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October 2016
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How to produce a team that will win the league. The very simple fact that the stats reveal

By Tony Attwood

Reading through the headlines on there are in fact only two football stories around: who we are buying, and who we are selling.

And it is all exciting stuff, except it doesn’t really have too much to do with who will win the league next season.  In fact it has as much to do with success as does how many English players there are in a team, or how many “home grown” players you have.

Which when you think about the amount of fuss that is made about the issue is rather strange.

As you’ll undoubtedly know Arsène Wenger has made a £45m bid for Karim Benzema, or not as the case may be.

Plus a bid of around £15m for João Moutinho from Monaco

Then there is the man that the Guardian describes, with what I hope was meant to be a dollop of irony, “Manchester City’s Bosnian goal-getter Edin Dzeko”

Plus there is interest in Borussia Dortmund’s 26-year-old forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who apparently isn’t for sale.

Of course the quality of the players on the pitch is what it is all about, but transfer activity is a slightly different thing, and all the figures seem to suggest it alone doesn’t determine who wins the trophies.

That much came out of the figures we published recently comparing transfer dealings with trophies won over a five year period.

Trying a different approach the Arsenal History Society site has been analysing pre-season success with Arsenal’s subsequent season, from the Rioch year through to the present day, and that again doesn’t seem to tell us that much.

A LACK of home grown stars can help, rather surprisingly.  This was revealed when Greg Dyke proposed his latest tinkering with the transfer rules in England to change who can count as home grown.  Under the newly proposed rules Manchester City would need to get rid of six players, Tottenham would need to ditch four, Arsenal likewise four, and Chelsea three, from last season’s squads.  All the other teams except Newcastle already fit with the new rules.

This was because last season Arsenal had 14 non-home grown:

Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Debuchy, Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Gabriel, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, David Ospina, Mesut Ozil, Tomas Rosicky and Alexis Sanchez.

Plus Wojciech Szczęsny, Francis Coquelin and Damian Martinez who would no longer be classed as home grown under the new rules.

What’s interesting is that the clubs that would have to change under the new home grown rules were mostly near the top of the league (Newcastle was the exception), so I guess you could say that having non-home grown players is a positive in terms of winning things.

But if it is not the pre-season, not the recent transfers in, and only slightly down to the origins of the players, what is it that helps us win the league?

As the next approach I tried transfers over time considering the amount of money spent between 1992/3 and 2013/14.    The top ten net spenders over that period in order were

  1. Manchester City: £678
  2. Chelsea £636m
  3. Man U  £466
  4. Liverpool £334m
  5. Aston Villa £182m
  6. Sunderland £154m
  7. Tottenham £145m
  8. Arsenal £136m
  9. Newcastle £123m
  10. WHU £76m

It is a table that doesn’t really have too much to do with success during that era. A bit but not much.  The fact that Liverpool had a net spend of nearly three times as much as Arsenal during the time is a bit bizarre, as is the fact that Villa and Sunderland had net spends above Arsenal during those periods.

So what about our old friend – the injuries? did a weekly table last season in which every player out injured for one week is allocated one point.  Nice and simple.

Now I suspect that if I had enough time, enough programming knowledge and enough mathematical ability I could work out a formula that combined some of these factors together to predict who will win the league.  But even without that, it is clear that high spending Chelsea and Man City were helped not just by high spending but very low on injury counts.

So that’s it.  If we could get our injury problems down to the same level as  Man City and Tottenham, while carrying on spending as we are now, that should do it.

Of course we have debated long and hard what causes Arsenal’s injuries, and if you read Untold regularly you’ll know all about that.  But it may just be that there is another solution that Arsenal is adopting.

If you have four central defenders in a team, then when everyone is fit two of those defenders are going to do nothing much – and top players won’t come to your club to do nothing much.  So defender three might be one who is promised that within a year or two one of the other defenders will depart and he’ll be first choice.  Defender four might be a youngster, just pleased to be in the squad.

That is the traditional approach.  But… the alternative approach is to build a flexible team.  So you have a full back such as Chambers who you think could well become a very decent central defender.  One player two positions.   And you have another player who is already quite decent as cover in the centre (Monreal).  You have a winger who is actually a fairly nifty centre forward (Theo).

Defensive midfield is a position that seems to exercise everyone, and today there’s another story flitting around that Arsenal could bring in yet another Barcelona player – Sergi Samper – for that position.  But just under a year ago I suggested that Calum Chambers was a possible for that position.  Jack Wilshere and the Ox have been mentioned there too.

But hang on we have got Chambers at centre back, full back and defensive midfield.  But that’s ok because he said when he signed he didn’t know his best position.

I am not trying to suggest that everyone should be able to play everywhere – obviously not – but I am saying that given that injuries are as at least as powerful an indicator of where we end up in the league as the amount we spend on players, we should be looking for solutions.

Now we know from all the statistics produced on this site and others, that Arsenal players are less protected by referees from illegal and dangerous tackles than players of other clubs.  So all we can do there is keep on publicising the behaviour of referees, and keep on pointing out in advance just how each ref has treated us in the past.

We can’t bring in more and more players because of the 25 rule.  So we need players who can play in multiple positions, if need be.   Combine that with an ability to change the entire formation of the team (as Arsenal did when Santi Caz was moved to play alongside Coquelin) and we have an approach which is probably more powerful than that of waving lots of money around and buying players for outrageous sums of money.

I’m not against buying, but I rather like flexibility as a back up system to go alongside it.

The books

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910

The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal

35 comments to How to produce a team that will win the league. The very simple fact that the stats reveal

  • Dexter

    This squad isnt strong enough and we wont challenge without quality additions. Namely a striker and a defensive midfielder.

    coq was great but that was mainly due to the complete lack of a decent dm previously.

  • Florian

    Thank you Dexter for the invaluable advice. No wonder you’re next in line to be Arsenal’s manager.

  • Pete

    I think that is our best Injury League result for years?!

    Really believe Shad is having an influence. Hopefully we will see that fully come through this season.

    Really do NOT believe we need anyone at all other than someone world class who is clearly superior to what we have. So likely a £40mm+ player. I don’t believe any of the players you list would significantly improve our team, if improve it at all. Overall numbers are now good.

    As has been noted previously, there is no point in buying someone to sit on the bench. Either buy a 1st team starter – see above – or an up and coming youngster.

  • Philbet

    Good article and it all makes sense, where it is seriously flawed is the clubs reporting said injury’s, not all clubs are as open as Arsenal and I suspect MC & Chelsea to be two examples and others who for some reason are under performing to be all too quick to press the ‘all our team are injured’ button, Newcastle and Man Utd are examples of this.
    Incorrect data leads to incorrect conclusions.

  • Andy Mack

    One point per week on the injury table doesn’t really explain what we suffered at all. There would need to be a system representing the importance of that player at that time. So if Gibbs is already injured then and 1 point doesn’t show that Monreal becomes a very important player. And such a simple system can never represent the true loss of Diabys influence on the pitch compared to the loss of Gnabry for instance, where he may have great potential but isn’t really up for Man of the match displays yet.

  • para

    The team is good and will become even better this season. We now have many ways of lining up depending on the opposition, and i hope this tactic is used well and not just because of an injury.

    Looks like 3 places are free now from the list at, Chezzy going on loan, Flamini going and Cambell too. Does this mean we now get 3 new players? Probably not, but i’m sure we are already changing the team slowly.

    Chezzy now knows he has to step up again and show he wants to be an Arsenal player. He was already there, but he let him self down a little and he knows it. Would like to see him “grow up” and return to Arsenal ready to take the number 1 spot again.

    So, looks like we will get at least one player for the midfield and one forward if the player(s) AW wants are available.

    I personally think all these stupid rules to ensure players from the country the club is in get chances are not good, it stands to reason that this only allows mediocre players to get through, as the good ones get through anyway.

    Another case of applying wrong solutions when everyone can see that youth training needs to be improved to give mediocre players the chance to become good. That said, dedicated players will train to achieve their goal anyway.

  • Dexter

    The Ox and Wilshere as DMs? Or a young player who has never played there? Seriously? Maybe Calum in a few years when he’s established himself as a CB first.

    Yes because you really need to be a manager to express an opinion. You keep that big ol head firmly rooted in the sand and convince yourself that the squad is as strong as it possibly can be.

  • Florian

    So, Dexter, you are a manager. Well, how about a little math for a variation (and sorry for the minimal formatting, it’s an Excel table pasted in a comment):

    The injury table as presented above has a standard deviation of ~7.56. The following data depicts the relative positions of the teams as they finished in the standings vs the injury league. The first column is the league position, the second is the team name, the third is the injury league position in reverse, the fourth is the difference, and the fifth is the outliers.

    1 Chelsea 1 0 0
    2 Man City 4 2 0
    3 Arsenal 16 13 5.44
    4 Man Utd 19 15 7.44
    5 Tottenham 3 -2 0
    6 Liverpool 15 9 1.44
    7 Southampton 14 7 0
    8 Swansea 8 0 0
    9 Stoke 13 4 0
    10 Crystal Palace 6 -4 0
    11 Everton 18 7 0
    12 West Ham 10 -2 0
    13 West Brom 5 -8 0.44
    14 Leicester 2 -12 4.44
    15 Newcastle 20 5 0
    16 Sunderland 7 -9 1.44
    17 Aston Villa 17 0 0
    18 Hull 11 -7 0
    19 Burnley 9 -10 2.44
    20 QPR 12 -8 0.44

    As you can see, Arsenal are already punching above their weight due to their efficiency in play. Manure effectively bought their 4th place, as did Liverpool to a lesser extent. Most of the teams are there or thereabouts, except Sunderland (there are fishy things going on there, as Swiss Ramble pointed out), Burnley (lack of investment in the squad), Leicester (?) and only slightly West Brom and QPR. Interestingly, Cheatski, Swansea and Aston Villa are exactly where they are supposed to be.

    So, based on this data, I’d say we’re doing fantastically well, and we can only wish we keep it up. It’s true that investing in the squad is always a good idea, but I just can’t see how can one possibly wake up and suddenly order a DM and a CF for lunch. As Untold pointed on many occasions, it’s not that simple. Improving our position in the Injury League seems much more attainable, and that is most likely going to be the decider come May.

  • Robert

    Averaging net transfer spend over a period of 20 years won’t tell you anything for a couple of reasons:

    1. Transfer fee inflation has been insane.

    2. Chelsea and Man City spend rose significantly after the new owners came in.

    On a totally different note, here’s a reasoned article for the “We need a real striker!!” mob to read:

  • arse_or_brain

    instaed of looking at the DM glass compleatly empty maybe we should consider a brighter outlook. Le Coq will play the majority of the games and considering its his second season holding down a starting place its reasonable to assume he will get even better. Englands DM happens to be an ARSENAL player i think his name is Jack. The former welsh captain (also among our ranks) has played that position. Our club captain is not compleatly useless and could certainly “fill in”. Callum has played that position and when he signed Arsene said that would possibly be his best fit. Further supplements for odd games could include the reserve captain Hayden, plus Bielik and a fast improving Glen Kamara.
    while I’ll agree every squad could always be stronger this one is the strongest its been for years,the quality of the youth players coming through is continuing to rise and it didnt do to bad in the first part of 2015.
    I think you would have to agree injuries have been the major reason we havent won the league since 04 and so quality is not as big an issue as some would have us believe

  • esxste


    I think the point is that watching the players for 90 minutes 30-40 times a season doesn’t make anyone an expert on what players are capable of.

    Further, your statement about needing a striker and a defensive midfielder is incomplete.

    We need a striker or a defensive midfielder that is better than what we have, will fit into the team with its unique dynamic and ‘cohesion’, is available and isn’t massively over priced on salary or transfer fee.

  • nicky

    Speculation is already gathering pace on Arsenal’s chances of winning next term’s EPL. Even before the closing of the current Transfer Window.
    Regardless of any new signings, a lot will depend on the speed of recovery of our wounded, together with the team receiving a fair crack of the whip from referees.
    Those who watched the recent demolition of Everton in the Asia Cup could not fail to be impressed by Arsenal’s display of
    cohesive attacking play so early after the Summer break and in ultra oppressive conditions.
    The appearance and performance of a number of reserve players was an added bonus to viewers.
    All in all, the outlook would appear to be one of confidence in the campaign ahead, perhaps greater than for a number of years. Not only by supporters but by the players themselves. 😉

  • Tram

    The injury table that you show calculates on the basis of 1 week out = 1 point (as you note). Follow their data back and you get to ( where you also find a table of sick days lost. I’m not sure whether weeks lost proves anything different to days lost, but in the days table only Newcastle fared worse than Arsenal, so perhaps we’re now better than ever at rapid rehabilitation, but whichever way we are clearly successful despite the assaults. And there’s a separate perspective that would be interesting: which teams caused the most injuries? Is there a statistical link between that and most fouls committed and/or most cards? There is a lot of data out there which could, if marshalled accurately, tell us who are the worst, most violent team.

  • Mukhtari Abdu Kanwa

    Leave story men, let say the reality we are in need of tops quality players. In position of a DM and a Striker. We want lift a big Cups (trophies). Such as Champions league, English Premier League and also the FA Cups.

  • TailGunner

    Will the real Calum Chambers stand up.
    We know his potential (and limitations ) as a right back, but if he’s going to develope as a central defender or defensive mid he needs more than the three starts he was given.
    You would expect someone of his physique would be a natural in central defence but the boss seems reluctant to play him there, and to be truthful he didn’t look too good on his two starts to the existent that Monreal was forced into the position. Just once as DM, so that doesn’t look very encouraging, although he’s still in the development phase of his career, but with the competition he has at right back he only appears to have two other options.
    Tony thinks he could be DM. Possibly, but this is such a crucial position for us and many of the goals we gave away originated from errors in this area, so he would need to improve his indiscipline.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Oh Robert, don’t smash their dreams please….

  • Robert

    Sorry, Walter, just couldn’t help myself.

    Still, at least I didn’t tell them that the top scorer last year didn’t play for the team that won the league.

  • Still the same problem though: Coquelin was a very, very good defensive midfield player last season. No reason why he should not continue along the same lines this season, unless he gets injured.

    So why replace someone who is that good?

    Or put another way, Arsenal scored 2 goals fewer than Chelsea and let in six more, in a season where the team was destroyed in the first few months with injuries and didn’t have its effective DM until the second half of the season.

    Again, why change? Why not just bring in back ups?

  • bjtgooner


    Sorry – off topic – I have sent you three emails re Untold Banner – if you have not received these please let me know on this thread. Thanks.

    Re Dyke’s proposals – so under the new home grown proposals MC would need to shed 6 players, Spurs 4, Arsenal 4 and Chelski 3 players, all from last season’s squads. Strangely the Dyke’s proposals don’t disrupt his favored Manchester United – a coincidence?

  • para

    Dexter, the squad is the way it is. If you have not learned that Arsenal has to do the best they can with the resources they have, then why are you a fan?
    We cannot splash money like Manu, Chelsea and Manc, they can buy multiple players and get rid of the ones who do not perform next season. Arsenal can’t do that. Arsenal has to find a way to be just as good and better than those teams with the resources Arsenal has. Arsenal is growing and building but maybe you cannot wait that long and want Arsenal to spend money they do not have?

  • para

    July 22, 2015 at 11:56 am
    This goes out to Mukhtari Abdu Kanwa too.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I want it all. And NOW!

  • Vintage Gooner

    Tony I don’t wish just to cross swords but “So why replace someone who is that good?” means that already having Wilshere,Ramsay,Cazorla we of course would not buy Mesut Ozil! Similarly with Giroud, Walcott,The Ox,Rosicky,
    we would not buy Alexis Sanchez!

    In reality if we can find players that good at affordable prices we should always buy them and the whole squad is better. Even the players the replace improve for the competition and the example of top quality they can learn from.

    Where we can readily agree is that Arsene Wenger is far and away the best judge of both top quality and a reasonable price.

  • Gord

    Nice work Florian. Including using rank in comparisons.

    You calculated a standard deviation of about 7.56 in the injury table. If we look at the injury table, there are two places where we have a gap that is significantly larger than 7.56: just after Newcastle, and between Crystal Palace and West Brom. Hence, it is likely we have 3 groups of teams in the injury league: Newcastle all by itself; West Brom, Man City, Tottenham, Leicester, Chelsea; and finally the rest. I wouldn’t have a problem recognizing Newcastle as different. but it is hard to see how West Brom and Leicester might be the same as Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea. There is a hint of a gap between Liverpool and Southampton, possibly another as well. A person might be trying to come up with 4, 5 or 6 different kinds of behavior in that table.

    Not an esay table to try and draw inferences from.

  • Mickey

    I’m very hopeful that without much injuries, we (Arsenal) will do very well this term – even win the league. But, I still think Giroud wouldn’t do that alone without a world-class competition. I love you guy! COYG!!!

  • Florian

    Thank you Gord. I trusted Excel to do a decent job computing the stddev for me:) As far as I’m concerned, maybe we could use kevlar for the socks and boots for the coming season, unless the refs have a sudden change of consciousness – hard to believe, is it?

  • dieter


    No hurry, but just a credible effort in the EPL title race would be nice for a change.


    Liverpool cannot splash money like Manu, Chelsea and Manc either, but they were not too far away from being crowned League Champions the season before.

    As for us being genuine title contenders this time; who knows? But I sincerely believe we are too thin up front and too dependent on Alexis. We’ll wait and see.

  • finsbury

    Quick glance at the funny papers:
    The rags owned by oligarchs and radicalised economic extremists are fully supportive of Gazprom’s efforts to tap up the Everton player who had trouble with Walcott and Ozil. I suppose that is not a surprise.

    What is surprising is the inability of some amongst the AAAA to admit that these rags are so partisan and extreme in their propagation.

  • Dex

    Para that was a stupid post mate. The squad isnt as good as it can be, simply because there is funds to improve it that havent as yet been spent. Its pretty simple.

    As for Florian and his maths lesson…WTF???

    And the injury list, yes we get a shit load of injuries, even MORE reason to have a better squad.

    Stop finding excuses for NOT strengthening the squad FFS.

    I love our players and manager, but that doesnt mean I am not averse to the playing staff being augmented and upgraded, as AW has already done in the GK department, which a few on here laughed off BEFORE he was signed.

  • Dex


    You are clearly crackers mate, I wish I was on your medication.

  • TailGunner

    Some of the comments here might better be suited to the Socialist Worker.
    Perhaps the SWP pussy has an agenda.

  • Florian

    Dex, instead of masking your desire to spend someone else’s money under the thin argument of “strengthening the squad”, better take a moment and think about the hypothetical case when you manage your own budget, and you must set aside money for the days when you’ll be unemployed/sick/retired. Now extrapolate that to a football club, with unemployment equivalent to being out of UCL, and watch yourself resemble more and more to Arsene Wenger:D

  • finsbury

    The dark tetrad exposes itself yet again in all it’s misogynistic glory.
    Must have been the earlier link to Sir Robert McAlpine (1st Baronet) that set it off and frothing this time. 😉

  • finsbury

    One symptom of the AAAA’s insanity is the immaturity or cognitive dissonance expressed when confronted with the understanding that Arsenal Football Club is admired and respected by the likes of both Sir Robert McAlpine (1st Baronet) and Rt. Hon. Jermey Corbyn M.P.
    Both individuals had key roles in the evolution of AFC over the past twenty years.

    It was Tottenham fan and former Villa manager John Gregory who said:

    “Arsenal Football Club represent the best of/in English Football”

  • Micheal Ram

    I don’t think Dykes day-dreaming will trouble Arsenal if FA decides to swim in that shallow water too. 8 of the senior players will be 30 and over next season while numerous young English players who are good enough to replace them are already at Arsenal. Chambers, although played at CB a few times, has shown glimpse of a great leader with his maturity and technique. He got Per and Kos to learn from and Gab to compete against. Ox can pretty much play anywhere with competent and Ramsey has already covered defense, midfield and attack before. Ozil has shown everyone AW can actually improve a character like his to become indispensable teamplayer. I think a lot of people forgot that not only AW keep Arsenal competitive during the stadium debt but also created a youth squad full of potential. I know eventually the 3 foreign player rule will come back but for me, only Arsenal will benefit from it. Not worried at all as long as AW still around.