Arsenal contribute nothing to the Champions League

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As Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage for the fifth consecutive season, it resounded an all-too familiar feeling around north London. The glorious failures against AC Milan and Bayern Munich were great entertainment, but this 2-0 win over Monaco only served to highlight the scale of their ineptitude in the first leg.

You have to wonder, after 17 consecutive attempts to win Europe's most coveted trophy, whether there is a point in Arsenal turning up at all. After all, they are not contributing to this competition in any positive way. If anything, their reputation is only dampened and their chances of domestic success lessened by their participation.

ITV anchorman Mark Pougatch hit the nail on the head when he compared them to Swiss side FC Basel. They've qualified for the Champions League in four of the last five seasons, take the tens of millions in TV revenue and duly take their leave when things get serious.

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The game plan

That's Arsenal's game plan, it has been for the best part of a decade. Arsene Wenger famously claimed that finishing in the top four was more important that winning the FA Cup and the League Cup. It was testament to how tight Arsenal's finances were. Without the money garnered from their place in the Champions League they would be in a much worse position than they are now; not just financially, but football...y as well.

Basel have used the money to become the dominant team in Switzerland and will grow stronger so long as they qualify for the group stages each season. Similarly, Arsenal have kept themselves competitive with Champions League qualification, using the money to keep their noses in front of Tottenham and Liverpool.

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In pure footballing terms, there is no point in Arsenal competing for the Champions League so much is there any point in Afghanistan turning up for the Cricket World Cup. They are there to make up the numbers. It just so happens that the Gunners are the best club in the best of the rest group.

Free money

However, without qualifying for this competition in the ten years since moving to the Premier League, they would be roughly €270 million worse off. Crashing out to Monaco last night means Arsenal will leave with €29.8 million in prize money. Last season they received €27.2 million and the total in 2013 was €31.4 million. 

That very rough estimate would be enough to cover Arsenal's wage bill for around 16 months. That is a staggering difference to the balance sheet and it is easy to see what a difference it has made. Staying in the top four despite lacking the ability to win the trophy means they are now in a very strong financial position.

They've held off strong challenges from Tottenham in recent years and are now striding away from their north London rivals in both the league and the transfer market.

But the real effect of the Champions League is not just in the revenue but the existential costs of not being in it. I am an Arsenal season ticket holder, but I would not renew without Champions League football on offer, unless, of course, they offered a significant discount.

Existential damage

Arsenal have charged some of the highest ticket prices in football because they offer the best football in the centre of a metropolitan area. No one would pay top dollar to see Young Boys roll into town.

They have also been able to attract players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to the club. Again, they would not arrive without the promise of Champions League football unless significantly more money was on the table.

Finally, Puma and Fly Emirates would not have agreed to pay £30 million a piece every season unless their brand was seen with that awful Champions League theme music before every game. Calculating those costs are beyond me, but it is safe to say they would be substantial.

So Arsenal can't compete for the Champions League and, betting against a huge slice of luck, won't be winning it any time soon. However, just being in it has kept Arsenal within at least touching distance of the elite.

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Premier League
Arsene Wenger
UEFA Champions League

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