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October 2020

More evidence that transfers and large squads are not the route to success

By Tony Attwood

The news that Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is possibly facing a long lay off after his injury against Barcelona, raises once again the issue of injuries, and it was both frustrating and amusing (in different ways) to see a correspondent this morning rant about everything including our multiple injuries.   As we’ve shown several times, the notion that Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else is a media invention.

It is always sad when a player of quality is injured and can’t play, but at least we have alternatives – Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott and the two that most obviously spring to mind.

But there is also a link here with the issue picked up the other day, when the question of Man City’s squad was raised with them playing very much a reserve team in the cup game against Chelsea.

Following that we looked at the number of players Man City actually have registered (The curious problem of Man City’s squad) and found that it was only 22 with a couple of under 21s to back them up.

Now given their infinite riches that seems odd, although it is largely explained through the “home grown rule” – they only have three HG players in the 22, and so any new purchases will have to include HGs – and they are hard to find at the right level.

This interested me because I am currently writing a series on Arsenal in the 1970s, (there are 20 episodes so far taking us up to December 1977, with the next article almost ready to roll – there is a full index on the home page of the Arsenal History Society site).

I mention this because in Arsenal’s Double season of 1970/1 Arsenal used only 16 players in the league, with one of them only making one start, and another only two.

There has been a general increase in the number used over the years – in 2003/4 we used 22 players for example – and did rather well as you may recall.

What I’ve found going through the decade of the 1970s day by day is that Arsenal’s success was closely linked to the number of players used – the fewer the better.   In one sense this is obvious – you choose your best team and if you have to change it, it is either going to be because of injury or because players have lost form.  And certainly as the decade went on, the injuries and form problems increased as Arsenal declined.

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Looking at this season’s use of players by clubs in the league we can see that the top four in the league are also the bottom four in the number of players used (yet another stat giving the lie to the fact that Arsenal get the most injuries).  The actual number of players used in the league are

  • Arsenal – 21
  • Leicester – 22
  • Man City – 23
  • Tottenham – 24

At the bottom end we have Man U, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Sunderland all on 28.

Now that may not seem like a huge difference but it means Arsenal have only used 75% of the squad Man U etc have used.  And to reiterate, isn’t it funny that the club that apparently always gets “all these injuries” (as I say, we even had a comment posted last night about how awful our injury record was) actually has the smallest squad use.

The link between squad size and position in the league isn’t exact of course, (Chelsea, West Brom and Swansea have each used 23) but it is general – for the most part the higher up the league you are the smaller the squad you use.

It is just more evidence that the media’s fanatical devotion to transfer windows and all the gibberish created by the bloggettas around them, is a fantasy.   Clubs are not only not buying up to the limit of the number of players that they are allowed to buy through the wholly artificial “25” limits, they are also not using this number of players.

Partly this must be because they have long realised what it took me many years to work out – that only 25% of big money transfers actually result in players delivering the goods in their first season.

The big problem with using a lot of players is that it then becomes harder for the players to learn how to work together and to build up the understandings that result in what the media very vaguely call “form.”

The conclusion from this must be that buying a new player is a much bigger risk than we previously realised, for several reasons.

First there is only a one in four chance that he will make a difference to the team in the first season.

Second, if the player is in the majority of big transfers and doesn’t make an immediate impact he may well then find that the media and bloggettas whip up opinion against him.  He might survive that, but he might not, but almost certainly the move will damage the team.   Just how much this will happen is only now becoming clear as we analyse the difference between the football as perceived by those in the ground, and the football seen through the eyes of the TV companies.

And third, the more successful clubs have smaller squads, which bind together more and develop their own understandings of each other’s abilities.

In short, buying players in the transfer windows is probably as likely to be counter productive as it is to be productive.

But this is not to say that it should happen less and less.  Much depends on circumstances.

For example, from the tales that we hear from within the club Arteta, Rosicky, Debuchy and Flamini will leave this summer leaving us with a squad of…

  1. Armando De Abreu, Gabriel
  2. Campbell, Joel
  3. Cazorla, Santiago
  4. Cech, Petr
  5. *Coquelin, Francis
  6. Elneny, Mohamed
  7. *Gibbs, Kieran James Ricardo
  8. Giroud, Olivier
  9. Koscielny, Laurent
  10. Mertesacker, Per
  11. Monreal, Ignacio
  12. Ospina, David
  13. *Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander Mark David
  14. Ozil, Mesut
  15. *Ramsey, Aaron James
  16. Sanchez, Alexis
  17. *Walcott, Theo James
  18. *Welbeck, Daniel
  19. *Wilshere, Jack Andrew

* = Home Grown

Now I have to admit I don’t have a list of the birthdays of the under 21s and loanees but I suspect a couple of them must be approaching 21 for next season and might expect to move up.  Even so we’ll still have one or two spaces to fill in the summer.

From the anniversary files

  • 25 February 1987: Oxford U 0 Arsenal 0.  The first of six consecutive league games under George Graham in which Arsenal failed to score – the longest such run ever for the club.  
  • 25 February 1998:  Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 2 (Cup 5th round replay on the way to the second Double).    Anelka and Bergkamp scored but only 15,674 turned up.  The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.

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The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site

30 comments to More evidence that transfers and large squads are not the route to success

  • WalterBroeckx

    If I’m not mistaken that would leave up to 6 possible places to fill and Arsenal can fill them up with whomever from wherever they want. They can be home grown, they can be from another country… We can do what we want.
    And with the likes of Jeff Adelaide, Iwobi looking great prospects for the future it sure looks great.

    But to be honest… I do expect one big signing this summer.

  • Dan

    Hi Tony,


    ~I agree with 80% of what you say but what is your take on our recent goal scoring (or lack of)? I read today that since scoring 3 against Liverpool, we have played 8 games. In those 8 games we have scored just 6 goals. 2 of those goals came against lower league Burnley in the FA Cup. We have failed to score in 5 of those 8 games. Of those 8 games, 5 of them have been in the Premier League. We have scored 4 goals, 2 against Bournemouth and 2 against Leicester (thank you Danny!). In those 5 games we have had 86 attempts on goal. not all those attempts are what you’d consider chances, or great chances, to score, but it still suggests there’s a great deal of inefficiency in our attacking play. So, what about our attacking players, how are they doing? Well, not great is the answer to that one. The goals have kinda dried up for some of them…

    Olivier Giroud is still our leading scorer, but hasn’t scored since a brace against Liverpool on January 13th (although he has provided a couple of crucial assists, to be fair).Theodore P Walcott, lightning fast whizzkid and all-round nice chap, has 2 goals in his last 21 games.Alexis was out injured, and has come back a shadow of his former self. He’s got 1 in 7.Mesut Ozil, bearing in mind he’s more the creator than the scorer, has 4 in 15.Joel Campbell, soup baron, has 3 in 19.Aaron Ramsey, the only deeper midfielder likely to get us goals, has 5 in 19.

  • John

    What about changing your statement to ” buying QUALITY players in the transfer windows is probably likely to improve your team and squad and provides competition for places, which when MANAGED correctly ,usually proves that you will have a better team “.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I think the last years since we have some money to spend we have only bought quality players. Özil, Alexis, Cech… sounds quality to me.

  • Josif

    So, it’s Bale next summer, isn’t it?

    Real apparently want to get rid of him.

    He is a HG-player.

    He can play on the wing or in the center.

    He scores in big matches (e.g. CL Final, Copa del Rey Final) and almost managed to lead Spuds out of inevitability of St. Totteringham’s Day on his own which would have been a success unheard since that guy named Moses.

    He was raised as a Gooner and almost signed for Arsenal years ago.

    Wenger has once admitted his obsession with a CL trophy and adding a player who has already won the competition wouldn’t hurt. Especially if that player has experience of scoring winning goals against Barcelona.

    He is top player and only 27.

    Perhaps his presence would work for Theo who used to play with him at Southampton.

    Aaron Ramsey would be happy as well.

    So, Bale it is.

  • colario

    With reference to the last article and this one of course. The tradergy of the latter part of the 20th Century and this one is the serious newspapers and the BBCs decision to abandon truth and replace it with sensationalism. Not just on the subject of football.

    For the most of the news sensationalism is the editor of all information that is published or broadcast.

    George Orwell predicted this for 1984. He arrived at this year by merely turning round the number of the year he started on the book -1948-.

    Our -Big Brother- the one who provides us with the news we need to know and not what actually happpened or is happening is called – Sensationalism.

    Sadly most of the populace believes its every word.

    This is the world we live in.

    Never before have we had so many ways in which we can be informed and or edcuated.

    Never before have we had the need to doubt or refute so much information as now.

    Sensationalism rules and it is not OK — for some of us.

  • ob1977

    Josip we signed one spurs player a few years back and he sorted one end of the pitch, would be great to do it again at the other end of the pitch…

    On another note I really hope The Ox isn’t injured for any length of time, but if he is I am sorry to say this but it is his own fault, he could have easily avoided contact but was frustrated at overrunning the ball and had a moment, think he wanted to leave a little on Mascherano and it may have backfired massively, much like he did on opening day against Villa a few seasons back and ruined his season.

    I really hope he isn’t out and instead of getting frustrated with himself he takes the positives out of his game, looks at all the good work he does, and realise just needs really to work on his end product…

  • Dan I think it is a valid question – and I think that the arrival of Danny Welbeck might be the solution. All players have down times – even Thierry Henry did – and the trick is to have someone else who can step up and take over. Our problem is the the difficult time for Giroud and Theo has come together – but Danny might be the way out. Alexis has had a hard time of it since the injury – and that has coincided with everything else.

    Barcelona with all their resources have got three of the top players in terms of goalscoring all together so if one slips the other’s will be there. We can’t just buy our way into that, because there is such a shortage of top players, but we do have several options – and just one needs to be functioning. One game is probably all it will take.

  • Va Cong

    beautifully said Tony!

  • Andy Mack

    Tony, I’m pretty certain the club confirmed that Iwobi is now a senior squad member and his squad number will be reconsidered in the summer.

    Also, will Akpom, Hayden, AM-N, Toral and Wellington be prepared to go on loan again next season or will we have to merge them into the squad.
    Just taking one, Wellington is really at the age where he should be pushing for a 1st team place… He has that extra ingredient which makes his attacking runs very unpredictable in the same way as Alexis is when he’s on form, but can we have 2 of them in the 1st eleven, so where can he prove himself…

    So many squad issues this summer but we’ll still get every idiot screaming that we need to sign every ‘next big thing’, ‘has been good but past it now’ or ‘never will be good enough but with a clever agent’ player mentioned in the press ‘or we’re going down’….

  • Robert

    Tony, you said, “Following that we looked at the number of players Man City actually have registered (The curious problem of Man City’s squad) and found that it was only 22 with a couple of under 21s to back them up.

    Now given their infinite riches that seems odd, although it is largely explained through the “home grown rule” – they only have three HG players in the 22, and so any new purchases will have to include HGs – and they are hard to find at the right level.”

    Your numbers are slightly off. They have 21 players in their “25 Squad” – not 22. 4 are homegrown (by other clubs) – not 3. 17 are non-homegrown – the maximum allowed. So the numbers are wholly explained – not largely explained – by the homegrown rule. Source:

    You may think I’m being picky, but you lay great store on numbers, statistics. Get a simple, easily verifiable one wrong and you raise questions about any numbers you quote.

  • Josif

    @Tony – I agree with you about Welbeck but with a bold-printed footnote: composure and finishing have to be sorted out. I was thinking the other day that Thierry could have spent less time criticizing Arsenal for lack of a world-class striker and helped Welbeck with an advice or two. I think Welbz, with all his Henry-esque qualities bar the most important one, can become a world-class striker if someone spends some time with him working on his finishing and composure. Thierry looks like the best option because of similar physical qualities (height and pace).

    @ob1977 – yes, another Campbell impact would be nice.

  • para

    I actually expect Arsenal to buy players and release/sell some who are at a stand still. Arsenal has been at a stand still this season, actually a little worse than previous years as a whole, without singling out any one player, so i do think that some things will change in the summer.

    Before you comment that this is rubbish, take a step back and look at the team and their performances this season, there seems to be no progression as a whole. Players usually get a good long time at Arsenal to prove themselves and many of our players have had this time already, and they themselves will know that.

    It is a natural thing to want to progress, and now that a little more money than previous years is available, i do think there will be a sort of clear out this season.

    This is in no way an attack on Arsenal, but an oberservation that things will change now, for Arsenal is a team that wants to grow and not become stagnant.

  • Polo

    I just read an article on The Express saying AW must spend on transfer for next season with the upcoming £200 million+ cash reserve announcement and that if he want to be successful in winning the league or UCL then he must spend. Funny that it’s the same media outlet the hope Leicester to win the league this season.

    The WOBs say we should spend on quality players, if my memory serve me right didn’t the WOBs say Ozil was shit, he is useless, he’s nicking a living, AW got it wrong and doesn’t know the transfer market etc during his first season with us??

    AW always say he will sign if there are top quality players available that could improve the team, well in the last 3 years he had added Ozil when he was available from RM, Ozil on record said he chose Arsenal because of AW, Alexis was available from Barca, Alexis chose Arsenal over Liverpool because of AW, Cech was available from Chelsea, Cech chose Arsenal because it’s a London based big club and AW convinced him to join. That’s 3 top quality players signed within 3 years. The WOBs expect AW to sign at least one mega star at each transfer window, they think Arsenal has unlimited money to spend. They’re blinded with so much hate to know that AW do spend but he spend wisely and responsibly with the limited resource (money) at his disposal.

    AW has been getting abused from the media and some of the fanbase week in week out, year in year out, do you think he enjoy it? I am sure he wants to win every trophies that he compete in but do we know what the budget allocated to him for transfers?

  • Pete

    All strikers have poor patches. But I think Giroud is doing OK – some great, brave assists recently. Walcott on the other hand is having a very bad spell. So much so that he seems to be hiding on the pitch. I have been watching him closely over the last few games and he rarely adjusts his position to make himself available for a pass from his team-mates. Therefore he is adding negligible value, other than one very important goal…

    I also think Ramsey is playing very poorly. Trying to overplay and getting repeatedly caught out – needs to focus on doing the simple things well.

    I am hopeful that Welbeck will make a significant impact. Would play him in the RW position for now.

    Also badly missing Cazorla – or even Wilshere – to play in front of Coquelin while Ramsey regroups.

    But confident that once the goals start coming, they will really start coming!

  • Jerry

    @Tony, excellent write up. Amazing how the media ignores the number of homegrown players at Arsenal compared to other big teams.

    In regards to City, Robert is correct in the numbers 21 man squad and 4 HG players. You can be forgiven for missing one of their HG players, Manchester City pensioner 38 years old Richard Wright who last played in the PL in 2007 for EVERTON!

  • Pete

    Tony – I’m afraid I categorically disagree with you about the injuries (although agree with nearly everything else you have written). In proper Untold style I reproduce below the statistical evidence for this view. Keen readers may note it is a slightly updated comment from one I posted a month or so ago.

    I have gone back and looked at the summary injury stats. These originate from Physioroom . However the tables have been pulled together by Injury League: – but based on physioroom stats.

    I see my friends Tony and Colario have both commented on the thread there!

    I hope this table tabulates properly – but, if not, I trust you can read it:

    Season AFC Injury-weeks Median Injury-Weeks Top Injury-Weeks Team Worst Impacted by Injuries AFC Position (of 20)

    2015/16 171 135 287 (Newcastle) 4th (all figures to date)
    2014/15 227 172 347 (Newcastle) 5th
    2013/14 289 158 289 1st
    2012/13 206 157 274 (Newcastle) 3rd
    2011/12 272 149 305 (Man Utd) 2nd
    2010/11 230 142 234 (Spurs) 2nd

    Average (5 compl ys) 245 156 290

    To spell out: in the current season to date, Arsenal players have collectively been unavailable for 171 weeks. The median is 135. The worst is 287 – by Newcastle. We have been the 4th worst impacted team this season. Not absolutely clear, but I suspect that only Newcastle have had more injuries than Arsenal over these 6 seasons.

    What does this mean? If an average season is 40 weeks then Arsenal will typically have 6 players injured at any one time. The average is 4. Therefore Arsenal will have 2 additional injuries over the League mean at any one time. If you want to look at days lost then multiply the weeks by 7…

    However, not obvious from these stats, but Arsenal, historically, have many more injuries in the first half of the season than the second half. As with the principal causes, I don’t know why this is.

    Noticeable that a slight improvement this season and last over what went before – Shad Forsythe’s influence?

    And Newcastle’s recent record has been absolutely catastrophic.

    For the season to date only Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton have been worse off. Those poor victims from Manchester – City and Utd – have, extraordinarily, a healthier record than us! Tottenham in the pack and Leicester 2nd fewest. But, currently, Man U are in the worst state. Hopefully good timing…!

    I think this is categoric evidence unless someone can accurately critique Physioroom’s numbers.

  • timo

    mike Dean and apprentice Craig at the Emirates come Sunday. something fishy???? not the best news

  • timo

    old Trafford not Emirates

  • Andy Mack

    para, As you say, I think that if the right players become available then AW will sell a few players that will surprise us all, but only if the right players are available.

  • Jacobite Gunner


    I believe your goal scoring (or lack of) stats might be missing a reference source from Arseblog.


  • Jacobite Gunner

    Worrying goals stats never-theless!

  • Mandy Dodd

    Interesting Pete. I appreciate, and usually agree with the vast majority of articles and general views on Untold, but there is something about the injuries over recent years that worry me…they just seem too prevalent …and to key players. Last November….indeed most Novembers are pretty unpleasant on the injury front.
    But, we do have some very injury prone players, we do play a game that seems to invite pretty nasty tackles….yes, Jack a prime example…and our players do get the crap kicked out of them,on a regular basis, with the compliant media , pgmol, and AAA completely ignoring this to suit their agenda.
    With the refereeing we get, and the treatment dished out to our players, they would have to be near super human not to have a worse than average injury record. But take the point that the media might over exaggerate this in their quest to blame Wenger.
    Maybe , we need to take what ever Barca are taking, they …at least seem hardly ever get injuries. To key players…..ok Messi for a while, but a bit of a rarity. Or, maybe there is a good reason why we do not take what Barca are taking.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Mandy, if Barca don’t mind stepping outside the rules and laws when it comes to child trafficking, tax evasion, kind refereeing decisions,… one wouldn’t be surprised at all that there might be something in their blood.
    I really wonder how many other clubs have been tested like Arsenal was tested a few months ago when Wenger said something about blood test had to be taken instead of the urine tests….

  • John

    Wow Walter
    Firstly you accuse barcelona of child trafficking and then tax evasion and now you think they are guilty of doping and drug taking.I take it that you have proof of this and can back it up with facts or is it another excuse we can use for not being anywhere the level of the top teams in europe ,apart from our manager who is the best in the world.Thank god we have him ..

  • Andy Mack

    John, Walter hasn’t accused Barca of Child Trafficking or Tax evasion, The authorities did and to some degree they’ve been found guilty of both… Keep up.

  • Jerry


    It’s not an accusation when Barcelona or its players have already been found guilty of child trafficking (see the cause of their transfer ban) or tax evasion (Mascherano), and still in the middle of trial proceedings for tax evasion (Messi, Neymar, the club, club president Josep Bartomeu, and former club president Alexandre “Sandro” Rosell). A simple google search of Barcelona tax evasion will enlighten you.

    Walter said he wouldn’t be surprised if there was something in their blood, not that their definitely was. If the Barcelona club and players are willing to already break legal laws, how are you so sure they wouldn’t break further laws for a competitive advantage?

    The truth is no one knows and no one will know with the weak drug testing system that is utilized by the FA, UEFA, and FIFA.

  • Mick

    Troll John showing his true colours again.

  • Menace

    I wondered why the yanks called ‘it’ John. Now I know. 😉