Measuring Arsenal’s success: asking silly questions, manipulating the figures.

by Tony Attwood

I wrote in the last article about the issue of measuring club success.  It strikes me that this is important because it gives an ideal of a feel supporters have for their club.  It is perhaps hard to remember or recognise that before the Emirates and before Wenger, Arsenal was not always a sell out – indeed in the 1980s one could easily come to an Arsenal Tottenham game just on kick off and find a decent place to stand to watch the game.  Crowds of 24,000 generally were not uncommon.

Not now of course, so is the fact that there is still a massive waiting list for silver membership and season tickets a sign that Arsenal are successful?

In one way yes it is.   But there are many other ways of looking at this.  For example, Arsenal’s financial position.  For this information I went to the latest news page on the Arsenal Supporters Trust site.   This told me that…

£millions Yr to May 14 Yr to May 15 Annual increase Yr to May 16     Actual Estimate Est. to May 15 Estimate   Revenues:           Matchday 100 98 -2% 100   Broadcast 121 121 0% 130   Commercial 59 78 32% 80   Retail 18 22 22% 22   Player loans 1 1   1   Football revenue 299 320 7% 333   Property 3 0   0   Total revenue 302 320   333               Costs:           Football costs wages 166 180 8% 190     Football costs other 70 70 0% 70   Amortisation of squad 40 56   60   Depreciation 12 12   12   Property & player loans 3 0   0   Total costs 291 318   332

Which only goes to show that having posted an article one ought to make sure it reads aright in all browsers (I use Chrome – it comes from Google, quite a small enterprise I’m told so maybe they don’t need to bother with it).

But there is a broader point: for the problem with AST’s enquiries into how we feel about the club is that they often start from the point of telling the reader what to think before the question as in.

Arsenal games at the Emirates often take place with many seats left unoccupied. Please answer the following questions relating to this:

Now I don’t agree with the premise.  I think “many” has to be taken in reference to a) what other clubs experience and b) the number of seats on offer.   If you don’t do this, all sorts of funny figures come up.

For example, I can tell you that 15,782,940 people who were eligible to vote in the General Election in the UK earlier this year didn’t vote, and you might say that 15 million means democracy is failing.   But you also need to know what percentage that is of the UK voting population (34% if you want to know) and how this compares with the UK in the past (it has risen over the last four general elections) and how that compares to other countries (similar to India, much higher than US presidential elections, and two and a half times as many votes were cast in the X Factor in 2010 – although there multiple voting is allowed).

My estimate is that only about 3% of seats at Stadium Wenger are left unoccupied, and these are unoccupied generally because ticket holders don’t turn up for all sorts of reasons, like holidays, illness, the weather, transport problems, family matters, job constraints, sudden changes in the time and date due to TV demands, traffic jams on the M1…

And when they ask…

How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with Arsenal’s football performance over the last few seasons?

… I ask “measured against what?”   If that measurement factors in the building of the stadium and giving me a far, far, far better view and general experience at a game than I ever had at Highbury, then yes, very satisfied, because the club has given us that, and kept us in the top four, and of late delivered two FA Cups with the chance of a record-breaking third in a row.

To what extent do you agree or disagree that Arsène Wenger is the right person to manage Arsenal Football Club? 

Compared to who?  Compared to Ghenkis Khan?  Compared to Sam Allerdyce?   Compared to Socrates?  It all depends on who is available at the time and who would come to a club in which on occasion a noisy few have wanted Wenger out.

When it came to the option of  Reducing General Admission ticket process for the period of the new TV contract  then 55% gave it a 10, meaning absolutely want this.  But at what overall cost?   How about

Reducing General Admission ticket process for the period of the new TV contract but with Arsenal slipping to the sort of mid table position that it often occupied in earlier times?


Reducing General Admission ticket process for the period of the new TV contract but with Arsenal magically managing to stay in contention for trophies despite this dip in its income while everyone else is spending more and more and more and…

But still there were some brighter moments in the survey.  When asked about Arsene Wenger and the Club’s football performance 84% of AST members who voted agreed that Arsene Wenger is the right person to manage Arsenal Football Club (10% disagreed and 6% had no view).  And 76% of AST members voting were satisfied with Arsenal’s football performance in recent seasons.

The AST began asking its rather eccentric approach to questioning its members in 2010, and as a result of their funny polling managed to get just 17% satisfied with the club’s football performance in 2013.  In 2012/13 Arsenal came fourth in the league and approached the end of the austerity era.  There was an upsurge in 2014 when 51 per cent were satisfied or highly satisfied.

Which basically means AST members who vote tend not to see the wider context of what the club is doing, which is probably why I am a member of Arsenal Independent Supporters Assn and was only associated with AST through Fanshare.

Of course the press lap up the sort of numbers that AST put out (when they are readable that is) and thus the Telegraph, commenting on AST findings said this week, “There have been outpourings of unrest and moments of considerable tension between Arsenal fans over the past four years.”  Not around where I sat there wasn’t.

But they too of course won’t think about broader context or indeed numbers.  After all, for the Telegraph, six kids pushing each other around before setting fire to a cardboard box in Tottenham High Road is a Mass riot with the city’s streets ablaze.

Now, I started this little series of articles about how we value our club because, as I said in the last piece, the Telegraph ran a review of well run clubs.

In the final of these three pieces I will look at the “conclusions” it gains when examining a few clubs that is says are “well run”.   Not surprisingly, my conclusions are a little different from theirs.


We are on Twitter @UntoldArsenal

Anniversary of the day…

5 August 1981: Last game for Sammy Nelson v AIK Stockholm.  He was displaced by Kenny Sansom, and moved on to Brighton, having played 339 league games and scoring 12 goals.

All the anniversaries each day can be found on the home page of the site while the series on pre-seasons through the ages continues on the Arsenal History Society site.


34 Replies to “Measuring Arsenal’s success: asking silly questions, manipulating the figures.”

  1. Well, I have to say that verifies my regular observations that numbers ( stats etc ) can be ( and often are ) manipulated .

  2. There’s a lovely little book (innumeracy) by the American mathematician John Paulo Allen. When discussing statistics he advises the reader to remember that,” while figures don’t lie, liars can figure”.

  3. Thank you, Tony. I have always been annoyed at being told what I am thinking, or should be thinking, as an Arsenal supporter, whether it’s to do with lack of trophies, lack of big transfer spending, the need for a world-class striker, a beast of a DM, or a change of manager.

    Subjectively, I am totally happy with all aspects of the way in which Arsenal operates. I do believe, as well, that there is substantial evidence to provide objective validity for my views, as is well documented on “Untold”. It is interesting that there is often more recognition of this from supporters of other clubs than from the Piers Morgan type of Arsenal supporter.

  4. Tony,
    These 3 articles of yours (one to come) form a refreshing change from the increasingly frantic transfer speculation now traversing Gooner News.
    The headlines tend to encourage readers to log on, only to discover a clever distortion of fact.
    You once said that you wished Arsenal FC were more open with the truth during the Transfer Windows and I couldn’t agree more. 😉

  5. Last time I looked the ASTs’ loaded questionnaire was actually answered by a minority of the organisations’ tiny membership (less than half of one percent of total Arsenal membership).
    What the AST is good at is feeding this misinformation to a gullible Press who, in the most part, are too ignorant of research matters to remotely question what they are being fed.
    Presumably they expect their readers to undertake that criticism – something that can only be done if you know what the question was in the first place and what the response rate was.

  6. @Nicky,

    I went to Gooner News yesterday, and it seems they are just an extension of newsnow. They will not be receiving a ping from me anytime.

    Disappointed that Gooner News became a media extension.

    So its Untold for me to get proper news.


  7. @ John 09:44

    Don’t listen to the fans, the media, a bloke in the pub or the milkman. The reason we pay AW so much is because fans, the media and all blokes in all pubs know considerably less than AW. It is completely ludicrous for anyone to suggest they know how to run the club/team/transfer spending better than AW when their day job (if they have one) consists of repeating the phrase, “do you want fries with that”.

    My motto is have an opinion by all means but never think you know better than the professionals…………you may come unstuck when you next need medical care and advise the surgeon do it your way cos you regularly watch dramas on TV about hospitals.

  8. @Goonermikey,

    Thank you. I agree completely. With Arsenal issues, as with media reports on most issues, I don’t “listen” to nonsense, in the sense that I give any credence to it. However, it is hard to avoid hearing it. This is what I find annoying.

  9. @goonermickey, interesting you said that. I am waiting in anticipation for the day when AW in a press conference tells one of those twats that they should run a club reasonably well for a goods few years before they judge him.

  10. Tailgunner

    “Well, I have to say that verifies my regular observations that numbers ( stats etc ) can be ( and often are ) manipulated.”

    That is true in part, but like the statistics you doubt, it doesn’t tell the whole story.


    part of the problem with the statistics in question is how they are attained. By that I don’t mean they are ‘fiddled’, but it’s more to do with the questions asked.

    You can make statistics say what you want if you are the one asking the questions in the first place. You can do this by loading them in such a way as to procure the desired response that suits your narrative.

    These kind of statistics, ie % responses to a carefully selected set of pre ordained questions, are notoriously malleable.

    AST’s use of this tactic has been well highlighted by Tony.

    These are different to black and white stats such as: how many goals did ‘A’ score compared to ‘B’.

    Of course within these type of statistics there is the issue of context. It is important for example that A and B are performing in pretty much the same level of competition. Once these parameters are established the statistics are pretty incontrovertible.

    Sure, they are not perfect but they are much more reliable than statistics obtained from what is effectively a loaded set of questions that do not, in any way, take account of the bigger picture.


    if somebody has a problem with statistics, do what Tony has done and draw attention to the flaws in them, or at least how they have been obtained, and or supply your own statistics to support your contrary point of view. Certainly don’t just post ‘That’s Bo!!ocks’ and think that that makes it so like some people do.

  11. insideright

    “What the AST is good at is feeding this misinformation to a gullible Press who, in the most part, are too ignorant of research matters to remotely question what they are being fed.”

    I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think it has anything to do with the media being ‘ignorant’.

    They know full well there is very little, if any, credibility in this ‘research’. It’s just that it suits the Arsenal ‘Narrative’ that they want to perpetuate. Ie Unhappy fans. Badly run Club. Blah blah blah. If they where presented with some of the positive, in depth, pro arsenal research done by Untold, do you think they’d reproduce it? Highly unlikely. It wouldn’t suit there agenda.

    So it has little if anything to do with the researches validity and everything to do with it’s conclusions.


    “It is completely ludicrous for anyone to suggest they know how to run the club/team/transfer spending better than AW when their day job (if they have one) consists of repeating the phrase, “do you want fries with that”.”

    In my experience these guys justify there views under the notion that Wenger and the board have just created a cosy little mutual admiration society and there sole aim in life is to make themselves money.

  12. @Jambug-you are of course quite correct but it doesn’t stop most journalists being relatively easily fooled by numbers and particularly research based numbers. As with the AST it’s a case of the partially sighted leading the blind who, as you say, have a deep seated desire to be so led.

  13. Jambug

    I agree completely, but I’m feeling a bit smug with it.
    Saw a really good example recently where US Twitter “soccer” followers were found to be 21.8% in favour of Arsenal, which made us the best supported team, but you could turn that on it’s head and say that 78.92% of Twitter using “soccer” people didn’t like Arsenal at all. Just the way you present the numbers.
    The biggest fiddlers of stats is the Government, NHS, The Police and probably even PGMOL.

  14. Goonermickey – there are professionals & there are those that call themselves professional (PGMO). I am just a humble student (senior adult) learning the game that is being fcuked by corrupt bastards. Most of them are milking the wealth of future generations by acting as agents, pundits, media or some as managers.

    I have to enjoy the gifts that Arsenal are blessed with including Untold & the sense to retain Wenger for his unsurpassed intelligence & gentlemanly humility.

  15. TailGunner

    I recall you posting that as I responded to it.

    I think if I recall correctly I said something along the lines of:

    Yes 78.92% of fans not liking Arsenal, taken in isolation, can suggest, nay, in fact show, that a massive majority of US soccer fans do not like Arsenal.

    But lets try this.

    Splitting that 78.92% over the other 19 Clubs means they all have just 4.15% of US support.

    That makes our 21.8% look pretty good.

    Okay a bit fanciful.

    How about splitting that 78.8% over the other 5 of the top 6.

    Splitting that 78.92% over those 5 Clubs means they all have just 15% of US support.

    Still makes our 21.8% look pretty good.

    As you say, it does show how, if you are selective with your samples, how you can infer all kinds of different conclusions, if you so wish.

    Surely the only answer to this is a comprehensive breakdown of each and every English Cubs % of US support.

    What I will say TailGunner is, if we are the best supported English Soccer Club on ‘Twitter’, even if it’s by just 0.1 of a percent, it is still a pretty decent achievement, especially when you consider the amount of time and effort the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have put in to promoting themselves Stateside.

    But back to your point, yes statistics are malleable, but in general, the more you have, the broader the sample, the longer the time span, the deeper the research, means the better the Statistics, the more reliable and irrefutable the conclusions.

  16. I can not find the Telegraph article to which you refer on the website. Can we have the link please.Thank you.

  17. Colario
    Go to Telegraph, enter “best run clubs in England” in the search box and you should get the article

  18. Been reading on this site now for about 8 months and as a 50 plus old gooner find it very refreshing. Would like to make one valid point….. where has this writer got the idea that 24,000 crowds were common at a NLD during the 1980’s????? Average at their dump was 38,730 highest being 48,200 and lowest 32,621 and at Highbury average was 45,955 highest being 54,045 and lowest 37,143 (I think that was the midweek game before the league cup final and we put a youth team out). Yes you could pay on the day at the turnstile I did for both semi finals at theirs when we beat them ( God bless Rocky )

  19. Jambug
    Sorry , I must have missed your reply on the previous thread. But it’s good to see you’ve got this well sussed also..

  20. Terance

    I’m going to stick my neck out and say, no way was the ‘Average’ at Highbury in the Eighties nearly 46,000.

    I was there, so unless they where hiding out back I have to disagree.

    Now I’m going to find some data. I’ll either be back crowing or with my tail between my legs.

    Here goes.

  21. This from the Guardian in 2013

    “The 80s was a terrible decade for football, with violence on the terraces rampant and one crowd disaster following another. Young families stayed away. Those who still went to games did so knowing they either had a seat or could be guaranteed a fight.

    On the first weekend in February in 1986, Arsenal had a crowd of 22,473, Manchester City were watched by 20,540 and a pitiful 12,372 went along to watch Chelsea. Everton had the highest First Division attendance, with 33,178 turning up for their match against Tottenham Hotspur. Aston Villa could draw only 8,456 to watch them draw 0-0 with Southampton.”

    I’m still looking

  22. Wikipedia has some years of the 1980’s. The attendance in 1986-87 was:

    41382, 20101, 44707, 20676, 24076, 32990, 36084, 29009, 34049, 28217, 38118, 36144, 17561, 47777, 18352, 36218, 26111, 17353, 18767, 18463, 24001

    The low is about 17000 and change, high is almost 48000.

    In 1981, the low attendance was 17431 and the high was 54045.

  23. Terence

    Fair enough.

    As you can see from the statistics thrown up by Gord the attendances where very up and down throughout the season.

    I remember alternately not being able to get into a match against United closely followed by a near empty Stadium.

    I must admit I thought when Tony said “Crowds of 24,00 where not uncommon” he was generalising rather than being specific about NLD’s. He said he’ll be back so we’ll see.

    I also thought you where responding in kind with a generalisation but I see you where talking specifically about NLD’s. My apologies for miss reading.

    Tail between legs I think.

    Your numbers for NLD’s certainly seem to align with my memories of such occasions.

  24. Terance


    Well done for coming up with the stats.

    With good Statistical research/analysis like that your input will be a good fit here abouts. As long as people read it correctly in the first place of course 😉

  25. Watching Chelsea v Fiorentina…the Chelsea side (minus Fabregas, Costa et. al) are not looking that great…0-1 to Fiorentina as they approach half time. Kind of crazy to play mid-week before the league kick off… Same goes for Spurs and their matches in Munich.

  26. I can think of one reason why a team might want to play a game half a week ahead of league kickoff. They might be looking at a transfer involving that other team.

    You didn’t get bothered by the rain/hail GGG?

  27. Immediate difference once Fabregas, Willian and the rest of the 1st team thugs come on.


    Nope… it hit Calgary and missed Airdrie.

  28. Guys,

    Stats is just numbers. Mainly relying on stats and maths does not bring anyone or any team to justice. We have to see better than just mainly figures for the things we do everyday, and in this sense, the Gooners inside out.

    Sometimes we might not get as many goals and passes, but the fact that we play the passing game and the fans that went to see each and every Gunners games is what matters to the club.

    For example, Ozil does not score as much as Giroud and Alexis, but the fact that his presence in the midfield area is growing game by game is what makes us feel that we have the winning feeling. Yes, stats can complement things that we do, but we cannot rely on just stats alone.


  29. @ Goonermikey -August 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm – Had to chuckle about your reference to people thinking themselves smart and on the ball by watching medical dramas .
    Daily I get patients who have followed the advice of ‘well informed and computer savvy friends , or celebrities promoting their ‘health’ products or snake oil salesmen and present with all manner of complications .
    Most do admit their mistakes and the errors of their ways , but there are others who in their stupidity fail to acknowledge the facts presented , and continue their pursuit of better health and end up with end stage kidney failure or gastric ulcers and often die a painful death.
    Many diabetics have lost limbs due to what can only be termed as very questionable forms of treatment. The rate of kidney failure and number of patients on dialysis is very high in my country . The most common reasons are non compliance to their prescribed treatments and also self medication .
    In 30 years as a doctor, I have heard and seen so much of bull in the course of my work , that very little now fazes me . I truly believe that human stupidity is limitless and we are nowhere near the bottom !
    As I have oft times quoted on this site , ” Being ignorant of his ignorance is the malady of the ignorant .”

  30. An elderly couple, Margaret and Bert, moved to Wyoming, Bert always wanted a pair of authentic cowboy boots, so, seeing some on sale, he bought them and wore them home. Walking proudly, he sauntered into the kitchen and said to his wife, “Notice anything different about me?”

    Margaret looked him over, “Nope.”

    Frustrated, Bert stormed off into the bathroom, undressed and walked back into the kitchen completely naked except for the boots.

    Again he asked Margaret, a little louder this time, “Notice anything different NOW?”

    Margaret looked up and said in her best deadpan, “Bert, what’s different? It’s hanging down today, it was hanging down yesterday, it’ll be hanging down tomorrow.”


    “Nope, Not a clue”, she replied.


    Without missing a beat Margaret replied, “Shoulda bought a hat, Bert, Shoulda bought a hat…”

  31. New article at BBC about disabled access. The last article I read about disabled access, only had Arsenal at 96%. Did some changes get made to Emirates, or is this a different body assessing things slightly differently?

    > Only Bournemouth, Swansea and Arsenal have been found to be 100% compliant with Uefa recommendations for wheelchair spaces at their grounds.

    > Tottenham are bottom of the list with 28%, behind Watford (35%) and Aston Villa (41%).

    There is a link to actual study (PDF) in the article.

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