LONDON (AP) — Topping the Premier League, chasing a first title in a decade seems even more gratifying when Arsenal sees itself as taking on an entire nation.
The Gunners are a point ahead of Manchester City, which has benefited from more than $1.5 billion of investment from Abu Dhabi in a little over five years. "You can't compete against that," Arsenal chief commercial officer Tom Fox said Wednesday. "We're a football club in London and we are a global brand, but we would never try to compete against the financial resources of a country.
"I just don't think that's a very realistic thing for us to do ... trying to chase those types of owners. Obviously it's just not possible." City was bought in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, through an investment vehicle. The team went on to win the league in 2012.
For Arsenal, doggedly adhering to a policy of long-term financial sustainability has meant a frustrating lack of silverware since the 2005 FA Cup. Now Arsenal seems to have the best chance in years to end a trophy drought that has been a millstone round the neck of manager Arsene Wenger.
The London club is also in the last 16 of the Champions League, where holder Bayern Munich awaits next month, and the FA Cup, with lowly Coventry up next in the fourth round. "Winning and doing it on our terms, in a self-sustaining way, I think (would be) incredibly powerful," Fox said after addressing a Leaders Sport Network breakfast in London.
"We believe that we will be successful running the football club the way we're running it — despite a whole host of other issues, whether it's the economy at large, whether it's the make-up of the ownership," added Fox, a former NBA director.
Arsenal isn't exactly owned by a pauper, with American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke's fortune estimated by Forbes magazine to be $5.3 billion. But Kroenke wants the club to keep spending within its means and adhering to UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.
"Almost by necessity, we have a financial model that doesn't allow us to go into the market every summer and buy all of the best players that are for sale," Fox said. That made it so surprising in the last summer transfer window when Arsenal broke its transfer record to sign Mesut Ozil for 50 million euros (then $66 million).
Fans shouldn't expect the same in the January window or next summer, despite Wenger veering from his usual stance to entice Ozil from Real Madrid. "His mantra is that we don't buy superstars, we make them," Fox said.
However, it is Fox's job to find the sponsors who can provide the revenue that can be invested in the squad. "We are competing against oligarchs (Roman Abramovich at Chelsea), we are competing against nation states, we are competing against clubs all across Europe that have sources of funding that are significant, that make it very difficult for us to compete," Fox said.
And winning the Premier League would help the chase for cash from sponsors. "It would create a completely different environment and it would be an easier environment in some ways to do business," Fox said.
The fans, though, care less about the bottom line on balance sheets, and more about trophies being raised come May. "Whatever we do commercially is not anything our fans really want to know or understand," Fox said. "They want the club to be successful ... and be able to compete."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris