The real reason Arsenal is winding up its scouting network.

By Tony Attwood

Following the announcement about the breaking up of their scouting team, the media has been unsurprisingly quiet on the issue of what Arsenal are going to do about recruitment of young players in the future.   Unsurprisingly quiet, because working out what Arsenal’s plan is means undertaking a little bit of research and putting two and two together while trying not to make five – neither of which activity is something that the media or most bloggers know anything about.

To unravel this we must remember that about fifteen years ago Arsenal started to invest in digital analyses of player movements from matches around the world.  In this way the number of potential signings was quickly reduced to a handful of players from all over the world whose stats showed particular potential.

That approach has reduced the need for the number of scouts, although it was Mr Wenger’s idea that the new technological approach should be used to whittle down the number of potential signings so that the scouts could more effectively focus on players that were not being noticed by other clubs; not that the scouting network should be wound up.

But inevitably other clubs have caught up with that idea, and that statistical analysis only tells the club where the player is now in terms of performance, not where he might be able to get to in the future.   So Mr Wenger started to look for an additional approach which could be used to explore how much a young player might be able to change if he was brought from his homeland to Arsenal.

The aim was to incorporate this new evolution into Arsenal’s scouting technique, but the card carrying banner waving “Wenger Out” brigade scuppered that development, forcing Mr Wenger out and leaving Arsenal in the lurch.

Fortunately however Mr Wenger did not abandon his search, and some 15 months ago he started to work with the PlayerMaker company.  This company had developed a tiny sensor which is attached to a player’s boots and which tracks everything the player does.  How he moves, how quickly he moves, the power in a shot, how he recovers from a tackle etc etc etc.

Now clubs are notoriously slow to change age-old practices, and even slower to adopt new technology so it is not surprising that few clubs have reacted to the new approach… especially since it was not developed in England (“another foreign fad” was how one senior official described it).

But undeterred, in what must have been an amazing event to witness Playermaker arranged for a match to take place in Mr Wenger’s garden (honest!) with young players wearing the boots.

Since then (as reported by Forbes) clubs in America playing in MLS are adopting the use of the kit.  And now it appears Arsenal are taking up the scheme.

This system has the benefit not only of telling clubs what the player is doing, but also where improvements can be made.  In short you take a player whose videoed performances look promising, and then make that player an even better player by analysing every little area where he can improve.

As Mr Wenger reminded the Forbes journalist who covered the PlayerMaker launch, “I worked on performance ratings in 1987-88 with friends of mine on computers. We worked day and night to measure performances of players.   We were 20 years ahead at the time. We made some good improvements to judge players, we discovered some players who were not really stars and became good players after….”   That of course is well known – and we saw the arrival of Vieira in Mr Wenger’s first month at the club and that showed those of us watching exactly what was going to change at Arsenal.

But there is more, as Mr Wenger continued, “I think [Playmaker is] the most accurate system that I’ve seen and the least disturbing. The system we had until now was you put your equipment around your chest. I’ve seen many players throw them away during games and training….

“I believe that science can help us to understand the world around us. Objective measurements can make us stronger when it’s well used. Basically you cannot cheat any more when you practise. When I played you had some players who would go in the forest and hide behind the trees and wait until the rest of the team came back!”

It appears that Arsenal are now investing in this new Wengerian approach, and combining it with their highly sophisticated computer monitoring system of young players from around the world.

In stage 1 the player is identified in a video.  In stage 2 the club to whom the player is attached is asked if they will permit the player to wear the new PlayerMaker tracker.  If not, Arsenal walk away.  If yes, they get the data.   If the data is good, Arsenal bring the player over for a trial.  The need for all those scouts is thus reduced.  Hence the redundancies.

So it turns out the current round of redundancies it is not so much that Arsenal are trying to save a few pounds, but rather that thanks to Mr Wenger they have just found a faster, more efficient, and cheaper way of seeing just how good prospective young players are.

It would be tempting to say that it is astounding that none of the national papers have covered this part of the story, but then, they haven’t been covering the events at Fifa much either.  Nor Wolverhampton’s financial problems (of which we will have more later, as there has been a rather interesting development).

We were surprised when the redundancies were announced, and ran an article saying so.  But at least we got there in the end – and before the rest of the media.   Perhaps Untold does have a use after all.

19 Replies to “The real reason Arsenal is winding up its scouting network.”

  1. Thank you for an insightful article. Do you have any evidence that Arsenal are in fact taking up this Playmaker approach? Or is this speculation?

  2. You’ve just saved us we arsenal fans the rigorous approach of defending our clubs decision to reduce staff’s going forward and at same time planning for uncertainty in event of more financial constraints as a result of this period of pandemic. we are just realizing what we lost in letting Arsene wenger to leave,he is truly mr football. we are proud of his achievements.thank you mr Wenger.

  3. I thought it was blatantly obvious that a football club could not find new players without an adequate system in place but thanks for filling in the blanks Tony. I never expected too much from the media, that would not only involve them doing some proper journalism but also being able to think and apply logic. Several things there that they are severely lacking.

  4. I can not help but wonder if there has been an eye on the withdrawal from the EU as part of the motivation for change. I will be watching to see which other clubs start redundancies as we get closer to the end of the year when Europeans become “pesky foreigners”. Could it be that Arsenal have adapted earlier than other clubs? I would imagine a lack of negative articles if say Scumcheatster United were to follow our lead with rationalisation of scouting operations. There will surely be a need for adaptation once the Sweet F A are ordered what to do by the government. We will no doubt see apologies for the recent articles in the media when it becomes clear we were ahead of the curve on this issue.

  5. Hear, hear, hear Tony, you never disappoint. Yes Untold does have a use Always😂😂😂

  6. The media just publish that Arsenal players are in a rage over the redundacies instead.

  7. Thank you for the explanation Tony – ever thought of becoming a sports reporter yourself?
    Amazing how Arsene Wenger’s vision is still prevelant at our club today.
    Perhaps the club itself could have given some insight into this situation, as part of the announcement of the redundancies?

  8. Thanks @Mr Attwood for this refreshing information, and AW, he a delightsome man, always, always working out some landmark gift to football.

  9. Thanks for the explaination , Tony. But I do hope that all those let go were compensated adequately , and are able to fend for themselves in thse trying times. I would have hoped no less from this club.

  10. Tony says Arsenal don’t have a financial problem and didn’t need the players to pitch in with a pay cut. That Ozil was right to reject the paycut deal

  11. Doyen, your sniping at myself and other commentators on this site with inaccurate two or three line summaries of what you suggest was said is just silly. Not only are they simplistic, they also don’t take account of the way situations change, nor the fact that grown-ups can change their mind as new information becomes available, nor the fact that rarely is it possible to summarise a 1000 word commentary in 25 words. It is of course nice for us that you choose to spend your time sniping at articles on Untold, and their writers, in that this suggests that you seem to think Untold is important, but really sending in “but you said…” pieces is rather tedious.


    At Tony, Doyen is right. look at your reply to lily at 2147hrs. “The club(arsenal) is not in financial difficulty”. When I saw that I was flabbergasted. Personally It was disappointing. it suggested that you knew that wasn’t the truth as you had written several articles before then telling us that arsenal and every other club was facing financial difficulty due to covid-19, but then your desire to defend Ozil superceded your ability to say things truthfully

  13. Abho on 23 April the club was not, to my mind, in financial difficulty. Quite why that statement suggests that I am lying and know it I have no idea but as I have said so often before, if you get offered a job as a mind reader, be careful before you take it. I think also there is a difficult between being in financial difficulty and facing financial difficulty. Facing refers to the future if current trends continue. Being in relates to the situation now. I believe those are the common meanings, and that is how I use that word and that phrase.
    I’d also say that arguing over specific words and phrases if not very productive and tends to go nowhere.

  14. But before August 23 you had written several articles claiming arsenal and almost every other club was in financial difficulty, for several months in fact, do I have to post links to those articles? Then suddenly Ozil refuses the pay cut and you come out to say Arsenal is not in financial difficulty. After the Ozil saga you revert to the narrative that arsenal is in financial difficulty. I’m sorry Tony, it’s hard to believe this new tale you’re spinning

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