Player sales put Arsenal back in black

Sales of captain Cesc Fabregas and midfielder Samir Nasri propelled Arsenal to bumper first half profit and reignited debate on Monday about the way the English Premier League football club is being run.

Arsenal, fourth in the league after thrashing local rivals Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 on Sunday, reported a pretax profit of 49.5 million pounds in the six months to end-November, against a loss of 6.1 million pounds a year earlier.

The departure of players like Fabregas to European champions Barcelona and Nasri to Premier League leaders Manchester City boosted the bottom line by 63 million pounds but angered fans who fear the club risks losing touch with Europe's elite.

Chairman Peter Hill-Wood said that Arsenal had endured a "roller-coaster season" and stressed that the club had invested 74.7 million pounds on new players and contract extensions, costs that will be spread over several seasons.

"As fans ourselves, we... remain committed to doing all we can every day to ensure that the club we love continues to compete at the very highest levels of the game," Hill-Wood said in a statement.

Arsenal, majority owned by American Stan Kroenke, have not won a major trophy since 2005 and look certain to end the current season empty-handed.

Their situation reflects some of the difficulties of running a football club. Although their finances are sound by the standards of a spendthrift industry, supporters fear that the club is being too cautious and that the policy could backfire.

The Arsenal Supporters' Trust, a grouping of small shareholders, forecast last week that failure to qualify for the European Champions' League next season would cost the club 45 million pounds.

Fourth place would open up entry to Europe's top club tournament, but Arsenal are locked in a battle with fifth-placed Chelsea for that slot.

Sunday's win over Tottenham, who are seven points ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea, will fuel optimism that they too can be overhauled.