Praise has poured in from all corners celebrating Arsene Wenger’s thirteen years in charge of Arsenal, and rightly so. Even those authors who spend a lot of time criticising him have gritted their teeth and penned tributes, of sorts.
So many have highlighted his achievements that I have no need to add to those thoroughly deserved tributes. I would, however, like to explain further a most significant reason why I will not be joining the dissenting voices anytime soon.
Those who would criticise Arsene by taking him at his word of not needing to spend any more money on the squad are doing him a disservice. The club are now approaching the end of the second of three parts of the stadium development that will be one of the lasting testimonies to his stewardship. The stadium itself and buildings to the north were completed on time and on budget.
Highbury Square hasn’t fared as well in tempestuous financial times, but it looks as though some surplus should accrue in the next year as that phase is finally completed, and the final payments are made. There remains a third and final phase, and one that could yield huge financial rewards, but the risks are great and have dictated many of the public pronouncements from Highbury House, and Arsene himself, in the last year or two.
In an ideal world, envisaged at the start of the project, a nine-figure profit from Highbury Square would now be available to kick start the Queensland Road development. There might even have been a healthy chunk for squad strengthening from the operating profits of the last three seasons. Sadly the real world kicked in.
That Arsenal now have options available regarding Queensland Road, including running with it themselves, is entirely due to the financial restraint shown by Arsene and the board in these last three years. Restraint which has caused them to be heavily criticised in some quarters, and unable to defend themselves, a situation that continues but will become clearer in time.
So what is it about this last phase that makes all of the pain thus far so worthwhile? Well, the only cost estimate I could find was a figure of £160 million in the Architects’ Journal in March, when the planning application was finally approved.
That sort of money buys you five multi-storey, multi-core, tower blocks on the north side of the road, which will have to be re-sited, and a winding four-storey development to the south. Also incorporated is an indoor sports facility which will have to be made available to the local community.
One of the tower blocks will be an office facility, the others will incorporate commercial premises on the lower two floors with residential property above. On the south side the ground floor will be exclusively commercial with the three upper floors made over to residential. A total of over 700 new dwellings are included, around half of which will be offered for affordable rents in association with a housing association partner.
Those potentially providing the finance will have had an eye on the fact that Highbury Square has not sold out in the anticipated time-frame, and that a portion of the funding has had to be extended for a further twelve months. Hence no rapid start for this final phase, but the fact that Arsenal have managed to turn around sales at their former home, and build a significant sum of cash in hand during difficult trading conditions will have restored confidence.
Now Arsenal face significant decisions relating to this last step. The team assembled by Ivan Gazidis has been put in place with this development in mind. If Arsenal do act under their own steam, then do not clamour for the club to splash huge sums on the squad until it is completed. You will be disappointed in the short-term. However the potential returns from a project of this scale dwarf the returns from Highbury Square, it is clear, and could propel the club to the top of the rich list in world football.
For a while yet we will need Arsene Wenger’s remarkable talent for managing a top four club on a budget. He hasn’t let you down yet. Give him that little bit more time. We owe him that much.
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