Sunday, November 11, 2012

Arsenal's failures - the impact of leaving Highbury?

I've always been a believer in development rather than replacement. Be it in football, or other matters, there's always a room for improvements. And when it comes to things as emotionally engaging as a football stadium - I believe it even more so. Developing and refurnishing in my opinion is much more respectable than moving to a new home. There is an emotional attachment that no money in the world can buy.

Highbury was home to Arsenal for 93 years before they decided to demolish the stadium in order to move across the road to a new "state of the art" home ground: the Emirates Stadium (or Ashburton Grove for some). But since the move to their new home, has the club seen better times? Would Arsenal fans rather have stayed at Highbury if it meant they stayed successful? (think about it Gooners

Highbury had history. The walls were hollow, the pitch was narrow and it had its little aspects that are part of Arsenal's folklore, such as the historical Clock End. The club's glory days were all on that ground. It may have been small, but it had everything a typical football ground would need and under Wenger, it had found its leader to take them from the mediocrity of mid-table football and 1-0 wins under George Graham, to entertaining and fast-flowing football that became the envy of an entire nation.

In 2006, when the Emirates Stadium officially became Arsenal's new home, the future looked bright. The managing director at the time said and I quote "Our aim is to be a leading European club and, once we get into the new stadium, we will be in that position. It is very income-generous to us. When we move to the Emirates Stadium, we will have higher percentage of our income from gates. Very close to 50% of our revenue will be gate income compared to 30% at Highbury. The revenue from executive boxes and Club Level alone will be almost equivalent to the income at Highbury. So we'll be getting that and the revenue from 51,000 extra people in the stadium".

Hearing that at the time, you wouldn't blame Arsenal fans for thinking that the club would now be making a huge step up. Words of wisdom from the board. But fast forward 6 years since their move and here are some other facts: 

  • Arsenal currently have the highest ticket prices in England. 
  • They have spent an approximate of £ 182 million to sign players since the move to the Emirates.
  • They have sold players for an approximate of £ 230 million, including key players such as Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Robin Van Persie, Alex Song - all of whom were sold when they were on top form for the Gunners (and purchased relatively on the cheap - think of the profit). 
  • Arsenal's best league position since the move to the Emirates has been 3rd. 
  • Last six years at Highbury: 2 league titles, 3 Fa Cups, 1 Champions League final
  • First six years at Emirates: nothing (unless you consider a league cup final defeat as an achievement).
Has the move to the new stadium really given them something more than what they had at Highbury? I'm not an Arsenal fan by any means, but I believe the move to the Emirates stadium has been detrimental in some ways to the club. Sure, they're making more money now, but are they investing in the right places with that money? They could have redeveloped Highbury and just gone on to bigger and better things (Oh, and no matter what anyone says about being unable to build in some places - everything has a price - be it a railway or a street or a home, and Arsenal could have paid for this). The Emirates stadium doesn't have half the soul that Highbury had and when their former captain echoes this sentiment, you know it's got some truth in it.

Cesc Fabregas: "I never felt at home as I felt at Highbury at any other stadium in the world. It wasn't my decision that they left it. It was the club's decision, it was what they needed at that moment. Highbury was a special thing that I don't think will happen any more, but we have to make...Arsenal have to make the Emirates their own home now and their own cabinet of trophies to start all over again."

The Emirates pitch itself is 5 meters longer than the Highbury one, which isn't much to be fair, but the style of football Arsenal played at Highbury is quite different to what Wenger has tried to instill ever since their move to the Emirates. At Highbury, the side had aggression, directness, width and constant movements that would shatter opponents; at the Emirates, it's all been about free-flowing passes, keeping possession of the ball on the ground and barely taking any shots from outside the box. Why? How did this happen? Whatever happened to Wenger's Arsenal? This certainly doesn't look like it and hasn't looked like it since their move to the Emirates.

I'll leave the Arsenal fans to answer these questions. But it'll take a very stubborn Gooner to believe that their own shortcomings against lesser sides has to do with the increasing spending power of Chelsea, Man City or Man United. Arsenal currently have superior players to most of the clubs in the league (not to mention a manager who's pretty much seen and done it all), so the club and its manager only have themselves to blame. When they are constantly shooting themselves in the foot with some of their performances, Arsenal fans just know that deep down - it's their own team's fault. Blaming others for your own shortcomings is a cheap shot. Arsenal have got massive support, they're making a lot of money (yes, they are and they too have a foreign owners - one is an American entrepreneur estimated to be worth $3.2 billion and the other is a Russian oligarch estimated to be worth $18.1 billion) and they're constantly selling their best players to rival clubs (on a local and European level). So it begs the question - why are they refusing to develop the club in a manner that allows them to compete?

Arsenal fans, you tell us...


  1. Highbury was special, but many other clubs have made the transition to a new club successfully. The problem here is that the board has decided to take out dividends for itself and fund the move to Emirates by selling players, and this absolutely ridiculous.

  2. Is it really ridiculous Karan? It seems to me that the problem here is that the board realise they have a genious in Wenger, a man that can defy gravity...and they're riding it all the way to the bank. When Wenger leaves, or Arsenal fall out of the top 4, then you'll see the transfer spending roll in, not unlike the panic buying that followed after they got walloped 8-2 at OT. The owners are in it to make money, the fans to win trophies, those are not necessarily aligned positions.

  3. There were silences in my head. I could abandon myself completely to the pleasure of multiple relationships, to the beauty of the day, to the joys of the day. It was as if a cancer in me had ceased gnawing me. The cancer of introspection.

  4. we needed to move. highbury was/is surrounded by houses, and the east/west stands are listed buildings. maybe adding a tieer to the north bank and clock end, would have given 5000, say 10000 more seats, but then would 48000 have been enough?

    to blame shortcomings on the Emirates alone is wrong. Wenger's stubbornness, Kroenke only caring about money and not being a football person, and the oil money of city and chelsea have led to our current position. that said, in early PL years we could compete at Highbury, now we couldn't. spurs even are realising this, and the Lane is only 2000 less than what highbury was. many clubs in PL history have or are building new grounds or converting their stadia. we've been mismanaged, but then this doesn't invalidate our moving, we needed to imho.