It was back in 2013 that Arsenal Football Club officially made it through the debilitating fog of strict budgets, and could compete with the cream of the Premiership and the rest of Europe.
Years of auctioning off our prized assets to raise funds like a desperate priest organising raffles to pay for a new Church roof were over. Us Gooners could finally envision a season where the best players we had could actually appear in our shirt again. We could now realise the dream which was behind the building of The Emirates, which was to compete on an even footing with the very best.
A quote from our Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis, given at the tail-end of the 2012-13 season, highlights this very truth. Arsenal were geared towards moving up a level, to transform the promises made into something tangible.
Ivan Gazidis – “We’re very confident with the new deals we’ve got coming through, although we can’t talk about that in any detail. That’s showing really positive progression. We should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich.
“I’m not saying we are there by any means, we have a way to go before we can put ourselves on that level. But this whole journey over the past ten years really has been with that goal in mind which is why I say that this is an extraordinarily ambitious club.
“We get beaten up along the way but I think we are an extraordinarily ambitious club. This has been about putting us up with the best in the world and now the question is turning that platform now into on-field success.”
Since this was said by Gazidis, we have indeed won some silverware – three FA Cups have filled gaps in the trophy cabinet – but in terms of matching the success of Bayern Munich, Arsenal have failed to not only keep up, but it hasn’t even been a race.
It is unfair to compare domestic results between the two clubs, as the Bundesliga represents a far easier challenge for Munich than the Premier League does for Arsenal. It is the results in the Champions League which represents the fairest barometer to judge whether Arsenal have failed to deliver on not only their aims, but what us fans were promised.
Bayern Munich, since 2013, have been crowned winners once, and reached the Semi-Final stage in the last three years.
By stark contrast, Arsenal have been halted at the Last16 stage four times.
Ivan Gazidis was correct in one element of his projections, as Arsenal have indeed flexed their newly found financial muscles thanks to the shackles of debt being loosened somewhat. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi have totalled an outlay of nearly £150million.
In terms of results on the pitch however, a stagnation has occurred. In the Champions League, Arsenal have flattered to deceive.
To progress in Europe’s top competition, there are many requirements, and luck is certainly one of them. Luck to garner a plum draw is just one reason why clubs need to broker a deal with a leprechaun in order to have the best chance to proceed to the latter stages.
In that facet, the Gunners have not been dealt the greatest of hands.
Barcelona twice, AC Milan once and Bayern Munich three times have given Arsenal the most imposing of tasks to break the Last16 hoodoo. The only real chance the Gunners have had in seven years to get to the Quarter-Final has been Monaco, but we failed to capitalise on it. We fell at the same hurdle.
So, we can say the draw has been most unkind, but referring back to what Ivan Gazidis said yet again, the Chief Executive said that we could look forward to being on an even keel with the likes of Bayern – and currently, we look further away from achieivng this than ever.
The recent 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich has highlighted just how much distance is between Arsenal and the very top of the game. The annual money lists see our club where it has projected itself to be, but in terms of results on the pitch, it has not matched the financial power we now boast of.
It means that Arsenal have failed. The Premier League may be an obtainable prizxe within the next few years, but the Champions League looks to be a mirage on the horizon that we can look on lustfully.
Arsenal for the last seven years have been felled at the Last16 stage, but it was this years incarnation of Groundhog Day that really spelled out how far we are away from realising the words of Gazidis and the wishes of fans.
A 10-2 aggregate deficit at the hands of Bayern is not acceptable for any self-respecting ambitious club.
Arsenal are now not only treading water, but there is a distinct threat of sinking. The proud, ever-present record of Champions League qualification since Wenger has taken charge means a sound financial footing, but what good is a presence in a competition if there is no actual chance of winning it?
Are we now just making up the numbers? The reaction from Bayern players when drawn against us speaks volumes.
A club who fail to make good on their promises need to be held to account. Something needs to give.
Next season gives us a new platform to concentrate our efforts on. No Champions League means we can look to the title first and work our way up.