Arsenal lost 3-1 at the Emirates to a Bayern Munich team that is flat out better than Arsenal. They were better than Arsenal in most positions on the pitch, deeper than Arsenal on the bench, and arguably better than Arsenal tactically on the day.
Bayern have better players partially because they are a richer team than Arsenal, with revenues of €368.4m compared to Arsenal’s €290.3m annual haul. But Bayern don’t earn that money because some rich guy is artificially pumping money into the team, they earn that money because hard work building the Bayern brand has paid off hugely in the commercial market: if Arsenal made the same amount of money as Bayern does in commercial revenue they would leapfrog Manchester United in Deloitte’s football money list and be the third highest revenue earning team in the world at over €400m a season.
The money Bayern earns they use to spend lavishly on transfers, shelling out over £95m in new players in the last two years. In that same period that Bayern bought lavishly, Arsenal sold lavishly and spent thriftily with a net transfer outlay of £-5m. At the end of yesterday’s game it wasn’t Pounds and Euros running around on the pitch making tackles and scoring goals but there was clearly about a £100m gulf in class between the two teams.
That £100m is just about the figure I predicted back in July that Arsenal need to spend to build this team into a title contender. Some people laughed, they said “spending doesn’t guarantee anything”, they pointed out Andy Carroll, and more than a few people spent the better part of six months trying to disprove the idea that Arsenal needed to strengthen this squad here in the comments section of nearly every article.
Ironically, Arsenal did spend money in January in order to address a weakness in the team’s defense at left back. Nacho Monreal was brought into the club because both Kieran Gibbs went down with an injury and his backup had fallen out of favor due to a string of bad decisions on and off the pitch. But it was a case of too little-too late because Nacho was ineligible to play last night and instead, Arsenal were forced to pick a center back (Thomas Vermaelen) to play wingback. And by most accounts, Vermaelen had another in a long line of weak performances.
Those who believe that spending doesn’t guarantee anything will often point to the “fight in the dog” theory that spunky little underdogs can overcome the odds and beat the big boys if they just try hard enough. Sure, on “any given night” any team can beat any other team and you can even get the fairy tale season or two such as Montpellier in Ligue Un last season. That’s the stuff that keeps the average fan interested in the game at all. If it weren’t for those fairy tale nights and the once in a lifetime season of Montpellier (they are 8th this year) we’d all just support the big teams.
But by my reckoning, this Arsenal team went out there against Bayern and gave everything on the pitch and still lost 3-1. Arsenal were aggressive in the tackles, rightly earning several yellow cards. Arsenal out-passed Bayern and dominated the possession stats. In nearly every category, Arsenal worked so very hard but then, so too did Bayern. In the end, Bayern beat Arsenal in tackles, interceptions, and all the defensive dirty work that they needed to do to finish this game off.
What happens when two teams play their hearts out but one team is just the better team? The better team almost always wins. That’s what money gets you, the better team.
And for the last two years Bayern have made a concerted effort to cull the dead weight from their squad, bring in the best players for positions they need, build the team into one of the best teams in Europe, and get the very best manager to guide that team to five years of dominance. Bayern needed a defensive midfielder, they spent £35m to bring in Javi Martinez. Bayern needed a keeper, they spent £19m on Neuer. Bayern needed a coach, they spared no expense and went out and got former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola.
What we saw in Arsenal’s loss to Bayern Munich was the culmination of two years hard work by Bayern to build up their squad into a team that will present a legitimate challenge for the Champions League title. On the other end of the pitch we saw an Arsenal team which has been stripped bare of her best assets over the last two years as Arsenal have sold Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Samir Nasri.
That last sentence will spark a debate of a million angry words about how it’s not Arsenal’s fault that van Persie was a traitor or that Fabregas sold us out. It already has, I’ve seen it here, I’ve argued some of it myself. But that’s not the point. The point is that Arsenal have the £100m that Bayern spent improving their team sitting in our armory. It’s our now infamous “dry powder” that Arsenal have been saying that we have stored up and which I said would be the powder keg that we all explode over if Arsenal don’t perform well this season.
Arsenal don’t need a cash injection from Usmanov. Arsenal don’t need to “pull a Rangers” and go bankrupt. Bayern should be our beacon which cuts through the fog that has settled in North London. Knocked out of the League cup by Bradford, the FA Cup by Blackburn, and now (all but) the Champions League by Bayern. Arsenal have been found wanting now in nearly every competition and are hanging their hopes on getting a 4th place finish in the League.
Using Bayern as the example, Arsenal’s way forward is to spend the next two years building this team into a squad that is one of the best in Europe. Just like Bayern, that includes an assessment of both the players and the coaching staff. Either that or we can keep trying to be the spunky little underdogs that try really hard. Personally I’ve never been a fan of spunk.