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Arsenal guarded over financial figures

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Mihir Bose | 13:42 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

What is interesting about financial results is often not what they reveal but what they don't.

Arsenal's are no exception.

As widely expected, the club has done well. Last season may have been trophyless but the club earned £223m. Much of this was from the new television deal, bringing in nearly £69m, helped by the strength of the euro coming in from Uefa's money.

Significantly, the Emirates Stadium is not only a fortress in terms of results on the field - they have lost only one competitive match in 58 there - but something of a cash cow. Matchday revenue last year was just under £95m. But in constructing the Emirates, Arsenal now have the biggest debt in the club's history - £318m.

Peter Hill-Wood (left) officiates at the opening of the Emirates Stadium, alongside the Duke of EdinburghPeter Hill-Wood, the chairman, says all this is under control and was anticipated when the stadium was built.

With £250m in bonds repayable over 23 years and interest fixed at just over 5% it costs Arsenal £20m a year in interests and repayments, however it still leaves a profit before tax of just under £37m.

In addition to this there is the bank loan of £133m, almost all used to fund the development of Highbury Square and its 700-odd flats. Arsenal say it is ring-fenced and will not affect the football side.

As of 31 May 2008, Arsenal had £93m in the bank. £31.5m of this is held as security to service the debt over the bonds and cannot be touched.

But Hill-Wood insists club manager Arsene Wenger has funds to spend should he want to.

Hill-Wood also makes the shrewd point that "it is not about spending a specific amount of money, it is about investing in the right people".

This allows Arsenal to consistently make good profits from player sales. But even here there are pressures. Arsenal paid £101m in wages and wage pressure will surely grow.

The words of Hill-Wood are taken from the club's website,, because the Arsenal PR machine, which looks capable of giving the old Kremlin lessons on media management, decided that Hill-Wood, who has long been the best chairman in English football, would not talk to anybody else.

So Hill-Wood is very circumspect about Arsenal's property development. In the past the club expected £350m: £270m from the Highbury development and a further £80m from regenerating Queensland Road.

On Queensland Road, planning permission is yet to be obtained and it is hard to see how in the current climate units there will sell.

As for Highbury there has been talk that some who put deposits on the flats have not completed, all the club will say is they are watching developments closely and are aware of the current housing crisis.

But it must mean the £100m property profits once expected are unlikely and the club accept this saying anything from the property speculation will be a bonus.

Hill-Wood confirms the American investor Stan Kroenke has joined the board. But does not explain why these negotiations took so long. Or why having said last year he was not the sort of man Arsenal wanted, Hill-Wood now says he brings "a wealth of experience".

Nor does Hill-Wood explain why if a 12% holder is welcome there is no place on the board for the man who owns more than twice that and is the largest shareholder, the Uzbek businessman Alisher Usmanov.

He remains the elephant in the room nobody at Arsenal seems to even acknowledge.

Yes the existing board, Kroenke apart, have a lockdown agreement not to sell outside "outside the family", but Usmanov is free to bid.

And should he bid say £10,000 a share is it still likely he will not get Arsenal, lockdown or no lockdown?

The current board may believe Arsenal is not for sale but that does not mean it cannot be bought.

Also, Hill-Wood has nothing to say as to why Keith Edelman, the managing director, who along with director Danny Fiszman, played such a major part in constructing the Emirates when others on the board such as David Dein wanted to move Arsenal to Wembley, has gone.

Edelman's sudden departure in May remains a modern-day Emirates mystery.

Arsenal are still looking for a successor, a process that was due to be completed this week but held up by the death of Arsene Wenger's father.

What is surprising is given how good a story Arsenal have to tell, both on and off the field, they behave as if they have much to hide.

Compared to last year when Edelman trumpeted the results Arsenal seem to have gone inwards as if content to rely on Wenger's undoubted brilliance.


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