Just how wasteful has Arsenal’s transfer policy been? Here’s the answer.

By Tony Attwood

Last night I saw a comment saying that Arsenal would not get anywhere under the Kroenke ownership because the Kroenke’s would not spend any money.

My immediate reaction to this was that it was quite untrue, and that the current owners had in fact exceeded expectations (or certainly my expectations) in terms of expenditure.  And so I went looking for the data – and on looking I found this is so.  Arsenal are the fifth highest spenders in the league measured over the last five years.

And digging further I came to this conclusion: simply spending more is unlikely to help us at all.

So to the figures.   If we measure the net spend – which is to say money spent on players minus income from players sold, Arsenal are the fourth highest spenders.

Then why are we ninth in the league?  The answer simply is that spending money on players does not equate with league position.   I know lots of fans like to think it does, but the table below shows it does not.

The Difference chart.  In the table below the final column (Diff) shows the difference between the position in the spending table, and the position in the league table.  So, a club that had spent more than anyone else (after taking into account spending minus income from players sold) would be number 1 in the Nett spend table.  If however the club were fifth in the actual league table their position on the Difference chart (the final column – Diff) would be 1-5 = -4.

To put it another way, clubs with plus numbers in the final column are doing better than we might expect as a result of their buying.  Clubs with minus numbers are doing worse than we might expect as a result of their buying.

But remember, just because Liverpool is the big success story over the past five years, that does not mean they would be over the years before that.  All clubs can get lucky, all clubs can buy duds.  And all clubs can buy brilliant players who get injured or who have wives who fail to settle in the new country.

Purchased  Sold Nett spend Net spend per season Nett spend pos Lge pos Diff
Manchester City £818.5 m £312.9 m £505.6 m £101.1 m 1 2 -1
Manchester Utd £611.1 m £232.2 m £378.9 m £75.8 m 2 5 -3
Chelsea £656.9 m £523.6 m £133.2 m £26.6 m 10 4 +6
Everton £536.5 m £261.5 m £275.0 m £55.0 m 3 13 -10
Liverpool £470.9 m £378.5 m £92.4 m £18.5 m 15 1 +14
Arsenal £443.1 m £194.2 m £249.0 m £49.8 m 4 9 -5
Leicester £381.4 m £268.8 m £112.6 m £22.5 m 11 3 +8
Tottenham H £322.3 m £227.7 m £94.6 m £18.9 m 14 8 +6
West Ham Utd £308.1 m £152.4 m £155.7 m £31.1 m 8 16 -8
Aston Villa £276.2 m £78.1 m £198.1 m £39.6 m 5 19 -14
Newcastle Utd £273.6 m £166.2 m £107.5 m £21.5 m 12 13 -1
Wolverhampton W £269.4 m £84.7 m £184.8 m £37.0 m 7 7 0
Southampton £240.4 m £243.2 m -£02.8 m -£00.6 m 20 14 +6
Brighton & Hove A £212.0 m £14.6 m £197.4 m £39.5 m 6 15 -9
AFC Bournemouth £204.1 m £70.7 m £133.4 m £26.7 m 9 18 -9
Watford £204.0 m £108.8 m £95.2 m £19.0 m 13 17 -4
Crystal Palace £161.5 m £105.3m £56.2 m £11.2 m 16 11 +5
Burnley £126.6 m £74.1 m £52.5 m £10.5 m 17 10 +7
Norwich City £55.0 m £14.7 m -£46.8 m – £9.4 m 19 20 -1
Sheffield United £55.0 m £14.7 m £40.3 m £08.1 m 18 6 +12

These are the clubs that are beating the odds in that they are doing better than the amount of spending might suggest.  It shows that beating the transfer odds can happen at all sorts of league positions.

Club Net spend per Season Nett spend pos Lge pos Diff
Chelsea £26.6 m 10 4 6
Liverpool £18.5 m 15 1 14
Leicester £22.5 m 11 3 8
Crystal Palace £11.2 m 16 11 5
Burnley £10.5 m 17 10 7
Tottenham £18.9 m 14 8 6
Sheffield United £08.1 m 18 6 12
Southampton -£00.6 m 20 14 6

The basket cases are doing worse than we might expect given all the money spent

Club Net spend per Season Nett spend pos Lge pos Diff
Arsenal £49.8 m 4 9 -5
Brighton & Hove A £39.5 m 6 15 -9
AFC Bournemouth £26.7 m 9 18 -9
West Ham £31.1 m 8 16 -8
Everton £55.0 m 3 13 -10
Aston Villa £39.6 m 5 19 -14

So to summarise, the top over achievers (that is the clubs doing far better than we might expect for the money spent) are Liverpool, Sheffield United and Leicester.

Now that is interesting, in that in our other articles on this site, we have constantly come up with oddities about both Liverpool and Leicester.

Liverpool are notable because they seem to keep getting the same referees over and over again.  And Leicester because they have the most curious record in terms of referee decisions.  (You might recall this last case if you are a regular reader – it is the link between tackles, fouls and yellow cards, wherein Leicester are way out of line with the rest of the clubs in the league).

As for Sheffield United, we have not looked deeply at them, but even in passing we noted that by the time of our investigation they had had both David Coote (total 11 matches in the PL) and Simon Hooper (9 matches) on four occasions – 40% of the total games the two of them have been in charge of Sheffield United games.   When our new figures are published it will be interesting to see how that situation has developed.

And Chelsea?  A further investigation might reveal something, but of course it takes time and needs a lot of statistics searching.  Maybe it is brilliant tactics, clever buying and selling…  And maybe they have been benefiting from the years of their mass buying and selling of youth players which in the end Uefa had a close look at.

So what links the bottom group together?  Here it is not so easy to see. More statistical work is needed, and all suggestions welcome.

But what we can see is that simply spending more and more and more is not a guarantee of success.  You have to get the purchasing and selling right over a period of years.  That is what Liverpool has done.

The Difference League shows the clubs in order of their success in the transfer market

  1. Liverpool +14
  2. Sheffield United + 12
  3. Leicester + 8
  4. Burnley + 7
  5. Southampton + 6
  6. Chelsea +6
  7. Tottenham Hotspur + 6
  8. Crystal Palace + 5
  9. Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
  10. Norwich City – 1
  11. Manchester City – 1
  12. Newcastle United – 1
  13. Manchester United – 3
  14. Watford – 4
  15. Arsenal – 5
  16. West Ham United – 8
  17. Brighton and Hove Albion – 9
  18. AFC Bournemouth – 9
  19. Everton – 10
  20. Aston Villa – 14

The answer is simple: we don’t need to spend more money, we need to buy better players.  In fact we could see these figures as a victory for the people who think that success in football is all about spending money.  It isn’t. Mr Wenger was known as one of the most careful spenders of the club’s money when it came to transfers.   A bit more prudence might be in order.

13 Replies to “Just how wasteful has Arsenal’s transfer policy been? Here’s the answer.”

  1. Arsenal problem is getting the right players with the actual money that has been brought out.

  2. Tony

    “The answer simply is that spending money on players does not equate with league position.”

    That is simply wrong. I have showed time and time again that there is an absolute direct link between expenditure and success.

    In your recent article:

    “Oh yes he did oh no he didn’t. The statistical discussion about football statistics”

    I directed you back to yet another one of your articles back in May where again you said:


    That is clearly untrue, as I pointed out in a couple of rather long comments in that particular article in May, that clearly shows how spending big, not only works, but is essential.

    I made 2 comments in the article which can be found at:


    My first point shows just how dominant high long term net spenders are.

    My second point shows just how misleading it is to correlate one seasons high spending with trophies, or indeed one seasons low spending with a lack of trophies.

    That kind of micro analysis is completely flawed. You can only see the effects of high net spending if you look at it over several seasons because simply splashing out and expecting an immediate return is fraught with danger.

    I’ll give you a for example.

    Lets say Newcastle are taken over by an owner similar to those at Man City, which is perfectly possible.

    If they do it is almost certain they will immediately start to invest. Does that mean if they invest £100 Million in their first season we can expect them to immediately win the PL? I doubt it.

    Season 2: Another £100 Million, still no title but up to 3rd.

    2 seasons £200 Million. Nothing does that mean they should, or will stop spending because it doesn’t work? Hardly.

    Season 3: Another £50 Million and they drop back to 3rd. Spending obviously doesn’t work.

    Season 4: This season the manager does some tweaking. He sells off some of his assets, buys a new LB and midfield water carrier. He actually makes £50 Million profit.

    Everything clicks and they win the title. No nett spend and a title. Well well.

    On the face of it, using season by season ‘micro’ analysis we can clearly see that spending doesn’t work.

    But honestly is that true?

    In this fictional example, Newcastle actually had a 4 season Nett spend of £200 Million, or £50 Million per season.

    I say Fictional. Go and look at Man City to see just how this sort of analysis can play out. For example when the money arrived:

    08/09 £112 Million
    09/10 £99 Million
    10/10 £116 Million

    So 3 seasons of enormous spending and still no title. Then in 11/12 they spent just £48 Million Nett (I say just but relative to the last 3 seasons) and guess what? This is the season they win the title. So was that down to spending less?

    Of course not. It was down to the £350 Million they’d spent over the 4 years.

    And this:

    In 16/17 they spent £165 Million and came 3rd. Does that prove big spending doesn’t work?

    Not really because in 17/18 they spent even more (£177 M) and won the PL.

    But oh look, in 18/19 Man City actually made a small Nett profit but again won the premier League.

    Are we honestly saying they won it because they didn’t spend a penny or because over the previous 4 seasons since their last title in 13/4 they’d spent an eye watering £475 Million Nett.

    Sorry Tony, you know I agree with you on lots of things but this notion of yours that


    Is completely and utterly wrong.

    And what’s more, irrespective of how much we have recently spent, and how we have indeed struggled over the last 2, perhaps now 3 seasons, if we DONT continue to rebuild, refresh and improve the squad we will continue to struggle.

    I’m not saying we should spend what we don’t have. I’m not saying I want the owners to do a City. I’m certainly not saying I wont still love Arsenal as much as ever, whatever we do or whatever happens.

    I am just saying that is the reality of the situation, and no amount of juggling the figures will change the fact that, apart from 1 freak, only big spending Clubs win the Premier League, and that includes Liverpool. Yes thanks to their £142 Million sale of Coutinho they kept their Nett spend down to a reasonable £25 Million per season over the last 6 years, but their Gross spend was still an enormous £600 Million, so lets no pretend they are not high rollers.

  3. @Nitram, the analysis done
    1. gives the net spend over a period of 5years
    2. Takes league position as the yardstick for measuring performance

    I agree with both. Even though Tony only remembers them when it suits his narrative. Soon he will still tell us that Man city and Liverpool are spending like a broken tap. For me, 5years is a good enough gauge of both financial strategy and onfield performance. I do agree with you though when you say it is wrong to look at current league position and use that as the gauge of performance for the period,an average position within those 5years might be a better yardstick, even though it also has it’s drawbacks (for example a team who comes 2nd in all 5yrs will score an average of 2 while another that alternates between winning the league and placing 4th will do worse). There is no perfect yardstick for measuring, but league performance over a 5 year period is good enough for me

  4. Ango, your ability to read my mind is alarming in the extreme. Indeed I would be rushing to the police to see if a criminal offence of intrusion into my head had been committed were it not for the fact that you are utterly wrong.

  5. Ango

    “Soon he will still tell us that Man city and Liverpool are spending like a broken tap”

    Well if he did he wouldn’t be far wrong.

    Last 6 years:

    Man City = £818M Gross £565M Nett

    If that’s not a broken tap I don’t know what is.

    Liverpool = ££587M Gross £130M Nett

    That is big spending, but as I say getting £142M for Coutinho significantly reduced their Nett spending and effectively fixed the broken tap, but lets not pretend they don’t spend enormous amounts of money.

    But my main point is. You say “For me, 5years is a good enough gauge of both financial strategy and on field performance”. which it is to a point. But even if you extrapolate over almost the entire duration of the PL it still stands up.

    These are the PL top spenders since the oil money arrived at Chelsea in 03/04 (17 Seasons). The following is Nett spend an PL Titles:

    Man City

    Total = £1 Billion
    Per season = £62 Million
    Titles = 4

    Man Utd

    Total = £686 Million
    Per season = £40 Million
    Titles = 5


    Total = £701 Million
    Per season = £41 Million
    Titles = 5


    Total = £330 Million
    Per season = £20 million
    Titles = 1


    Total = £336 Million
    Per season = £20 Million
    Titles = 1*

    So over the entire 17 years the 3 biggest spenders by far have won the most titles bar far with, 5, 5 and 4 respectively.

    The next 2 big spenders have spent an average Nett per season under half of the lowest of the top 3.This relative spend has meant that Both Arsenal and Liverpool have managed just the 1 each, Arsenal right at the start of the period and Liverpool at the end.

    That leaves the 1 anomaly of Liecster.

    You can dress it up whatever way you want but money rules.

  6. @nitram, for me net spend is what is important. If Liverpool loses Coutinho for £140m, it seems to me that you would have celebrated them if they pocketed that money. They seem to have reinvested that money to improve their squad, but you want to castigate them for spending that money it seems. People like me celebrate the investment into making a good team, instead of piling up cash reserves. If you sell a good player for good money, by all means use that money to fix the holes in your team. If your team is fine as it is, then by all means pocket it.
    You always laud arsenal as a club that produces talent in abundance, we can’t use all of that talent, if that talent is so good, we should have good gross sales, helping to reduce our net spend.

  7. With all these figures being bounded about, it would be interesting to see how many clubs have lost money due to their players running down contracts, or holding said club to ransom during contract negotiations.

    For instance, Aaron Ramsey was valued between £35 and £50 million and he left for nothing.
    What about the following players? RVP, Nasri, Sanchez, just a few examples of players who would/should have changed the scenario put forward above in my opinion.

    I cannot think of any other top premier league club that has mishandled it’s negotiations regarding, salaries, contracts and selling of players like The Arsenal in the last five or six years…remember gazidis took over all the above transactions three years ago and was involved himself before that.

    The factor of players actions within our club in the last five years also needs to be taken in to consideration, even if those factors do not change the figures provided, simply because they play a huge part in our club’s overall transfer summary.

  8. Ando

    “for me net spend is what is important”.

    Of course it is and I have always said that. And I have congratulated and praised Liverpool/Klopp for their excellent dealings in the transfer market. I am simply pointing out that suggestions being made in the media that Liverpool are somehow going to win the title on a paupers budget is a distortion of the facts.

    Yes they have kept their Nett spend down, but that is primarily on the back of one incredible sale. I say incredible because the guy was never ever worth that money, as his subsequent performances have shown. But they did get that for him a credit to them. But as I say, their Gross spending is still enormous.

    I used the analogy before that whilst keeping their Nett expenditure down, they are still trading assets in Park lane and Mayfair as opposed to The Old Kent Road, which is what some would have us believe.

    But okay I have conceded their long term Nett spending isn’t that big. Fine. But that’s exactly why they’d won just 1 League cup in 13 years before last years CL, (a year by the way in which they spent £127 Million Nett), and it’s taken them over 30 years to win the title, so lets not get carried away here, overall their trophy return over the last 17 years is very small compared to the 3 mega spenders, and accurately reflects that ‘relatively’ low Nett spending, as does Arsenals.

    So over the last 5 years Liverpool go the first 3 years with a Nett GAIN but win nothing. Then the last 2 years their Nett spend is £100 Million, or £50 Million per season and they win a CL and PL, so depending on how you want to play with these numbers Liverpool do have a big Nett spend. You see, you can make these short term numbers say what you want.

    But in conclusion I do think they’ve done well these last 2 seasons to win the CL and PL on a relatively low ‘long term’ Nett spend, compared to the 3 mega spenders, but Liverpool winning the title doesn’t change the fact that spending money, and spending big money is what it takes to consistently win titles. I say consistently.

    Only time will tell if Liverpool can continue winning titles whilst maintaining this relatively low Nett spending. Given the amount of money that those 3 mega spenders are capable of throwing at their squads I doubt it very much, but only time will tell.

    As for:

    “You always laud arsenal as a club that produces talent in abundance”

    Where do I do that? Don’t make things up.

    I think we currently have a fine crop of youngsters but if you read my recent posts I have said we need them to turn out to be World Class if we want to get back to challenging for the PL, and they are certainly not that yet, and I have said we will need to keep spending, not stop spending, if we want to challange.

  9. @Nitram, I do not have the energy to bring up your past quotes on our youngsters, so I won’t continue that aspect of the discussion.
    I agree with what you say about Liverpool’s spending, but remember I agreed with Tony on league performance (improvement or not) as a good yardstick for measuring onfield performance. I’m not a “must win title” freak. Clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves, Sheffield have done a great job, not because they have won anything, but solely on performance in the league in the last 5years. It is true that a club gets to a point in it’s development where the expectation to win a trophy becomes imperative- Liverpool, Tottenham must be put in that bracket as should we. But for me,that expectation is perhaps restricted to only the likes of man city, man utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, arsenal, Tottenham. Maybe Everton soon with the monies they’ve been spending. The assessment Tony did was for the entire league, so I will go with league performance over the period, rather than trophies won as the primary criteria

  10. Nitram, we should also cite the Bale windfall that the spuds received and how they wasted it, compared to the Liverpool/Courtinho example.

    I also believe that we spent the Anelka windfall very wisely, not on players but within our infrastructure and this, of course, doesn’t fall into the discussion regarding this article.

  11. Ango

    @Nitram, I do not have the energy to bring up your past quotes on our youngsters, so I won’t continue that aspect of the discussion.

    That’s very convenient. Make something up then refuse to substantiate it. Joke.

  12. Ango

    Funny how you have enough energy to keep on at Tony.

    Perhaps it’s not energy you lack but evidence.

    You do seem to have a rather tenuous relationship with facts don’t you.

  13. Ken1945

    Quite right.

    The way Wenger unselfishly spent the Anelka money on the future of the club was remarkable.

    Similarly the personal sacrifice he made to help facilitate the building of the Emirates Stadium.

    He could of used the money from Anelka on transfers and he sure as hell could of made life easier for himself by forgoing the challange of building the Emirates. He made massive career sacrifices to guide us through the building of the Emirates, yet got nothing but critisism almost from the outset.

    The way he was treated and the way certain sectors of both the media and our fan base attempt to trash his legacy makes me sick.

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