How much money does a club have to spend to get to the top of the PL?

By Tony Attwood

The prime call of journalists, bloggers and many fans is for Arsenal to buy new players.   It’s an interesting thought although one that lacks a certain amount of logic.   For the claim is also that the players Arsenal have bought are not good enough.  Why there is the hope that next time Arsenal will choose better is not clear.

The reality is, of course, that the players Arsenal have are not rubbish, despite what I was told by a statistics-denier last night, who claimed that he remembered one set of stats which showed we were the most accurate passing club in the league – the problem being all our players passed backward.  Thus all stats are rubbish.

Statistics of course only tell you what they measure, nothing more.  It’s the journalists and commentators who manipulate them, and the stats we have been presenting here such CIES in terms of player quality, in terms of the change in tactics (stats mostly from the Premier League itself) and the league table since Christmas all show the same thing.

So, now I thought I would make a few comparisons concerning league position and expenditure on transfers across the last five years to see what the link is there.  In the list below I have removed the three team promoted last season, whose transfer dealings over the last five years will obviously be dominated by having only just arrived.

Spending against league position.

There is no point taking the money spent in just one season, since it takes several years to build up a club that is going to challenge at the top of the league. 

Top spenders were Manchester City, who not only spent more than anyone else, they spent more than Aston Villa, Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace put together.

So far ahead are Manchester City in spending that I have included a column that shows how much some other teams have spent as a percentage of Manchester City’s spending the last four seasons.  Arsenal for example spent just 38% of Manchester City’ expenditure.

Column 2 (expenditure position) shows where each club is in the “spending league” across the last five years, and Column 3 shows where the club ended up in the League in 2020/21.  The final column looks for a link between spending and league position by taking away the league position from the position in expenditure (column 2).

Expenditure position League position Expenditure last 5 seasons Percentage of Man City spending Expenditure minus Lge position
Arsenal 6 8 £443.1 38% -2
Aston Villa 10 11 £276.2 34% -1
Brighton 14 16 £212.0 26% -2
Burnley 17 17 £126.6 15% 0
Chelsea 2 4 £656.9 80% -2
Crystal Palace 16 14 £161.5 20% +2
Everton 4 10 £536.5 66% -6
Leicester 7 5 £381.4 47% +2
Liverpool 5 3 £470.9 57% +2
Manchester City 1 1 £818.5 100% 0
Manchester United 3 2 £611.1 75% +1
Newcastle United 11 12 £273.6 33% -1
Sheffield United 15 20 £155 19% -5
Southampton 13 15 £240.4 29% -2
Tottenham Hots 8 7 £322.3 39% +1
West Ham Un 9 6 £308.1 38% +3
Wolverhampton W 12 13 £269.4 33% -1

What is remarkable is the link between the position in the spending league table and the position in the actual Premier League.  In that last column a negative number means the club has achieved worse than its spending would suggest it should, if transfers were the absolute determinant.

Most certainly we have moved into a position similar to Germany, where one side can outspend everyone else.  Manchester City can, and undoubtedly will, repeat this year after year as we know that the Premier League has lost interest in trying to control the expenditure of the club, and Uefa utterly cocked up its attempt to control them.  Man C we should remember did not get found not guilty by CAS, but Uefa’s response to the appeal was dismissed for being out of time.

As a result no matter what other clubs do, Man C can amd will outspend anyone, and no one is going to stop them.  So just as Bayern have won the league nine times running, so we can expect this from Manchester City – unless the owners lose interest, or there is a coup in Abu Dhabi.  Maybe there will be demands for equal rights for women….

There is also clearly a link between expenditure and league position, and as we can see from the final column most clubs have expenditure within one or two places of their league position.

So we come to the key point.  Given this information, what can Arsenal do to rise up the league table?  Here is their net spend year by year…

Season Money spent on transfers Money received from transfers Net spend
2020/21 £76.50m £16.79m £59.71m
2019/20 £144.36m £48.29m £96.07m
2018/19 £72.14m £7.11m £65,03m
2017/18 £137.57m £142.20m -£4.63m
2016/17 £101.74m £9.32m £92.42m
Total £532m £223m £308m

We can spend more – a lot more in fact, since Manchester City spent more last season than Arsenal have over five years.  But that money can only come from directors.  The Sheikh’s personal wealth is about $22,000,000,000.  I don’t think we have anyone that wealthy at Arsenal.

More anon.

8 Replies to “How much money does a club have to spend to get to the top of the PL?”

  1. I’m slightly confused as to how the first table shows our expenditure over five seasons as £443m. However, the list the expenditure showing spending for the last five seasons separately is different. Neither gross nor net spend is anywhere near £443m. Please could you explain? Thanks.

  2. Sorry again, but having used your link to the ‘Transfer League’ website I also note that Man City spend was £155m (gross), £91m net last season (21/20). Looking elsewhere for the 20/21 figures, ‘transfermarkt’ tells me they spent £152m (gross) and c. £97m (net). Whichever set of figures used, clearly “Manchester City spent more last season than Arsenal have over five years”.

    I’m sure I’m missing something here Tony. Could you explain please.

  3. it would be interesting to have the “net spend” for all clubs
    it looks to me that one turning point for liverpool, was their coutinho sale, which allowed them to buy several key players (van dijk, …) for a “reasonable” net spend
    hale end is the solution for us – a team built around willock/smithrowe/saka (and i’ve not given up on nelson yet), with balogun/azeez in the wings, and the addition of a few brilliant deals (tierney, holding!!!, martinelli), as well as of a few remarkable experienced “role-models” (xhaka, laca, …), and finally lads who ahve found their feet after difficult beginnings (pépé, …); we really do have an excellent squad
    what your post shows too, imo, is that we arsenal fans should be forgiving, as far as the league position is concerned – we won’t be champions any time soon – but we should also keep being demanding, in terms of real opportunities being given to our wonderful academy lads, and of the team producing entertaining, attacking football
    in recent years – it was under arsène – two of the most wonderful games i’ve kept in mind were a defeat (the february 2017 home game against utd), and a draw (the april 2018 first leg against atletico)
    who cares? when the team you support produces such high-quality performances … and our current squad is at least as good as the 2017-2018 ones

  4. Tony

    “There is also clearly a link between expenditure and league position, and as we can see from the final column most clubs have expenditure within one or two places of their league position.”

    This is strange to hear from you Tony, because despite my love of this blogg and it’s over riding mantra of supporting the club through thick and thin and railing against the endless lies and negativity spouted in the media, the one thing we always seemed to disagree on was this very subject.

    I have stated for years, and produced many articles with supporting data, and constructed similar, if rather more amateurish tables, showing just how the 3 wealthiest clubs have totally dominated the domestic scene for the last 15 odd years, and by and large you have either ignored or disputed that spending was/is the answer. It clearly is.

    Now that doesn’t mean it’s the whole answer, especially now as the spending level overall is much higher.

    What I mean by that is when there were just 2 mega rich clubs outspending everyone else by a country mile, namely Man Utd and Chelsea, it was fairly easy for them to carve up the trophies between them, which they did by and large. It didn’t even matter that Chelsea chopped and changed managers, usually a recipe for at least periods of failure, because simply buying up all the top players was enough.

    Then the Mansours rocked up at Man City and the 3 of them out spent everyone by quite some distance and the trophies were then carved up between the 3 of them.

    But now, with 3 mega spenders other factors started to come in. For example if 2 of them had world class managers and you put in charge someone who doesn’t quite cut the mustard at the very very top level, say David Moyes for example, then you can spend all the money in the World and you will struggle to better the 2 clubs with elite managers. They may win nothing. 4th may not be a trophy but neither is 3rd.

    In other words you can point at that club and say look, money doesn’t buy you trophies, but that would be an erroneous conclusion. It only doesn’t if you make serious errors in other aspects of the running of your club.

    Now I’m going to look at the last 5 years as well but in a slightly different way. What has happened in the PL these last few years is a massive increase in revenues across the board, primarily on the back of massive TV deals. And expanding on the theory above, the more teams you have spending money, big money, even if not on the scale of the 3 mega spenders, the more chance there is that these other factors, such as the manager, the scouting, the coaching, the academy players etc. can tip the balance, and the more chance there is you can spend lots of money and see very little for it, after all there are only 3 domestic trophies available and as we know even the FA Cup is not a trophy if we win it.

    But even with all the extra money sploshing about I believe we only really have 2 clubs who are significantly out of line with their spending and that is Arsenal and Manchester United.


    Given their enormous spend over the last 5 years they should of won at least 1 title. They haven’t. In fact they’ve won 1 FA Cup. 1 League Cup. 1 Europa cup. Not disgraceful but not good enough for a club that spends the money they do. They have also finished outside the top 4 a couple of times which again shouldn’t happen when you spend what they do.

    So Man Utd are probably 1 maybe 2 titles and 2 top 4 finishes below there minimum expectation given their spend.


    Given the vast increase in spending the last 5 years we should of done better than we have. But having said that you have to remember we are still playing catch up and we still don’t get first, second, or even third dibs on top top players when they are available, even if we could afford them, and even if they wanted to come, given their options. So it’s still not easy. BUT, we should of done better than the 2 FA Cups and not a single top 4 finish we have achieved.

    So I believe Arsenal are probably a trophy maybe 2 down on what we might expect from our expenditure, say another FA cup or perhaps a Europa or League cup which we got very close to.

    But where we have under achieved the most is in the League. Given the competition I don’t think we should be top 4 by right but we should be there or thereabouts every season and we have fallen short on that front. Therefore I conclude we are also 3 top 4 finishes short of our minimum expectation given our expenditure.

    Now I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to see one major link between both those clubs. The loss of fantastic long term managers. I believe that is no coincidence.

    But have both clubs now finally found the right managers to take them forwards? Only time will tell.

    Now I would like to mention a couple of other clubs for different reasons.


    Now Spurs are very odd and go completely against the spend/success ratio. If you go back 6 years to season 2015-2016 Spurs started a run of 3rd 2nd 3rd 4th. Now the odd thing is they started this good run on the back of the previous 5 seasons spending of a nett PROFIT of £53 Million. On the face of it Potchechino did quite remarkable maintaining top for under those circumstances, but here’s the thing, he started spending and spurs started dropping down the table. Not as much as Arsenal but never the less around £100 Million Nett over 4 seasons. Following this increase in spending Spurs finish’s have been 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th.

    Either way spending or not Spurs win nothing.


    Now we are talking the last 5 years so their title triumph of 6 years ago doesn’t count and was indeed the freak we all thought it was. The season before it they finished 14th. The season after 12th.

    Never the less I think people still tend to think they are massive over achievers but that is not true. They are slight over achievers these last 5 seasons but as I say 12th, 9th, 9th, 5th, 5th, is not, as Tonys table also shows, the massive over achievement some think.


    On the face of it Liverpool have over achieved against their net spend, but that was kept down by a couple of amazing sales, but lets not kid ourselves they are not paupers. Their net gross spend is enormous.

    But despite the odd outlier and anomaly the correlation between spending and success holds true.

    Now for a bit on Arsenal.

    As I say, spending is the key, but it is spending over a long period. Also you may not have success at the end of the season you spent lots of money. This is what we thibk/hope may happen to Arsenal.

    We have just had our worst season for years, and this on the back of all that spending. So spending hasn’t worked? Or has it?

    As Tony has been saying we have just had a remarkable final half of the season putting us equal 2nd in the table. We got a hit post away from another Europa league final.

    On the back of this Tony suggests, and I completely agree, that the potential of this squad is enormous. As such do we need to spend fortunes again? I don’t think so.

    Maybe a tweak. sell a couple. Buy a couple. Very likely a near zero net spend.

    God willing we see the potential of this squad realised next season and we have a great season finishing, say 4th and Winning another FA Cup.

    Now here’s the thing. Would that vast improvement be down to NOT spending a penny (Nett) or would it e on the back of consolidating the previous 2 or 3 years spending.

    My argument it is the later. Ultimately it will be all that spending, aligned to getting the right manager and utilising a great academy, that will bring us success.

    And here’s the point, if we want to ‘go again’ we wont do it without more big spending. If we go 3 seasons with minimum spending we will drop back again.

    So no, not all about the money but we certainly wont do it without it.

  5. I wonder how much money will be enough for those who are asking for Stan or whoever buys the club to spend out of their own personal fortune?

  6. @W1968steve


    And that is what I believe is the elephant in the room with those asking for the owners personal investment. Is climbing back into the top 4 enough ? Winning more FA Cups ? Winning the league ? Winning the CL ?

    The Kronkes could invest a billion of their personal wealth but if Roman invests one and a half and the Mansours invest 2 Billion we still might win nothing. Then what? Do they scream for more investment ? Kronke out still ??

    Suppose Billionaires take over at Newcastle, Spurs and Everton, then we have 5 Billionaires plus Man Utd and Liverpool. The Kronkes may invest 2 Billion and finish 8th again.

    It just ends up being a who’s got the richest owner contest rather than who runs their club the best, unless of course they think having the richest owner is running their club the best.

    Either way I don’t want it.

  7. Somebody needs to check Arsenal’s percentage spend in the first table. I reckon it is more like 54%.

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