By Andrew Crawshaw and Tony Attwood
The story is that Arsenal can’t do transfers. The manager won’t spend money, the club dithers, there is an overarching level of gross incompetence.
We’ve heard it often, and of course it is difficult to prove or disprove without having closer access to the club than any of us have.
But some data is publicly available relating to transfers… data which gives an inside view on this notion of Arsenal’s approach compared to that of other clubs which sheds completely new light upon transfers.
Now the phrase “compared to other clubs” is important here because this is the element that is often left out of commentaries. The notion that Arsenal is incompetent rarely incorporates into the evidence any comparison with how other clubs handle their affairs, mostly because such evidence is not available.
But when it comes to the clubs’ squads – what we call the “25” – the data is most certainly available and when put together the data makes very interesting reading.
Six and a half years ago the Premier League clubs agreed that clubs could only have 25 over 21 players in their Premier League squad and this must include eight home-grown players out of the 25.
A home-grown player, as I am sure you know, is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the Season during which he turns 21).
Now you might well expect that there’s no complication in this and that all teams have done what Arsenal have done this season – and registered 25 players, plus a smattering of under 21s who are in the first team squad.
After all why would a club like Man City or Chelsea with such massive financial resources not register 25 players to cover injuries, loss of form etc etc? But just take a look at the second column showing the number of over 21s listed.
|Team||Over 21 players||Under 21s||Homegrown||Overseas|
But the question then arises, has Man U got a real production line rolling here with their under 21s? After all with ten of them listed it seems they are way ahead of the rest of the field. So here’s their list of ten, showing the number of games played by these players for Man U, or where they actually are now.
- Anthony Martial, 37
- Jesse Lingard, 29
- Adnan Januzaj, loaned to Sunderland
- Marcus Rashford 16
- Luke Shaw, 26
- Timothy Fosu-Mensah, 8
- Axel Tuanzebe,
- Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, on loan to Wolverhampton
- Andreas Pereira, on loan to Granada
- James Wilson, on loan to Derby
What we can thus do is reduce this list from 10 down to around five. (Of course these players might come back from loan and play for Man U, but here we are trying to analyse all the clubs from the same point of view: how many players can reasonably be said to be available for first team games now?)
So what happens when we apply this criteria to Arsenal? All five under 21s are very much members of the first team squad. Akpom and Reine-Adelaide might be considered not yet fully ready, but when fit both take up positions on the bench and play in the league cup and judging by the way Bellerin, Coquelin and Iwobi emerged part way through a season from a similar position then it seems reasonable to include them.
A similar process of reduction can be undertaken with some other clubs. Liverpool for example have Pedro Chirivella (1 game), Sheyi Ojo out on loan, Cameron Brannegan (3), Marko Grujic on loan to Red Star Belgrade, while Connor Randall has just made his debut.
Chelsea have three youngsters listed of whom Ola Aina is very much a beginner, and Nathaniel Chalobah is a league cup squad man. Man City again have players of potential, but not players throughout who are necessarily playing already in the first team. Maffeo is on loan, Jose Angel Tasende has just started making appearances for example.
It is in fact impossible to draw up exact lists of which of these youth players is genuinely a first team squad player but we do think the argument can be made that not all the youth players listed by some of the teams we are considering are ready to step up to become first team regulars. Some clubs it seems are more ready than others to announce young players as being members of the first team squad, when they are either on loan or are perhaps not quite there.
If we go back primarily to the “25” over 21s. Looking at this list the clubs have
- Arsenal 25
- Everton 25
- West Ham 24
- Liverpool 23
- Man U 23
- Chelsea 21
- Leicester 21
- Southampton 21
- Man City 20
- Tottenham 20
And we want to ask again why have clubs like Man City with huge amounts of dosh not got 25 players in their first team squad? The answer is that what is forcing clubs like Chelsea and Man City to continue through the season with a shortage of players is their lack of home grown players. With Leicester it is different – they simply have a shortage of players.
Now we must admit there is one oddity in Arsenal’s list for we have Sanogo listed in the “25”, and he clearly is not going to play at the moment, and we don’t know what is going on with him. A series of unimpressive loans and a lot of injuries – we can’t make it out. But he is the only one of the 25 who is in that category and we’ll happily reduce Arsenal’s total to 24 in response to this, although there may well be the odd “Sanogo” figure in other teams lists as well. But even if he is the only oddity among all the clubs we are still ahead of the rest.
Man City’s excuse may be that they have only recently got their money and developed their new training centre, but they have been bringing in players at all ages since the takeover, and indeed so vigorously have they been doing this that they are now subject to an investigation by Fifa over illegal child trafficking in relation to Benjamin Garre. I have no idea where this will go, but it shows the club is active in this market – but perhaps not quite as good as some sides at getting those home grown players through the system and into the first team.
So we still have the question, why can’t Man City and Chelsea find home grown players and why can’t Leicester find enough players of any nationality?
Of course we are not saying that just buying up players is enough in itself – after all West Ham and Everton have a large number of players. And we do realise that Man City are top of the league and Tottenham second, so they are not actually failing. But there is every chance that at some stage injuries will hit, and when they do both clubs will be lacking in back up players of the highest quality.
And there is no doubt that if someone else had done this analysis and had found it was Arsenal who only had 20 registered first team over 21 players the tales of incompetence and money-pinching would be all over the internet.
That doesn’t happen when certain other clubs behave in a different way. But it is, to say the least, a curious situation.