The Gunners, who have splashed out on deals for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in the past year, are reaping the rewards of their manager's shrewd spending.
Frank Lampard was very much an integral part of the Chelsea team when Arsene Wenger coined one of his famous phrases to describe events at Stamford Bridge. “Financial doping,” he called it. As far back as 2009, he argued Manchester City was guilty of the same sin, of distorting the sport with bottomless pits of money.
This week, without using the same phrase, he wondered publicly if City was attempting the same crime using underhand methods and Lampard. The Arsenal manager questioned the loan deal that took the 36-year-old to the Etihad Stadium, asking who is its his wages — City says it is — and whether it is fair that the organization can use its global family of clubs to bolster their squad. “If you look at a map, the shortest way from Chelsea to Manchester City is not to fly to New York first,” he added, mischievously if accurately, Thursday.
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Bacary Sagna is the first player to swap the Emirates for the Etihad Stadium on a free transfer. He has done so with a hefty pay rise — and Wenger has been left counting the cost. Having lost a right back without receiving a fee, he has spent 35 million euros on two others, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers.
Normally, however, Wenger is in the black. Among other things, he is the best businessman to manage in the Premier League. He banked 89 million euros from City for the sale of four players. Despite his misgivings about the source of the wealth, it doesn’t make him a hypocrite. Instead, he is simply a savvy seller.
Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri only had a year left on their Arsenal contracts when he accepted City’s offers. Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, who cost a combined 50 million euros, were overpriced and Arsenal had seen the best of them. The Togolese striker’s City career never recovered after he stamped on Robin van Persie in his first reunion with his former club.
Such deals helped Wenger live within his means. It remains one of the great feats of Premier League management that he financed the building of a new stadium while finishing in the top four every season. It is tempting to wonder how much more silverware he would have secured but for the emergence of ambitious clubs with very different business models.
Wenger’s reign divides into two halves, before and after billionaires funded title challenges elsewhere. Since his Invincibles were displaced as champions by Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea team, Arsenal has not won the league.
They went nine years without any honor until the drought was ended by a prime example of "Wengernomics." Aaron Ramsey was recruited as a teenager. He was worth many times his 6.25 million euro fee even before his FA Cup final winner against Hull. He is not an example of buying success, but of bringing in and developing potential.
This year, City is restricted to a 61 million euro net spend after failing UEFA’s Financial Fair Play test. It has a free transfer (Sagna) and a loan (Lampard) among its newcomers. In contrast, Arsenal has been more extravagant. Wenger’s outlay for the summer is a club record 82.5 million euros and could get bigger. He has already signed a superstar, Alexis Sanchez. Go back a few years and the Etihad Stadium was a likelier destination for players of the Chilean’s caliber. Arsenal didn’t buy the finished product then.
It can afford to now. Wenger isn’t spending his owners’ millions, but funds Arsenal has generated through gate receipts, prize money, television revenue, merchandising and commercial and sponsorship deals. But City is adamant that, after years of artificial injections of finances, the club will balance the books. Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes City will break even this year.
As Arsenal is back in contention for major honors and City is becoming more fiscally responsible, the clubs have growing similarities. But they have taken radically different routes, and it isn’t just Wenger who believes his is the purer path.