By Tony Attwood
Trajectories are not that popular in football journalism because they take a little bit of working out and involve some numbers, but they do actually tell us much more about where a club is going than most reports in the media do.
But Arsenal’s progress under Arteta is truly sensational. On 20 December 2019 Arteta joined Arsenal, and at that moment above them in the league (with all the clubs having played the same number of games) were among others Liverpool, Leicester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace. Today one of those looks like they might be relegated this season, while another is in the Championship, hoping to come back to the Premier League. And none of them is likely to get into next year’s Champions League. Arsenal are top, and even though after the last four results it looks like the club won’t stay top, that surely is progress – especially when compared to all those other teams that were above Arsenal when Arteta joined.
And if you want to have it set out more graphically, just look at the table.
|10||Arteta joined 2019||17||5||7||5||24||27||-3||22||1.29|
|8||End of 2019/20 season||38||14||14||10||56||48||8||56||1.47|
|8||End of 2020/21 season||38||18||7||13||55||39||16||61||1.60|
|5||End of 2021/22 season||38||22||3||13||61||48||13||69||1.82|
That level of progress is truly phenomenal. Even in that first season of rescuing Arsenal from free fall the points per game improved from 1.29 to 1.47. Now it is 2.27 points per game. That is an improvement of 0.98 points per game from where we were when he arrived.
So let’s consider how Manchester City have improved during this spell. They too have been improving by 0.3 points per game. Not much, but still a notable improvement given how well they were doing previously. PPG is points per game.
|3||20 December 2019||17||11||2||4||47||19||28||35||2.05|
|2||End of 2019/20||38||26||3||9||102||35||67||81||2.13|
|1||End of 2020/21||38||27||5||6||83||32||51||86||2.26|
|1||End of 2021/22||38||29||6||3||99||26||73||93||2.45|
So the point is Arsenal are not trying to improve from being very much a mid-table club when Arteta joined in 2019 to being at Manchester City’s position at that time.
Arsenal are this season doing better than Manchester City were doing when Arteta took over Arsenal.
No, the problem is that Manchester City, with their unlimited spending, have been able to improve further and further. Indeed if they carry on winning every game as they are doing at the moment they will even exceed last season’s total number of points, and thus obviously last season’s points per game.
Thus my point is that Arsenal are not trying to catch up with Manchester City – Arsenal are already doing better than Manchester City were doing in 2020/21 when Manchester City won the league. The problem for Arsenal is that through their unlimited spending Manchester City are still getting better and better, and will go on doing so until their spending is curtailed.
Now of course there is a chance that Manchester City won’t be able to go on like this. The Premier League has charged them with over 100 offences under financial fair play rules, and in an ideal world even if Manchester City win the league this season, they will be stripped of the title, and other recent titles they have won.
Of course nothing is certain in this world of financial very-unfair play, but it is possible eventually they will be reigned in. And indeed even if the hearings against them do drag on for four years as has been suggested, it might be that in order to try and clean up their act, they will finally stop spending the money they have been spending on buying in other players.
However Manchester City are being aided by the collapse in the finances of Juventus and Barcelona – clubs that in the past could outbid Manchester City for top players
Indeed as the Guardian has reported, “In 2022, Juventus’s revenues slumped 8%, while its operating costs increased 7.6%. In the past five years, the club has asked shareholders for cash injections of €700m (£619m) to cover losses of €612.9m.”
“It’s as if there’s been a sinkhole,” Giovanni Cobolli Gigli – chair of Juventus between 2006 and 2009 – said. “There has been this continuous chasing of revenues when what they should have been doing was limiting the disproportionate and senseless costs.” Indeed not only have Juve been accused of grossly false accounting, their “accumulated debts of Italian football currently stand at €5.3bn.”
However, in order to get around their problems with football’s financial rules Juventus have been “systematically using player exchanges to increase the revenues of the company without actually receiving any money, an accounting technique called plusvalenze incrociate (exchanged capital gains). The system worked because, as with modern art, it’s notoriously difficult to put an accurate figure on the value of a football player. If two clubs could agree to sell to each other players that were officially, on the balance sheet, worth €1m for 10 times that amount (for €10m), each could record a capital gain of €9m, and add to their books a new asset reportedly worth €10m.” Bizarrely that is not illegal in the crazed world of football.
Now I am not in any way alleging Manchester City have been doing this – obviously, I don’t have access to any financial records. But my point is that clubs like Juventus have been finding their way around financial rules for years, and while I hope any malpractice Manchester City has been involved in will be found out and if there is any, they will be punished, we should not bank on that being the end of FUP (financial unfair play).
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