By Tony Attwood
Reading through the headlines on www.goonernews.com 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
- Manchester City: £678
- Chelsea £636m
- Man U £466
- Liverpool £334m
- Aston Villa £182m
- Sunderland £154m
- Tottenham £145m
- Arsenal £136m
- Newcastle £123m
- 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?
InjuryLeague.com 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.
Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910