A clip of Richard Keys interviewing Arsène Wenger has been doing the rounds. In the space of four minutes Arsène makes several bizarre claims about Arsenal’s finances both while he was manager and now.
Naturally Richard Keys does not challenge any of Arsène’s blatantly untrue claims, because he knows absolutely nothing about the subject on which he’s asking questions.
Arsène was a great manager for Arsenal for a decade, then circumstances changed and things got more difficult, and Arsène started to be less effective. In view of the good times I can easily forgive him for not seeing the issues, not realising that his lack of flexibility and the way he ran the club unchallenged would eventually lead to decline, but now he is rewriting history to suit his own narrative. Of course he has every right to say “You wouldn’t have had that success without me”, but does that give him the right to just make things up? I think not. (Though I know some Arsenal fans will disagree with my analysis. C’est la vie.)
Richard Keys: “Did you ever sell a player you didn’t want to sell?”
Arsène: “Yes, many times, but for financial reasons.”
Untrue. The best players were sold because they wanted to leave. This started with Anelka, then Overmars and Petit, Ashley Cole, Vieira, Henry, Fabregas, Nasri, Sagna, RvP…
RK: “If you weren’t doing those deals do you think Arsenal would have gone bust?”
AW: “Of course.”
Absolute nonsense. There was zero danger of Arsenal going bust by not selling. From when Arsenal moved from Highbury the repayments for the stadium were £20m a year. That was not going to bankrupt Arsenal, and as is well documented the cash balance actually rose year by year. In November 2006, just after the new stadium opened, Arsenal had a cash balance of £53m. By May 2008 it was £93m, and then £127m by May 2010, and so on upwards. These are point-in-time figures and a lot of the cash was needed for running costs, but the trend is clear: more spare cash year by year.
RK: “So how many significant deals did you conjure to keep the club afloat?”
AW: “I did every year, because we had to pay the stadium back at the time, we needed to be in the top four.”
Not true. No deals were done “to keep the club afloat”. Stadium repayments were £20m a year, extra ticket income was £50m a year. And Ivan Gazidis often stated that the club planned for one in three years out of the Champions League. And the fact that Arsenal have now been out of the top 4 for a few years and amazingly are still not bankrupt should be enough to demonstrate the fallacy. (Covid is a bigger issue, but that’s another matter.)
RK: “You said when you left Highbury you lost your soul, but you also lost your muscle.”
AW: “Yes, but it was a different period. I knew we had not any more the potential to win the championship but we wanted at least to be on target to be in the top four.”
RK: “So your realistic ambition at the start of any season was Champions League football, you knew the title was beyond you, but you also knew that come the end of any particular campaign you had to sell a player to stay afloat?”
AW: “Yes, yes of course.”
No, no of course not.
A) I don’t recall Arsène ever telling us that winning the title had become impossible. I do recall Ivan Gazidis saying Arsenal would be competing with the biggest clubs in Europe by 2014, and I don’t think Arsène ever contradicted that.
B) Leicester won the title. Leicester.
C) The statement about having to sell players to keep the club afloat is still nonsense. Arsène and his interviewer are overlooking the fact that he also kept buying players. There was not a huge net spend most years – another well-documented argument among Arsenal fans – but there was still spending, on both transfers and the ever-increasing wage bill.
AW: “But it is what you leave behind that is important. Today the stadium is paid, Arsenal can invest money and hopefully win championships again.”
No, the stadium in not paid. The debt has just been moved to KSE, it has not been written off. And Arsène, do you not remember investing money? Do you not remember buying Özil and Alexis? Do you not remember a wage bill bloated by paying very average players far above their worth, so that they refused to be sold and sat there waiting until the end of their contracts? Because that’s where a lot of the money was going.
RK: “Which of those players you sold would you have kept if you’d had the choice?”
AW: “Well I would say when I arrived at the start the players I sold at least had given a long period to the club, like Patrick Vieira, like Thierry Henry, they stayed eight, nine years at the club and they’d given their best to the club so of course I would have wished to keep them [but] I could understand [when] they told me “We have a young team now, we cannot win the championship with a young team, I want to go and finish my career by winning. But after we sold the younger players, Fabregas at 24, 25, so you would have loved to keep these players.”
Okay. So now Arsène is admitting that players were coming to him and saying “We want to leave so we can win things.” How does he square this with the claim that he had to sell them to keep the club afloat?
RK: “So Fabregas [is the player you’d most wanted to keep]?”
AW: “For example, yes. Many of them, Kolo Toure, Fabregas, Van Persie, they left all younger.”
Kolo Toure left aged 28 for the riches that Man City were offering. Not really young. Vieira, who Arsène has in a separate list, was still 28 (just) at the end of his Arsenal career – and as we know, you’re 28 until you’re 29, that’s how it works.
Cesc left aged 24 to fulfil his lifelong ambition of playing his peak years for Barcelona. Even if Arsenal were red hot favourites for the title he’d still have gone.
Van Persie celebrated his 29th birthday the week before he signed for Man Utd. Definitely not young, and he’d been at Arsenal for eight years. He wanted a medal or two before he retired and was fed up with waiting.
In summary it is impossible to take Arsène’s statements seriously.