Sport

Arsenal back in the fight for trophies

Martyn Herman

The English football club has finished paying off its stadium debt and Arsene Wenger can now afford to buy new players and hang on to his good ones.

Big-name signing Alexis Sanchez. (Michael Regan, Getty)

Arsenal can challenge for the Premier League title again after being hamstrung for a decade by the debt on their Emirates Stadium, according to Alisher Usmanov, the club’s second-largest shareholder.

“I think we begin a new era for Arsenal where we win trophies,” the Russian billionaire who owns 30% of the club’s shares and has invested £200-million in the club said in a Daily Telegraph interview on Tuesday.

Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought when they lifted the FA Cup last season, a barren spell Usmanov says was caused by loading the club with debt to finance a move from the old Highbury site to the £390-million Emirates Stadium in 2006.

“The acquisition was financed with debt, which would be repaid through match-day revenues among other sources,” Usmanov said. “There is another way of doing it: when shareholders buy all of the assets and contribute them to the club.

“As a result, these debt-free assets may generate income for the club. The board and the main shareholders chose the debt option at the time, which led to Arsenal going almost 10 years without winning a domestic title or the Champions League.

“As a result of this choice, they were selling players and were unable to buy top players. These difficulties have now been overcome and the team is in a good state.”

Big names
Arsenal has sold the likes of Cesc FabregasRobin van PersieSamir Nasri and Thierry Henry since the move to the Emirates, although annual qualification for the Champions League and home crowds of 60 000 supporters have helped the club wipe off a huge chunk of the stadium debt.

Manager Arsene Wenger has already been active in the transfer market this summer, with Chile’s Alexis Sanchez the biggest name signing from Barcelona.

More players could arrive before the end of the transfer window and Usmanov says Arsenal are now in a position to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

“In my opinion, in line with existing rules, the club has the best decision-making process in place, including their selection policy – especially now, when they have the means to buy the best players,” said Usmanov.

“The club’s finances are in order and I believe that Arsene Wenger and the club’s CEO [Ivan Gazidis] will manage them correctly.”

Ownership battle
Usmanov was involved in a battle with Stan Kroenke for a controlling stake in the club right up until 2011, when the American upped his shareholding to 62.89% after diamond dealer Danny Fiszman sold his shares shortly before his death.

He says he has never had any contact with Kroenke, but while he is not on the club’s board and is therefore excluded from decision-making, Usmanov said he would not be selling his stake in the club any time soon.

“I have no plans to exit,” he said. “I wish Arsenal success and hope they win trophies.”

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