It sounds to me like everyone at The Arsenal are already preparing for life without the Champions League. Word in the pubs over recent weeks is that the club know they will have to do something if we fail this Sunday to get some sort of miracle set of results and with Ivan talking about swift decisions to be made after the club’s position is confirmed, you can’t help but think they’ll reduce ticket prices for the group stages at least, as the AST have suggested. Arsenal can try to lean on the support of some of the ‘well briefed’ journalists all they like with comments about the stadium not being as empty as some suggested on Tuesday, but having been there for myself and seen the vast swathes of red seats in the lower and particularly the upper tier, the club will know that the Europa League games against FC Kervloiganschnacker from the Kazakstan league will not go down well if it takes a cup credit away from season tickets. There will almost certainly be a repeat of Tuesday night if that happened.
I don’t think the club would be that silly though, although they certainly won’t reduce season ticket prices I would have thought, because they want to maintain the income in the face of reduced Champions League money. It is a tricky one for all sides though. Champions league football is no guarantee and nowhere in the terms and conditions does it say that not getting it would mean that the club has to reduce prices. But having had 20 years of it there is kind of an expectation that you’re paying to see a certain type of opponent in these games and that’s why the tickets cost that little bit more. We as fans have no divine right to watch the best teams from Europe so why should we be demanding a reduction in ticket prices?
That argument works well in isolation, but when you consider other factors like we pay the highest prices in Europe for our tickets, that’s when the argument falls down. If we were paying 20% less for our tickets – season tickets or even match day tickets – then I’d probably be of the kind that we should be grateful when we’ve got Champions League and suck it up when we have Europa. But we don’t have it this way. We pay more than anyone and right now, you can hardly say we’re getting the best product to watch as a result.
There’s also the category systemthat was set up by the club, which kind of sends the argument about ‘sucking it up’ a little less palatable. Arsenal charge a premium for games against big teams – the Bayern’s, Barcelona’s, PSG’s of this world – and reduce prices for the lesser games and specifically the League Cup. In doing so, particularly with the League Cup, the club admit that some trophies are less favourable and so should be treated differently ticket wise. So you get £10 tickets and an opportunity for people who don’t normally go to watch The Arsenal at a reduced rate. I think the League Cup approach has been good in that respect and hope that Arsenal continue it for a long time. But in reducing prices for the League Cup they have set a precedent for viewing certain competitions as ‘less favourable’ than others. The Europa league certainly fits that bill and if Arsène – who we all know will be clinging to power for another two years – fields more of a development squad in the competition – then there is even more of a link towards the approach taken in the League Cup.
That’s why I think the club will do what they’ve done in that competition and reduce prices to £10 and £20 for the group stages, as well as take the cup credits away from the normal season ticket. It sounds like the most logical option that keeps most people happy. It’ll also give more games to some of the squad and youth team players.
I’m sure there are some out there who are wondering why I’m taking so much time and effort to talk about this when it isn’t even a dead feet that it’ll happen, but pardon my pessimism when I tell you that I think it is a dead cert. Liverpool aren’t losing or drawing to Boro and that’s that I’m afraid. Even the players are accepting of their fate it seems, with Petr Cech telling us there’s no shame in the Europa League which I’d agree with, instead preferring to call it an ‘inconvenience’ instead. It means a load more Sunday matches having played on a Thursday, it means playing teams that you’ve never heard of and it feeling like a friendly somewhere in another continent, it also means fans of the teams in the Champions League sniggering at you whilst they play proper teams in a proper competition. So no, it is not ‘shameful’, just a bit of a pain in the arse really.
And it also means you run the risk of losing your best players. Alexis can talk all he likes about being happy and not letting speculation affect him, but we’re all getting too used to this kind of talk, before he disappears off for his holiday and tells the manager that he wants out and won’t sign a new deal. At that time Arsenal need to offload quick and before you know it that interview with the journalist telling him that he’s happy at Arsenal seems a million miles away.
Alexis’ Arsenal career has two games left in it. You know that, I know that, the player knows that and Arsène will know that. The challenge we’ll have is trying to convince somebody of the requisite quality to replace him, with no Champions League football and a club who – rightly or wrongly – have a wage structure that is about ten years dated.
But he can still give us some happy memories by putting on a show for Everton and Chelski, so let’s just live in the now, appreciate him as he is in this moment and hope he at least brings us some silverware in 9 days time.
Catch you tomorrow.