How pundits failed to see the signs of Arsenal’s rise up the league.



By Tony Attwood

As we have often noticed on this site, most pundit predictions of what will happen to clubs from one season to the next tend to be based on the notion that this season will be much the same as last.   And that’s valid but only up to a point.   For although  – most clubs don’t change their positions in the league that much, from one year to the next, some do

In 2022/23 the top six in the Premier League included Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle United, and Brighton.  Four of those clubs were in the top six the year before.

Of that 2020/21 top six, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea were in the top six the year before – a fact that neatly makes the point that although the top six is not a closed shop, the door to the shop is perhaps best described as partially open, largely because the clubs that do finish in the top six get a lot of extra money to spend and are attractive propositions for players looking for a new club.

Indeed it does take a certain amount of incompetence or long-term indebtedness for a club to end up fifth in the league as Leicester did in 2021, only to be relegated two seasons later.

And that’s the point: if the club spends a fortune getting into Europe, it needs another fortune to stay there.  Especially if the club wants to do what Arsenal did, appearing in Europe yearly from 1996/7 to 2020/21, a run which included 17 consecutive years in the Champions League – a run that has only ever been beaten by Real Madrid.

The Champions League of course provides enormous funding boosts to clubs, which is why so many clubs will risk so much to get into the League; the finances make it (to a large degree although of course not exclusively) a self-perpetuating elite.

And when combined with the sort of financing Manchester City picked up once they had the funding from Sheik Mansour, it generally means that those clubs at the top can stay at the top.   A different sort of arrangement in terms of funding has resulted in a duopoly in Scotland, a near duopoly in Spain and a near monopoly in France.

Only finance can break these systems and indeed we are quite possibly seeing that in Spain with the arrival of Girona, operated and funded by the people who currently own and operate Manchester City.


Spanish La Liga 2023/24
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Girona 17 14 2 1 41 20 21 44
2 Real Madrid 17 13 3 1 38 11 27 42
3 Atletico Madrid 17 11 2 4 35 19 16 35
4 Barcelona 17 10 5 2 31 19 12 35


But of course although funding is essential the money still has to be spent wisely in order to take the team into the trophy-winning positions.

In October last year, Planet Football produced a review of income and spending by ten clubs over the past ten years to work out their net spend per trophy.  These ranged from 1170m euros spent by Tottenham to 2370m euros spent by Chelsea.

Of course, the number of trophies varies from club to club – Tottenham got nothing for their efforts, while Manchester City spending 1790m euros managed to bring in 15 trophies, suggesting that having the right manager in place can also be helpful.

But more than anything these figures remind us that a) money does not guarantee trophies, and b) it takes a huge amount of spending to get going on the trophy treadmill, but even with that amount of spending it is easy to fall off the treadmill.

Manchester City have won a welter of trophies in a short space of time but did it by spending vast amounts quickly in order to build up the basis onto which other great players could be persuaded to fit.  It would appear that Arsenal are now doing much the same thing but with a much smaller outlay.

But there is no guarantee.  Chelsea and Tottenham are spending prolifically and operating in their own way yet neither is bringing in the silver.

And to add to the problem, it turns out to be incredibly difficult for clubs in the Premier League to fight their way up the table so that they can get into Europe.  Indeed only two of the 17 clubs that played in the Premier League last season, and are still there this season, have a positional change of more than four places.   For all the hype about this being a highly competitive league, it is also as repetitive in its outcomes as much of the rest of Europe.

Indeed at the moment of writing the biggest mover outside the special case of Everton is West Ham who finished last season in 14th and are now eighth.   In fact spending and league position are not as clearly matched at the moment as we might think.   The only clubs that have a current league table position and a spending position within one place of each other are Arsenal (second in spending, first in the league), Tottenham Hotspur (fifth in spending, fifth in the league), Newcastle United (seventh and sixth)

So spending can make a difference, but as this table shows, it is not the only factor that makes a difference, and it is not guaranteed to make the difference needed.  Perhaps our best conclusion is transfer spending helps, but not always, and not necessarily immediately.  And as the case of Chelsea perhaps shows, too much spending can have the opposite effect from that desired

End 22/23 Team Pos Now Difference from last season Summer spend £m Spend Pos
12 Chelsea 11 +1  £205m 1
2 Arsenal 1 +1  £125m 2
3 Manchester United 7 -4 £124m 3
15 AFC Bournemouth 14 +1  £109m 4
8 Tottenham Hotspur 5 -3  £1m03m 5
5 Liverpool 2 +3  £93m 6
4 Newcastle United 6 -2  £88m 7
1 Manchester City 4 -3  £76m 8
16 Nottingham Forest 17 -1  £54m 9
9 Brentford 12 -3  £50m 10


Yes in football, money is essential, but it doesn’t guarantee a move in position, and when it does, that move is generally quite small.   The best bet is to spend money and remove the barriers to success that are within the club.   In Arteta’s case that involved moving Arsenal from being the most yellow carded to the least yellow carded club.   Quite a trick if one can pull it off.   But the pundits missed it because … well, they simply weren’t looking.

Finding the key facts can, it seem, be quite a pesky business.

2 Replies to “How pundits failed to see the signs of Arsenal’s rise up the league.”

  1. Media TBR keeps trying to tout bad strikers to Arsenal for ridiculous money like Solanke and Ferguson for £100 million. They are so anti arsenal it’s unbelievable.
    They must think we are idiots. As for the euafa mafia, at the end of the day, money talks. When other teams see the amount of sponsorship deals and money the new super league is generating, they will have no choice but to accept this proposal. As long as they can work out the logistics and make some league cup game sacrifices, it will eventually happen.

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