The Gunners have the chance to lift the FA Cup against Chelsea for the 14th time but the Wembley showpiece is more than just the cup. Arsenal has now scored a record-setting 13 times in the FA Cup but has never been so critical to the Gunners at Wembley as against Chelsea on Saturday.
FA Cup: If they win the trophy at the weekend for a 14th time, and secure a spot in the Europa League next season, they’ll give themselves some breathing room and some extra cash to deal with during what’s going to be an extremely difficult summer transfer market.
Nonetheless, Lose and Arsenal will miss out on European competition for the first time in 25 years, and the finances that are still at breaking point will be hurt even harder.
The Europa League does not carry the Champions League ‘s prestige with it but it also offers a critical source of income for a club that reported a loss after tax of £27.1 million ($34.8 million) in February for 2018-19, their first operating loss since 2002. And this was before the attack with the pandemic coronavirus.
Now, just a few months later, like anyone else, Arsenal is feeling the pressure because of Covid-19. Analysis by the Arsenal Supporters Trust estimated that the club will lose a whopping £ 144 million ($178 million) for the year 2020-21, should it play behind closed doors for the entire next season.
The lack of matchday revenue, which accounts for 24 per cent of Arsenal’s annual profits, is a major concern as is a £230 m ($302 m) wage bill, which continues to hang over the Emirates like a dark may.
So, the importance of Saturday’s victory can not be overlooked. When Arsenal won the Europa League final in 2019 they were pocketing prize money worth close to £35 m ($46 m). This is what could be worth beating Chelsea this weekend.
Coach Mikel Arteta, who this summer desperately needs to improve his team, knows exactly what’s at stake and so do his players; so much so that the Spaniard didn’t even have to consider the implications of losing at Wembley.
“There is no need to think about this with them,” the Spaniard said. “We understand that.
“In terms of that I don’t want to put any more burden on them. We are training very well this week, we look ready to go and the strength and determination to grab the cup at the end of the 90 minutes is what they have to drive them forward.
All of Arsenal’s attention right now is on the final on Saturday, and everything else is on hold.
FA Cup: The club has been working on ways to reach the transfer market this summer but they can’t put any plans into motion until they know whether they’re going to be in Europe next term or not.
“I’m imagining two or three different situations that we can face,” Arteta said. “We’ll be able to do more, less, or none, depending on one of those three.”
The club’s confusion is a source of frustration. Chelsea, Wembley’s rivals to Arsenal, already knows they’ll be playing in Europe next season and were the early movers on the transfer market.
Having invested little in the last two seasons, and unused with the funds from Eden Hazard’s sale to Real Madrid, the Blues pounced to snap up Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner before the season was even over.
FA Cup: With Kai Havertz still looking likely to arrive from Bayer Leverkusen, Arteta can look only longingly at the resources being offered to Frank Lampard to target the campaign 2020-21.
And if Arsenal wins on Saturday, Arteta won’t get anything like the budget that Lampard has at his fingertips, but it would at least encourage him to pursue some of his goals, including midfielder Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid.
“We need to incorporate some stuff,” admitted Arteta on the eve of the cup final. “So we have the opportunity and the chance to win a trophy so that it shows us we’re close.”
With his future very much up in the air, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang must lead the Gunners out at Wembley.
Arteta confirmed strongly Friday that he did not believe that the final will be the last match in an Arsenal shirt for his captain. “These feelings are not with me,” he said.
Yet with Aubameyang now reaching the final year of his contract in north London, it’s a decision that could be taken out of the hands of Arteta, should the international Gabon agree to sign a new deal in the coming weeks.
As his record shows since he arrived in the Premier League, Aubameyang is one of the best strikers around and he deserves to be playing European football. Saturday ‘s win will give him the chance to do so next season at Arsenal and it will also make the club pay the striker what he wants.
“I wouldn’t want to link these two reasons [keeping Aubameyang and European football],” Arteta said. “But it would be good financially.
“This is one kit. You need a lot of table ingredients to convince a player of his quality to be at this football club.
The situation with Aubameyang is yet another indication of how critical Arsenal is on Saturday. During their 134-year history, they have won the cup 13 times but it has never meant so much.
Defeat would make it all the more difficult for Arteta to overcome what he describes as the ‘enormous’ divide that already exists between his side and Liverpool and Manchester City likes
After arriving in December the ex-City assistant has done an excellent job. The fact that he has led Arsenal to the final despite the condition in which they were when he took over speaks highly for the job he and his coaching staff put in.
Yet he just can do too much. He wants the money, he wants the players more.
“You have to change with consistency,” he said earlier this month. “You need to contend with bigger squads.”
Victory over Chelsea at Wembley will go a long way to coping with that. However, lose and Arsenal will find it much harder to grab their way back to the top of English football.