Arteta’s planning genius is the real clue to Arsenal’s continuing success


By Tony Attwood

Having published our regular update of all the players Arsenal are preparing to buy this summer (62 so far) and all those being sold (pretty much the whole squad)  CIES Football Observatory have helpfully published a post which ranks clubs from the main leagues in terms of what we might call the squad sustainability of each club.

This takes into account three measures: the number of players used in league games in the last three years (Arsenal have the smallest number), the percentage of minutes played this season by outfield players aged 31 or over (Arsenal are 19th), and the number of players whose contracts run out at the end of this season (Arsenal have the third lowest).

Obviously, each measure has a different value depending on the success of the club.  For example, a club just relegated probably wants a lot of players out of contract asap while teams doing well will welcome having more players already established in the first team, on long-term contracts.

In fact Arsenal are not only top of the list of Premier League clubs in these “sustainability” measures they are also top of the list of around 800 clubs from 59 leagues worldwide.  It is an extraordinary achievement and shows just how much Mikel Arteta has changed the club since he arrived as manager.

Football Observatory puts these measures together to give a Sustainable Squad Management Index, of which Arsenal are top not just for England but for clubs across 59 leagues worldwide.   Four of the clubs in the top ten across the world are from the Premier League, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Brentford suggesting that this approach is not only one that is right for clubs seeking to get a Champions League spot, but one that can be applied throughout the league – although it isn’t being used by many clubs.  The worst-performing of the big Premier League clubs that might be looking for a Champions League spot was Newcastle.

Arsenal’s position is interesting in that they have the smallest squad of players (40).  Manchester City are close with 42 – so once again we see the two clubs at the top of the league following a similar pattern.  Nottingham Forest who can really be described as nothing other than utterly bonkers have 74 – even more than Chelsea with 64.  

Having players aged 31 or over is a danger as they are more prone to injury and tiredness, and less likely to have the enthusiasm and excitement that younger players have.   Aston Villa have two such players, and Arsenal have three.  Manchester City have 10, but of course, have the ability to buy whomever they choose without let or hindrance – at least until the court cases are over.

Newcastle’s problems are increased by having 25 players in the “older men” category – a number only exceeded by Brighton and Hove who seem to be storing problems up for the future.  In rough terms, Tottenham have three times as many old players as Arsenal.  Manchester United have four times as many.  Obviously, age brings experience, but also more injuries, and lower value on the transfer market if they are considered no longer of value in the squad.

We might also notice that Liverpool have ten times as many such players which explains why they get so many injuries and shows what sort of a job their new manager is going to have in finding and integrating younger players into what is on this measure the 17th oldest squad in the league.

Finally, there is the issue of long-term contracts.  The closer a highly considered player gets to the end of his contract, the less he is worth and the harder it is to sell him, since another year or so can see him walk away on a free to the club of his choosing.

This is where there is a huge variation between the clubs, for clubs that are still building a team will have lots of contracts ending at the end of next season, while those who have a young settled squad that is doing well, will surely have tied their players down on long deals.  Especially where money is not a consideration.

Manchester City, Aston Villa and Arsenal also have the smallest numbers of contracted players whose contracts are ending at the end of the coming season.  At the other end of the scale, Newcastle have 46 players who are on these longer contracts might have a problem.

However, the biggest problems are surely those of Luton Town (56 such longer-term contract players) and Sheffield United (46) who will both be playing in the Championship but paying Premier League wages.   If those players are on Premier League style contracts the clubs will be in trouble.   Only if those contracts have a clause reducing the players’ salaries in the event of relegation, or they can sell those players, will they possibly be safe from financial disaster.

One Reply to “Arteta’s planning genius is the real clue to Arsenal’s continuing success”

  1. It’s not as easy to manage a team as some may think. The permutations and combinations are staggeringly complex.

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