Setting up Arsenal to fail: telling the club what it must not let happen


By Tony Attwood

Between 2003 and 2011 Arsenal were the only leading club in the Premier League to make money from buying and selling players.  In that time Arsenal received £21 million more than they have spent in player deals.  

At the same time Chelsea and Manchester City each spent well over £400 million.   Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester United all spent around £100 million more on players than they received.

The extraordinary thing is that despite all this extra money the distance between the clubs at the top remained the same.  The money spending clubs did not fly away at the top of the league.  What’s more clubs could still have collapses of monumental proportions, after (according to the pundits) having the league sown up by October.  Chelsea were particularly good at this.

During the period in question (2003 to 2011) Arsenal has stayed in the top 4 throughout, while two of the clubs regularly spending more than Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, did not.  

Of course during this time excellent players did leave.  But invariably for massive profits, which Arsenal could then re-invest.

Nowadays however the media is once again beating Arsenal with the notion that spending money and having ambition are the same thing.

As today when the media says, “If the club have any ambition they need to tie down permanent deals for the likes of Ødegaard and Dani Ceballos, rather than risk others swooping,” I really think the Will Unwin in the Guardian is just simplifying matters too far.

What these writers do is always make it sound as if it is just up to Arsenal, and of course it is not.  Real Madrid have the players under contract, which means they have the biggest say in the matter.  After that comes the player who may or may not like living in England, or the way they and Arsenal are treated by the English media.  How Arsenal treat them, and their view of whether Arsenal is likely to win anything, comes third.

The last player we got and kept no matter what the cost was Ozil, which of course ended in disaster, and the way Ozil was frozen out of the team and not allowed to play for half a season is something Ødegaard and Ceballos will know all about.   That will influence them to some degree – a club that can do that to a genius player is not a club that every player wants to be at.

After that there are questions like salary (Real Madrid is massively more wealthy than Arsenal), the tax system, recent trophy success (they won the league is 2020) and so on.  

And that is before we get to the media.  Journalists and broadcasters know that they have created a perfect negativity around Arsenal.   They endlessly tell us that Arsenal’s management and structure are useless.  Players read this and so think that it is best to avoid Arsenal.  So at most they go on loan (quite possibly because it is the only loan on offer and they are anxious to get games) but do this for the purpose of being able to return to their home club and get more appearances.

Of course some players might well fall in love with Arsenal despite the obviously negative way in which referees treat Arsenal players, but it is not surprising that many then feel it is better to return.

And then even if they cite the media as a reason for them returning to their parent club, the media in this country are hardly likely to reprint such a comment, unless it is under a headline about the player making weird excuses for his own failings.

We have to accept that because of the way the media portrays Arsenal (and remember they were even negative about the club when we had the unbeaten season – you might recall the comment in the Times after the fourth match of the unbeaten season that this was “the worst 45 minutes that any of their fans could remember”) that players do not see Arsenal in a positive light.   

That’s what it is like being at Arsenal.  The players take on the opposition, the referee, and the media and so it is not surprising if players want to leave.

6 Replies to “Setting up Arsenal to fail: telling the club what it must not let happen”

  1. Keep up the good work! If only aspiring investigative journalists will dig into some of the very compelling stats you have been providing over the years!

  2. Sorry this argument simply doesn’t hold water.

    You said:

    “Between 2003 and 2011 Arsenal were the only leading club in the Premier League to make money from buying and selling players. In that time Arsenal received £21 million more than they have spent in player deals.

    At the same time Chelsea and Manchester City each spent well over £400 million. Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester United all spent around £100 million more on players than they received.

    Then you say “The extraordinary thing is that despite all this extra money the distance between the clubs at the top remained the same”.

    If you are insinuating that spending those extradentary amounts of money actually made very little difference, which it seems you are, that is simply not true.

    Lets just have a look at Man City. You say Man City spent well over £400 Million which they did, but despite that you state “the distance between Arsenal and City remained the same”. How do you work that out?

    For a start City only started spending big in season 07-08, not as far back as 02-03, so lets see how they compared to Arsenal the 10 years prior to when their big spending started.

    That’s seasons 97-98 to 06-07:


    Div 1
    Div 2
    Div 1
    Prem 18th
    Div 1
    Prem 9th
    Prem 16th
    Prem 8th
    Prem 15th
    Prem 14th


    Prem Champions FAC
    Prem Runners Up
    Prem Runners Up
    Prem Runners Up
    Prem Champions FAC
    Prem Runners Up FAC
    Prem Champions
    Prem Runners Up FAC
    Prem 4th
    Prem 4th

    So during the 10 years prior to when Man City’s spending spree started in season 07-08 both of our profiles couldn’t of looked more different if they’d both been from different planets. As you can see Man city won nothing (unless you count promotions), even dropping to the 3rd tier of English football. During their time in the PL they were a mid table team at best.

    Arsenal on the other hand over that same 10year period won 4 FA Cups, 3 Premier League tiles and finished Runners up every other season up until, quite ironically, when we stopped spending and entered the austerity years, at which time we dropped into the 4th is not a trophy phase.

    As I pointed out Man City didn’t actually start spending big until season 07-08 when they spent a Nett £39M. Then in 08-09 they spent £112M Nett, then in 09-10 they spent £99M Nett.

    So that’s £250M Nett and not a trophy in sight. So on the face of it your preposition that spending big doesn’t work stands up, for now, but it’s from this point on that that notion collapses and in fact the complete opposite turns out to be true, because despite ‘big spending’ not working, City plough on regardless. Lets see how that works out for them.

    Season 10-11 they spend another £116M Nett. That’s Up to a massive £360M Nett in total and what have we got? Well this season they move up to 3rd in the Premier League, that’s 1 place above Arsenal, and they win the FA Cup. So still not pulling up trees but enough to demonstrate that perhaps spending all that money is finally working.

    Either way Man City plough on regardless with their fruitless spending and in season 11-12 they spend another 48M Nett. That has taken their total Nett spending over those 5 years above the £400M of which Tony speaks. We in the mean time have basically stopped spending money and have, as Tony correctly points out, actually started making a small Nett profit on transfers.

    So what’s the result of all this. Is their very little, if no change in our fortunes as Tony suggests? Let’s see:

    Season 2011-2012 Man City win the Premier League.

    Season 2011-2012 Arsenal win nothing and finish 3rd.

    Man City will CONTINUE to spend enormous amounts of money and over the next 10 years (I’m going to include this season because as far as I’m concerned the title is done and dusted) take their title count to 5. They finish runner up 3 times, 3rd and 4th once each. They also won 1 FA Cup and 4 league cups.

    We on the other hand have not won a single championship.

    Despite our wonderful achievements in the FA Cup to suggest there hasn’t been a massive, and I mean MASSIVE turn around in the respective fortunes of our clubs simply doesn’t hold water, and it is all down to spending money, lots and lots and lots of money. To deny that is ridiculous.

    I could do a similar comparison with Chelsea and how their mega spending completely changed their fortunes. Those 2 clubs, along with Manchester united, the 3rd of the mega spenders, have completely dominated our domestic trophies for well over a decade.

    yes we have the Leicester City anomaly. And yes Liverpool have popped up with a title but they are hardly paupers.

    In conclusion, yes you can spend big a mess up, as both Chelsea and Man Utd have done on occasion. And yes you can spend big in short bursts and fail. And yes as Leicester proved it can be done with a relatively small nett spend, but history shows that spending big and spending big CONSISTANTLY is how you not only win tiles, but how you consistently win titles.

    Just as a footnote.

    It also has to be remembered that there is only an infinite amount of domestic trophies to go round. In fact only really the 2, possibly 3. So if you are one of 4 or 5 big spenders you still might not win anything and the with the increase in TV revenues there’s certainly more and more clubs spending big, and the fact is they cant ALL win. But that’s not the point. The point is at least you have a chance. History shows if you DON’T spend big you DON’T win the Premier league.

    To suggest otherwise is, in my opinion misleading in the extreme.

  3. Leicester was not a cheap victory. There was a heavy investment in areas not disclosed. Thai curry may look red or green but several coloured spices are involved.

    Nitram is not mistaken in his assessment that money is the key to success in competitive football. Players that attract premium are generally less difficult to assimilate in a squad.

    Arsenals philosophy of quality academy players set up by Wenger is paying dividends and sadly many fans seem to know better than Arteta and his team (who have to balance egos and fitness) that have brought a new level to the fore.

    Price is not everything, neither is one match performance. Arteta has to evaluate the safety of the player (including the PGMOL protection) as well as the fitness to support the team etiquette.

    If Kronke suddenly introduces a huge directors loan, the club would change dramatically but the PGMOL would weigh heavier than ever. Until the FA and the corruption is rinsed out of our National game, we have to stomach the pain.

  4. I have always said that what Wenger did through the austerity years in maintaining top 4 finishes with that positive Nett spend was truly remarkable. In fact it is one of the reasons I argue so vehemently in defence of our transfer record. You do not maintain that level of consistently on a zero nett spend without some seriously clever transfer dealings.

    Yes of course some of Wenger’s transfers didn’t work out, but so much of the time he was looking for diamonds in a mountain of rocks. He vary rarely bought the ‘finished article’ which meant there were risks. He very rarely bought a ‘superstar’, but despite all that, more often than not it worked out.

    Over this period Chelsea’s Nett spend was around £30 Million per season. Man Utds about £20 million. Then Man City entered the fray and their Nett spend was around £50 Million and climbing to over £100 Million Nett per season.

    Liverpool and Spurs were, again as Tony correctly pointed out, pretty big spenders as well, certainly spending more than Arsenal, and in Liverpools case a lot more. As a result it was those 2 that tended to fill the 5th and 6th places.

    So we had the 3 mega spenders filling the top 3 spots on a regular basis. The 4th and 5th biggest spenders filling the 5th and 6th spots on a regular basis. All perfect symmetry, bar one anomaly. All based on Nett spending. And that anomaly was Arsenal.

    Arsenal massively over achieved on the basis of their Nett spend. Everyone else pretty much, despite occasional blips, achieved average positions relative to their Nett spends.

    I did a table at the time that demonstrated this correlation between Nett spend and league position and it was remarkable how closely it matched.

    If I remember, aside from the Arsenal anomaly, who should of finished in the bottom half of the table given their Nett spend, there was one other outlier and that was Aston villa, who I believe were spending amounts that should of seen them at least challenging top 6, but constantly found themselves mid table and bellow. They are to this day still under achieving in relation to their spending. So no it isn’t a 100% exact science.

    But I’m telling you, because I’ve done these figures time and time and time again, that high AND consistent, and that is crucial, Nett spending, is absolutely key if you want to be successful.

    I do concede that at this current time the correlation between spend and success is not quite as black and white as it was back at the time where there were just the 3 clear mega spenders, and that’s due mainly to a slight levelling of the financial playing field on the back of the enormous amount of television money coming in to the game, as well as more and more rich owners willing to subsidise clubs to greater or lesser degrees.

    But by and large the fundamental point remains that spending big wins trophies, and no amount of statistical manipulation will change that.

  5. There are many nuances in the various arguments surrounding this topic, about what represents the best value achieved in terms of league success and the variables in net spend on transfers (never mind wages as well), so it is no surprise that there is a lack of consensus.

    May I suggest a straightforward example that everyone might agree to represent the best and worst value for the selling and buying clubs respectively:

    Harry Maguire from Leicester to Manchester Untied for £80,000,

  6. John L – the price isn’t the end of the tale, there are the PGMOL selectively blind who see more against some clubs than others!!

    The more interesting was the Cretan police and the suspended jail term that awaits the ‘Do you know who I am’.

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