A decent if laboured win over Olympiakos at the Grove last night. The visitors soon revealed their primary objective, to return home with that with which they started – a point. It took us a frustratingly long time to break them down with Vito Mannone all but unemployed in our goal, but in the end we managed it, courtesy of two well-worked and executed goals from rockin’ Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin as time ran down in the second half.
Arshavin managed to last the full ninety minutes despite obviously puffing and blowing twenty minutes from the end. He’s going to have work hard on his aerobic fitness. He’s also still whining about his pay packet which makes me think he may not be gracing us with his presence much past this season. A really pity. The bloke is a talent. I don’t say he’s definitely on his bike but I’ve just got a bad feeling that he isn’t settling to life in London as I’d like. Nobody would be happier to be proved wrong than me.
Whilst it’s difficult to judge on last night as he only had to make two saves all evening, I’d continue with Vito Mannone in goal for the visit of Blackburn Rovers this coming Sunday when we need to re-focus all our energies on the League campaign. The bloke has earned his chance to see if he can take over as number one goalkeeper I think in the increasingly mysterious absence of Manuel Almunia. I have absolutely nothing personal against the Spaniard who seems like a nice, intelligent man. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think he’s top of the line however. Mannone might not prove to be the permanent answer either but he deserves a chance to shine.
Our man of the match for me last night was Alex Song who covered every blade of grass in a performance that was a dictionary definition of dynamic. It was nice to see Tomáš Rosický last 65 minutes before giving way to Eduardo too. A couple more games should see him back to full match-fitness. Abou Diaby put in another worryingly sub-par performance I’m afraid.
The generally healthy state of the club’s finances revealed in the annual accounts released this Monday have received a lot of coverage in the media. Those excellent types at the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust will be providing their normal in-depth analysis when they’ve taken a forensic voyage through the numbers but the highlights are that the pressure is off a little on the sale of the flats at the old ground with the construction loan balance down to £47 million with additional time to pay having been negotiated up to the end of next year. If we can get out from under the remaining balance by then, every additional pound we receive will feed into the bottom line as profit, providing additional working capital.
The only remaining property interest we will have will be the Ashburton Grove triangle site to the north of the ground. That won’t eat and drink much until it can be sold to a developer. Planning permission has been obtained which makes the site more valuable in the long-term when the commercial and domestic property market picks up. The only costs will be relatively low maintenance and safety charges.
We’ll be selling this site to a developer so won’t be taking the development risk that we did at the old ground. As soon as we’ve got this site away to a developer I want us out of the property business for good. We’re a football club. We only became a property company by accident in order to build the new ground and it’s a distraction to the task of building a winning team.
Just over £32 million of our available cash in hand has to be ear-marked for repayment of the mortgage on the new ground under the terms of the bonding agreement. That leaves scope to go into the transfer market and/or improve current deals to retain players if we want to. There are concerns however.
The four-year Club season tickets fall due for renewal at the end of this season. No doubt the club will want to get this process underway as early as possible. This is a BIG chunk of money. Corporate hospitality generally always suffers in a recession and a lot of these tickets belong to companies who can’t or don’t want to run to the expense of an executive box. Demand is also thinning out for general admission tickets, despite increasing the number of general admission season tickets issued. Olympiakos only sold out the day before the game and Sunday’s match against Blackburn Rovers has only just sold out having gone on general sale. I can see Red membership declining quite steeply if Gooners don’t think they need to bother in order to get a ticket.
There’s also the steep decline in Sterling against the Euro and the US Dollar which puts upward pressure on our wage bill and the cost of transfer fees (most international transfers are quoted in Euros or US Dollars). This decline is likely to be long-term and will make the Premier League relatively less attractive to foreign players versus the other big European leagues. Likewise the increase in the top-earner’s PAYE income tax rate and National Insurance contributions means we have to pay out more to achieve the same take-home “netto” salary, as Ruud Gullit would say, than in other European countries where the taxation burden is tilted more towards corporate rather than personal taxation.
There was an announcement today that Silent Stan Kroenke has splashed out another £680,000 on eighty shares at £8,500 a share, £950 above the PLUS market “mid-price” (half way between the buy and sell, or offer and bid) price. That takes him to 17,867 of the 62,217 voting shares, or 28.7%. The ownership cold war continues. I still have the lingering feeling that this could turn into a shooting war at any time.
Anyway, let’s try and accentuate the positives. Absent two very disappointing results in Manchester it hasn’t been a bad start to the season on the field and the Grove is increasingly starting to feel like our house now. If only all too many Gooners weren’t so keen to leave it. As the gate of just under sixty thousand was announced and the announcer thanked fans for their great support near the end of the game, a wag behind me announced, “Great support, my arse! The place is half empty!” And it was.
Onward to three points against t’Rovers on Sunday.
Keep the faith!