Only victory can make Arsenal big guns again
Final is a must-win, with Champions League cash key to challenges ahead, writes Sam Dean
Arsenal's financial model is a simple one in the sense that they can only spend what they generate. It is a "self-sustaining" approach born out of Stan Kroenke's reluctance to pour his own cash into the club coffers.
In the most basic sense, this means that Arsenal will have less money to spend if they do not secure a place in the Champions League by winning the Europa League final tomorrow. Their transfer budget will be as low as £40 million should they fail to beat Chelsea, although the kitty will be boosted by any player sales.
Their early movements in the transfer market this summer are indicative of the difference between a Champions League-sized budget and a Europa League version.
Arsenal have shown interest in Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, who has made clear his desire to play in the Champions League, and also in Ryan Fraser, of Bournemouth, who will be a far cheaper option.
The result in Baku will determine the calibre of player Arsenal can target.
Also, Arsenal have plenty of players in their squad who expect to be operating at the highest level. Will the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Torreira really believe they are not capable of thriving in the Champions League? Keeping their stars happy will be a major challenge should Unai Emery's side fail in Baku.
"We have to be in the Champions League," says Granit Xhaka. "We did not play there for two years and we have to be there next season.
"All the players, the fans, the club, we want to play the best teams, and the best teams are in the Champions League."
The Arsenal brand
A combination of history, reputation and location mean that Arsenal are one of the most recognisable and respected of footballing "brands".
The absence from the Champions League for a third consecutive season would not change this, and it is telling that Arsenal have been able to negotiate improved commercial deals - such as their new partnership with Adidas - despite two years of Europa League action.
Arsenal still remain commercially attractive and they have a marketable squad packed with diverse, social media-savvy players. "The image of Arsenal is strong enough," said Raul Sanllehi, the head of football, last week.
"We are a reference in the football world, so when Arsenal knocks on the door of players it's a different knock than other clubs."
There is a time limit on how long the appeal lasts, though, if Arsenal continue to be sidelined from the top table of European football. There are plenty of examples of massive clubs losing their lustre as new generations come through.
The drama and excitement of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur's respective runs to the Champions League final have only underlined what Arsenal's players are missing.
"The fact that we have not been in the Champions League for two years and we are in question marks now for the next year, that is not helpful," Sanllehi said.
With top-level European football appearing to be heading towards a closed shop, Arsenal need to ensure they are inside before the door slams shut.
Uncertain financial future
There is no exact figure for what it will cost Arsenal if they lose to Chelsea. There are plenty of factors which determine the financial benefits of a Champions League campaign, not least how far Arsenal progress in the competition.
What is certain, though, and what club executives have never tried to hide, is that it costs them "tens of millions of pounds" every time they miss out.
This would hurt any self-sustaining business, and the concern is that the gap to those who do enjoy Champions League revenues will only continue to get bigger.
Arsenal's bloated wage bill needs to get smaller, while Champions League sides can afford to invest more. Just look at Liverpool, who have invested enormously in their squad due to their qualification for the Champions League.
Analysts from the Arsenal Supporters' Trust expect Arsenal to make a loss of about £60 million this season.
The business model is under strain, and it will only get worse should Arsenal be consigned to another year in the Europa League.
The pressure is enormous, then, and there is an argument that tomorrow's final is the club's most important match in a decade.
© The Daily Telegraph