Arsenal: What missing out on European football could cost Gunners next season

The Gunners now face a battle to qualify for the Europa League next season, with Mikel Arteta's side currently sitting ninth in the Premier League.

It was about an hour after full-time on Thursday night when Josh Kroenke and Raul Sanllehi made their way out of the Emirates having watched Arsenal crash out of the Europa League to Olympiacos.

Sanllehi, Arsenal’s head of football, and Josh, the son of owner Stan, didn’t mutter a word as they hurriedly wandered past the assembled media with their heads bowed.

But they will have been aware more than most just how costly Arsenal’s shock defeat against the Greek league leaders could be going forward.

Winning the Europa League was undoubtedly the Gunners’ best chance at earning a spot in next season’s Champions League and returning to Europe’s elite competition for the first time since 2017.

But that opportunity has gone now and with Mikel Arteta’s side sitting ninth in the Premier League with just 11 games to go, there is a very real possibility that Arsenal could find themselves without European football altogether next season for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign.

There is an argument that not having to worry about European games could be a good thing as it would allow Arteta and his players to focus fully on domestic matters. There would be minimal fixture congestion and the squad would be well rested between games - something both Leicester City and Chelsea have benefited from in their recent title-winning seasons.

For Arteta, the free weeks would give him ample time to work with his players and to drill his ideas into them at the training ground, but whilst that would certainly be a positive, the financial cost of missing out on European football would be a huge blow to a club that on Friday announced their first operating loss since 2002 - publishing accounts for 2018-19 which revealed a loss after tax of £27.1 million ($34.8m).

The Europa League may not bring in the riches that the Champions League does, but it still provides a much-needed revenue stream which could strengthen a squad that is in desperate need of a rebuild.

Failure to even qualify for the Europa League in the 2020-21 campaign would not only have a big impact on the transfer budget for the summer, but it would also see the financial gap grow wider between Arsenal and the teams finishing in the Champions League spots.

Football finance expert Kieron O’Connor from the Swiss Ramble website said: “Even when Arsenal reached the final of the Europa League last season, their £34m ($44m) earnings were much lower than the English representatives in the Champions League: Liverpool £98m ($126m), Tottenham Hotspur £92m ($118m), Manchester City £82m ($105m) and Manchester United £82m ($105m).

“This is a key point: as well as the direct impact on Arsenal’s revenue of their under-performance in Europe, there is the fact that rivals also benefit. In fact, most painfully, Tottenham’s revenue of £459m ($589m) has already overtaken Arsenal's revenue of £393m ($504m) in 2018-19.”

Arsenal’s shock exit to Olympiacos in the last-32 stage on Thursday night means this season’s total earnings from the Europa League will be drastically less than the £34m that was generated from last season’s run to the final.

Distribution in the Europa League is much the same as the Champions League, with each of the 48 clubs involved in the group stages receiving a participation fee of €2.75m (£2.4m/$3.1m), with each victory in the group stage earning €570,000 (£492,000/$632,000) and each draw earning €190,000 (£164,000/$211,000).
“As Arsenal won three games and drew two, they received €2.1m (£1.8m/$2.3m) here,” O’Connor explained. “There is also a share of the money saved from all the draws at the group stage, worth €212,000 (£183,000/$235,000) for Arsenal.

“In the Europa League there is an additional bonus for teams that qualify for the knock-out stages, with the group winners earning €1m (£860,000/$1.1m) and runners-up £431,000. As Arsenal won their group, that’s another £860,000. They also got another €500,000 (£431,000/$553,000) for reaching the last 32, so that means a total of €3.8m (£3.3m/$4.2m) in prize money.”

A new distribution method based on club performances in Europe over the last 10 years was introduced by UEFA last season and Arsenal top the Europa League rankings, something that earned them an extra €3.4m (£2.9m/$3.8m) from the UEFA coefficient this season.

The final element of revenue is earned through the TV pool, which is based on performance in the previous season’s domestic competitions and half on progress in this season’s Europa League.

“The latter element is partly dependent on how far Manchester United and Wolves progress,” explained O’Connor. “My rough estimate is that Arsenal will receive €11.8m (£10.2m/$13.1m) here.

“That would mean total revenue for Arsenal from this season’s Europa League of €21.7m (£19m/$24.4m)."

For a club of Arsenal’s stature, whose business model and wage structure is based on Champions League revenues, that is a minimal return. If they fail to even reach the Europa League in 2020-21, it’s still £19m (£24m) more than they will bring in next season.

And missing out on qualifying for Europe’s second-tier competition would also have an adverse impact on other revenue streams such as sponsorship deals and matchday income.

Defeat on Thursday night already means Arsenal face the prospect of having to pay out millions in rebates to season ticket holders who, as part of their ticket, get seven home cup ties included.

But having now exited the Europa League and with only one more potential FA Cup home tie to come this season, the maximum fans will be able to get is six.

So rebates will have to be given to approximately 46,000 season ticket holders, with the club potentially having to refund more than £4.5m ($5.9m).

Supporters have the option of redeeming the cash or they can have the money they are owed deducted from the price of their season ticket for the 2020-21 campaign.

“It should be said that there will also be a reduction in the wage bill, due to lower performance-related bonus payments,” noted O’Connor, highlighting one rare potential positive.
But overall, failure to secure European football would be a huge blow financially for a club. It would severely restrict the business that could be done in the summer window and would also limit what they could offer in terms of contract renewals.

And that could cause major problems, with talks due to take place with talismanic striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Matteo Guendouzi and Bukayo Saka.

So although the Europa League may not bring with it the riches and the glamour of the Champions League, Arsenal are not in a position financially to just gleefully wave it goodbye for a season. The only realistic way of making up the shortfall that would come from missing out of Europe would be to sell at least one of the squad's prized assets.

Josh Kroenke knows it and so does Sanllehi, which perhaps explains their long faces as they shuffled out of the Emirates following Thursday night’s disastrous defeat.

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