I wrote an article yesterday on the race for fourth place and I had a look at the remaining fixtures of this season using last season's results based on said fixtures. It turned out that Tottenham finished way ahead of us based on those games. Needless to say, it means very little today and I wrote it more out of curiosity than anything else.
I actually wanted to write about fourth place and what it actually means to me, I just got carried away with the remaining fixtures and it turned into a life of its own.
Many people have their own opinions on a fight for a Champions League spot, some say that there is little point in being in the Champions League if we are not going to win it, some folk say that the extra revenue doesn't really matter to the fans because it isn't invested back into the squad. Some fans even go as far as saying that they would like to be out of the Champions League just to force the owners or/and manager to wake them up and be forced into making drastic changes.
Everyone is entitled to their views and I am not writing this to tell you how wrong or right you are, I am basically just giving my own take on the CL spots and why I feel it is vitally important.
Firstly I do not buy the view that missing out on CL football will wake the management from some sort of CL spell and then cause them to run around throwing money left, right and center in a Harry Redknapp style shopping spree. Arsenal are a prudent football club, have always been so before Arsene and Stan and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Having less income is hugely unlikely to make us spend more money.
The club clearly know that there is always the chance of missing out on Champions League revenue and would have factored this into the business plan long long ago.
A familiar question posed from Gooner to Gooner is the 'win the FA Cup and miss out on the top four or finish fourth with no trophy?' Of course the two are not mutually exclusive but what kind of 'what if' question has the best of both arguments? Doesn't really invoke much discussion does it?
If that choice had to be made then I suspect that most fans would say the FA Cup. I get that, fully understand why. I have punched the air, danced drunk around Highbury with my friends on those occasions. Those victories will stick with me until the day I lose my memory. But for me, even during a time when the last trophy is hard to remember I would stick with the CL places and forfeit the joy of watching Thomas Vermaelen lifting the most prestigious domestic cup competition in world football. Ironically, the last time it happened I felt like a rather spoilt kid. I didn't enjoy it one bit, felt like a boxer who had been battered for the entire fight only for the opponent to drop down with heart failure at the end. We got battered and I didn't like watching us be utterly dominated by Manchester United for the entire match. Perhaps I would have celebrated it more now knowing our path since 2005.
So let me explain the reason why I am willing to forfeit the cup just to be amongst the elite clubs in European football, a feat the manager has achieved for 16 straight years.
I love the FA Cup, I would love the 'whatevertheydecideitscalled' trophy if we could win it also but the truth is, I want more. I want us to be top of the table once more and without Champions League revenue I am not sure that we can reach those heights. Let me explain.
I don't believe that the manager has changed since he got here, his methods are much the same it is just that everything else around him has changed. Arsene is a manager who wants to build a team piece by piece, rounding and developing his players until they all click individually and collectively. The greatest team to grace the Premier League was more of less built in that same way. The difference was that we were able to keep hold of young players until the matured because a) wages were not inflated the way that Chelsea, Man City and co have forced them to be and b) we could afford to pay competitively without the Emirates chain hanging over our necks.
Since then the Champions League money has not prevented us from losing big players so I can understand skepticism. But a quick glance around us now tells us that things are changing both internally and externally. The Emirates deal has rocketed up our sponsorship cash, the new television deal money is around the corner (unless we get relegated) and skepticism or not the enforced financial rules are making some impact. A glance over to Chelsea tells you that Drogba was not given whatever he wanted to stay and the British press are scratching their heads at why Frank Lampard isn't being offered a new £230k, 5 year deal.
Manchester City have slammed the brakes on their spending. No major names in the summer, Tevez and Nasri possibly leaving and instead plumping for younger players like Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell on much lower wages.
Is the playing field around us being gradually levelled?
A glance at our previous balance sheets have suggested that we have needed to make player sales to balance the books and pay down debts. Hopefully now with the above increased income and also chopping high earners off the bill like Arshavin and Squillaci means that we can compete financially.
More importantly is that we (hopefully) will not be losing a match winning captain for the first time in two seasons. Meaning we don't have to slide down the snake and start learning how to play again.
For the first time in a few years, we could be in a position of building rather than rebuilding and if we want to build then having Champions League football as well as revenue is vital. Even if those above us have greater resources, I believe we can challenge them if and only if we are able to keep the best players we have and keep building our squad.
It is no coincidence that Manchester United have been able to stay at the top even with lesser resources than their neighbours and Chelsea. Manchester United have had stability, they have been able to add to what they have rather than lose Rooney, replace him, lose Evra and Ferdinand and replace the two etc etc.
I want us to get to the position that Manchester United have been able to be in, dancing in the street to a cup victory will not help us get there but continuing in the Champions League might just do it. But yes before you say it, both would be even better.
So while 4th is obviously not a trophy, it is surely the only real springboard possible to getting Arsenal where we want it to be and that is the very top.