covid-19 even emerged, the north London club had announced an operating loss of £27.1 million ($34m) for the year 2018–19. It was the first time the club had posted a loss since 2002. And why? The £230m ($287m) wage bill.
It’s been three seasons now since Arsenal played in the Champions League and their absence has hit them hard in terms of earnings. Next season, they won’t even have the Europa League to benefit from, unless they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
So, money would have been tight even before the pandemic struck. At present, nobody knows when fans will be allowed back into the stadium. Should the whole of the 2020-21 campaign be played behind closed doors, Arsenal are predicted to lose around £144m ($178m), according to analysis carried out by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST).
No-one would like a big cash injection more than Arteta. He admitted after the win against Liverpool that the gap between his side and the league’s top two was “enormous” and that the lack of clarity over potential transfer funds was a concern.
That was seen by many as a direct message to the Arsenal hierarchy, something the Spaniard was quick to deny. “That was misinterpreted,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention.”
“I have full support from the Kroenke’s, the board, the sporting director,” Arteta added after Tuesday’s defeat at Villa, when asked if he had a message for the fans who spent £1,700 on the plane banner.
“We are putting a very strong plan together to try to do as much as we can in the shortest period, because at the end of the day the league table doesn’t lie and we now the gap we have to fill in. We are on board trying to do everything together.”
As much as Arteta wants money to spend in order to make the changes he knows are needed, he is aware of the problems facing the club.
“The uncertainty is the reality,” he said. “We have uncertainty because the coronavirus hit everybody hard. We don’t know if we are finishing in Europe and there is uncertainty with a few players.”
During the lockdown, Arteta worked so hard to help strike an agreement with his squad over a 12.5 percent wage cut; a sacrifice that Arsenal insisted was essential to helping the club through what they described as one of the most challenging periods in its history.
It took weeks of negotiations and many of those players who needed convincing would not take too kindly to seeing millions suddenly spent in the transfer market a few months later.
Arsenal committed to £135m ($172m) worth of deals last summer, bringing in the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney, and David Luiz. They are planning to add to the squad when the window opens and the defeat at Villa Park was more proof of the amount of work that needs to be done.
But, should they lose the FA Cup final and miss out on European football altogether, the money to do that will not be coming from Kroenke. It will largely come from the money they receive from selling players.
In Arteta, Arsenal has a coach who has a clear idea of what he wants. For the first time in a long time, the club seems to be heading in the right direction, so it’s no surprise that fans want him to be backed.
But the uncertainty around football means that is far from easy right now. And no amount of plane banners will change that.