Just how far away are Arsenal from being a top spending club (and would it help?)

By Tony Attwood

Let’s assume for the moment that the only way to produce a team capable of winning either the title in England or a European trophy is by buying in players in the way that the Daily Mirror proposes hour after hour day after day.  How much money would Arsenal need to spend?

If the amount looks ludicrous and impossible then we know that the only way Arsenal can achieve these heights is by bringing in an Abramovich or a Sheikh Mansour; a person with access to vast amounts of money not obtained through dedication and hard work, who is willing to spend it not on the well-being of large numbers of people but on a football club.

And this is a valid question, for having discovered that Arsenal is lagging way behind in terms of the money the big spenders are spending at the moment we do need to see if the last few years have been unusual or that is the way it has been for a while.

Fortunately for our quest, issue number 367 of the CIES Football Observatory Reports ranks the current big-5 league clubs according to their net spending on transfer operations concluded over the last ten seasons.

And this is particularly relevant since 70% of the PL clubs are in the top 20 clubs with the most negative net transfer spending.

Here is the list for the Premier League clubs only, starting just with the spending in declining order since summer 2012:

Club Spending (million euros) Percentage of Man C League titles FA Cups European trophies
Manchester City
1699 4 1 2
Chelsea 1614 95% 1 1 2
Manchester United 1545 91% 0 1 1
Liverpool 1128 66% 1 0 1
Tottenham Hotspur 1031 60% 0 0 0
Arsenal 1029 61% 0 4 0
Everton 911 54% 0 0 0
Aston Villa 701 41% 0 0 0

Looked at this way Chelsea and Manchester United are the only clubs getting close to Manchester City’s spending – and only Chelsea are getting close in terms of trophies.  Manchester United’s return for 91% of Manchester City’s expenditure looks poor.

Which shows us that just spending the money – even at this level of expenditure – is not a guarantee of success.

We can look at the table again and instead of taking spending, take net spend – which is to say the spending above minus the income received on transfers.

Club Net spend (million euros) Percentage of Man C League titles FA Cups European trophies
Manchester City
984 4 1 2
Chelsea 413 42% 1 1 2
Manchester United 1075 109% 0 1 1
Liverpool 347 35% 1 0 1
Tottenham Hots 336 34% 0 0 0
Arsenal 583 59% 0 4 0
Everton 429 44% 0 0 0
Aston Villa 424 43% 0 0 0

So there we see it – we have been spending above the Chelsea level and in doing this have picked up the same number of trophies as they have, although it could be argued that two of their trophies are more prestigious than ours.

Meanwhile, although Tottenham have only spent 34% of Manchester City’s money, 336 million euros is still an awful lot of money to spend without winning a trophy.

But really is there no other way?

LOSC Lille has a positive transfer balance of €349 million over the last decade and they are currently outranking Olympique Lyonnais.  And here’s another thought:  Chelsea, Monaco and Atlético Madrid are really not doing too badly in terms of net expenditure and league position.  Indeed when we look further, 53% of the club have a positive net spending result.  But if we just take the Premier League the ratio is 5% with positive net spending.  One club.   Brentford.

So what conclusions might we draw?

  1.  To get to the very top a club probably needs to match Manchester City’s level of funding.
  2.  Chelsea’s “interesting” approach with buying up very large numbers of young players sending them on loan around Europe, selling them on, or picking up a few for themselves, makes the finances work more readily, and ensures the club has the real pick of the bunch, although the disruption to other clubs is huge.
  3. As Manchester United’s figures show, trying to spend as much as those clubs but not getting the management right, is still a recipe for disaster, no matter what.  Man U are unusual in that their world wide marketing is so profitable they can generate the money they need – but that just shows that the money is not a guarantee of success.
  4. Very clever recruitment, however, and bringing in players who appear to be lost and getting them going again, most certainly can work, without breaking the bank.  After all, that is what Mr Wenger did with Henry, Vieira and the like early on.
  5. Tactical changes such as Arteta has made, can also work, and the notion of bringing in young players to put the tactics into operation could yet come to be seen as a masterstroke.

But above all, just spending money is not a guarantee of success.  Nor is changing the manager.

On the other hand both those factors were blindingly obvious anyway.

19 Replies to “Just how far away are Arsenal from being a top spending club (and would it help?)”

  1. Arsenal being 3rd for net spend in the EPL far above clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham (And even European big spenders like real Madrid, Bayern, Athletico etc). Infact our net spend is just a little less than the reckless and now broke Barcelona, this just shows that we have sold poorly, a point I’ve regularly made. Even in the Wenger days, while spurs were selling Bale for £80m and Modric for above 40, how much did we sell our bests? Like Henry, Fabregas and RVP? Some say we sold them when they were past their prime, is that to our advantage? The same people paradoxically still argue that we didn’t win because our young team kept being broken up by the likes of Barcelona and Man City. Recently Aubameyang was sold off free, instead of acknowledging an issue with our business, we have to spin it to sound like free transfers are best(like all the other clubs that sell their talents for fees are stupid and only Arsenal is smart).
    Well, I wish us the best

  2. Tony

    So there we see it – we have been spending above the Chelsea level and in doing this have picked up the same number of trophies as they have, although it could be argued that two of their trophies are more prestigious than ours.

    Chelsea have won the league twice and not once as you say (2014/5 & 2016/17)
    Chelsea have won the FA cup twice & not 1 as you say ( 2011/12& 2017/18)
    Chelsea’s have won four European Trophies and not one as you say (CL 2011/12& 2020/21 + EL 2012/13 & 2018/19 )
    So 8 major trophies and not 4

  3. Tony

    “But above all, just spending money is not a guarantee of success”.

    But it was Tony. It was for over 10 years.

    As for changing managers. During those 10/15 years the money was so dominant it didn’t seem to matter who was in charge at Chelsea or Man City, they still won the title. A couple of decidedly average managers won the title at both of those clubs, that’s how much the money dominated.

    But things have changed and I agree that as the financial playing field has leveled, at least a little, getting other factors right are becoming more and more important. But as I said, for many years it was all about the money just about to the exclusion of everything else.

    When the money arrived at Chelsea the only competition they had financially was Man Utd. We were committed to building the Emirates so basically had nothing, hence a 10 year zero Nett spend and a 10 year trophy drought.

    It wasn’t difficult for Chelsea to gazump us. They paid more for players. Often ours. They paid them more wages than we did. So much more it made some players drive their cars off the road.

    Then the Mansours rocked up in Manchester and did the same, just even more so.

    Now we had three mega spenders spending miles more than anyone else. The three of them had the choice of world class players and completely dominated. It didn’t seem to matter who the manager was at this stage, the financial gulf was enough to ensure dominance. Man Utd of course still had Fergie.

    Then things changed. Fergie left Utd. Wenger left Arsenal. Klopp arrived at Liverpool. TV Money increased considerably.

    Four factors that changed the football landscape. Yes we still have the three mega rich clubs who can effectively spend whatever they want, but now we have two previously stable clubs in a state of turmoil, as well as a few more clubs capable of spending large amounts of money on players, mostly on the back of that vast increase in TV money.

    NOTE: I still believe that Man City have so much money, have spent so much money, they are pretty much unstoppable. Pretty much any manager worth his salt would win the title with their resources. But that’s another story.

    Now even though Man Utd and Chelsea are still capable of spending more than everyone else it is not quite as it was for them before. Now, as you are suggesting, they more than ever need to get the manager right as well. JUST spending money may not be enough.

    So yes, clever recruitment is essential. And yes bringing through talented academy players will help. BUT, and this is the big BUT Tony, even if you get all that right you will not win the title without also spending BIG money. Just getting those other factors right will not be enough.

    You make a good point about Wenger when you highlighted how adept he was at:

    “……..bringing in players who appear to be lost and getting them going again, most certainly can work, without breaking the bank. After all, that is what Mr Wenger did with Henry, Vieira and the like early on”. Which was true.

    But crucially that was BEFORE the money arrived at Chelsea and Man City.

    I think he continued trying to do that throughout his time at Arsenal, but finding them gems was getting tougher and tougher, and when he did it still wasn’t enough to outgun three teams spending bottom less pits of money. It still wouldn’t be.

    The conclusion is, yes you are right, you CAN spend bucket loads of money and fail, especially if you continuously get the rest of it wrong, a La Man Utd.

    But my opinion is, even if you get the rest of it right, all of it, but don’t spend the money, you will not win the Premier league. You have to spend as well.

    If Arteta does win the title with this revolutionary change of tactics and the youngest squad in the league, he will be a genius even beyond anything Wenger achieved.

    I hope he does and proves me wrong.

  4. ukp

    “….this just shows that we have sold poorly, a point I’ve regularly made. Even in the Wenger days, while spurs were selling Bale for £80m and Modric for above 40”

    You really haven’t got a clue have you.

    How our disastrous last 8 years compare to the wonderful Spurs:


    13-14 4th FAC
    14-15 3rd FAC CS
    15-16 2nd CS
    16-17 5th FAC
    17-18 6th CS
    18-19 5th
    19-20 8th FAC
    20-21 8th CS

    Yes I know we would all rather we were back in the not a trophy trophy top 4, but only Arsenal could post such a fantastic run, and yes it is a fantastic run, and get the ridicule we get.

    Heaven knows what abuse we’d of received had we performed like Spurs other those 8 years, who’s achievements, just for a bit of context read:


    13-14 6th NOTHING
    14-15 5th NOTHING
    15-16 3rd NOTHING
    16-17 2nd NOTHING
    17-18 3rd NOTHING
    18-19 4th NOTHING
    19-20 6th NOTHING
    20-21 7th NOTHING

    Since the George Graham era: ​


    Since Wenger era:


    Now Spending:

    Between when Wenger joined and 2013 his Nett spend over that period was 14 Million. (FOURTEEN)

    He won 3 PL’s, 4 FAC’s and 4 CS’s for good measure.

    Over that same period Spurs Nett spend was £200 Million (TWO HUNDRED)

    Spurs won 2 LC’s.

    Yes when we came out of austerity over the next seasons we spent £200 Million and Spurs just £17 Million but over those 5 seasons we won 3 FAC’s and Spurs won nothing.

    Over Wengers entire tenure his Nett spend was £214 Million

    Over Wengers entire tenure Spurs Nett spend was £152 Million

    Over that period we also built a £500 Million Stadium.

    Over that period Wenger won 3 PL’s 7 FAC’s and just for good measure 7 Community Shields.

    Spurs won 2 LC’s, That’sit !!!

    If Spurs are so good why don’t you just do yourself and everyone else a favour and toddle off down the road and support them because you sure as hell don’t sound like an Arsenal supporter to me.

    You really should know what you are talking about before coming on here talking absolute nonsense.

  5. Tried to avoid mistakes but I’ve seen one small one. In the following matrix:

    Since Wenger era:


    Should read:


    I did mention the TWO League Cups they won in the Wenger era later but somehow missed them out in that earlier matrix.

    Doesn’t change a thing though does it.

    Comparing Spurs to Arsenal, under any parameter, is like comparing a Rolls Royce with a Robin Reliant.

    I still don’t get some of our fans, honestly, I just don’t get them.

    Anyway, sorry if there’s any more errors. I do try.

  6. Nitram, the point being made was that Spurs have been better than Arsenal when it comes to selling their best players for large fees. No -where was it mentioned that they had been superior than Arsenal at anything else?

    The amount Arsenal have lost in potential transfers fees must be huge. Spurs spending theirs woefully doesn’t change that.

  7. Rob25

    “The point being made was that Spurs have been better than Arsenal when it comes to selling their best players for large fees”.

    I know that and it’s simply not true, or at the very least vastly exaggerated.

    The 3 Arsenal players mentioned were Henry, Fabregas and RVP.

    The 2 Spurs players mentioned were Bale a Modric. For comparisons sake I have added another highly lorded Spurs deal, that of Dimiti Berbatov.



    Sold 2007
    Age 30
    For £24 Million


    Sold 2011
    Age 24
    For £30 Million


    Sold 2012
    Age 29
    For £24 Million



    Sold 2008
    Age 27
    For £30 Million.


    Sold 2013
    Age 24
    For £80 Million


    Sold 2017
    Age 27
    For £30 Million (Source: Bleacher)

    For a start it’s hardly a fair comparison given 2 of Arsenals players were at the end of their careers.

    Arguably getting £24 Million for a 30 year old Henry, especially as was a player that relied on pace, and £24 Million for a 29 year old RVP, who went on to produce just ONE more season at the top, was better business than £30 Million each for Berbatov and Modric, who were both 27 year olds at their peak, and in Modric especially went on to realize Stella heights.

    Under no circumstances can it be argued that what Spurs achieved for those 2 players was better than what Arsenal achieved for their 2 players.

    The final comparison is the only one where it can be said Spurs out achieved Arsenal, but there were extenuating circumstances.


    Sold 2011
    Age 24
    For £39 Million

    NB: Barcelona signed Fàbregas for an initial fee of €29 million with a further €5 million in variables, plus Fàbregas would pay Arsenal €1 million a year from his wage for five years.


    Sold 2013
    Age 24
    For £85 Million

    For a start Fabregas had been overtly and disgracefully ‘tapped’ up by Barcelona, to the extent of them putting a Barcelona shirt on him whilst still playing for Arsenal. He was not only a boyhood fan of Barcelona but was a production of their youth system. He was always going to go back to his child hood club, the club of his dreams, one day.

    All this severely undermined our position and consequently our bargaining power. Basically we were screwed.

    So apart from that one deal, a deal we were always destined to be undermined in, there is nothing to suggest this notion that we sell ‘poorly’ has any credibility at all, as our remarkable Nett expenditure bares testament to.

    As I say, I really don’t get you Arsenal fans who endlessly bend over backwards in order to criticize your own club.

  8. Rob 25, I fear you don’t quite get the point of comparisons. If the average daytime temperature where I live is 10 degrees that tells you the average temperature is 10 degrees. A nice simple fact. Only when we learn that the average daytime temperature in this county across the last 15 years was 4 degrees do we start getting a feeling of what is going on.
    You are right that knowing about Tottenham’s performance in the transfer market doesn’t change Arsenal’s. But knowing of other clubs dealings allows us to see how well or poorly Arsenal are doing in relation to what is possible.
    Arsenal have spent money and gone up two places in the league from last year’s finish. They might sound like failure – but when we see that other clubs have spent a lot and actually made no change to their position, or worse gone down, then we can get a better understanding of how well or poorly Arsenal have done.
    I know many people like to live in a world without comparisons being made, but as a result the meaningfulness of the data at their disposal is hugely reduced and their conclusions inevitably pointless.

  9. Tony I won’t resort to such a patronising tone as yourself.

    Besides the three names above you could add Sanchez, Ozil, Cole just off my head?
    Even if Arsenal had been league champions the last ten years and Tottenham had been relegated to the fourth tier, it would not change the fact that we have undersold our players in comparison to other teams.

    And just to be clear, before a long rambling list of players from the likes of players from Everton, Newcastle and the like appears on here? I mean top players like Torres, Coutiniho, Sterling, Suarez or even Maguire Sancho etc.
    All the Arsenal players mentioned were world class.

  10. Indeed Tony. Everything is relative. Everything has to be taken in context.

    A very simple for Example:

    A person runs the 100 Meters in 13 seconds.

    Is that fast or slow ?

    Maybe Rob25 can tell us as he seems able to make judgments in isolation?

    But of course he cant because the only way you can judge it is to have context. To be able to make comparisons:

    Was that person 11 years old ? In which case it’s quite fast.

    Was that person a 21 year old Olympian ? In which case it was slow.

    Was it run on sand ?

    Was it down hill with a following wind ?

    Without context or comparison 13 seconds means absolutely nothing.

    It seems that certain people have trouble seeing just how brilliantly Arsenal perform as a club, even in isolation, let alone when compared to abject failures such as Spurs.

    When people try to use Spurs as a bat with which to hit Arsenal you really do know they are beyond reasoning with.

  11. @Nitram, Those figures don’t seem to come from bleacher report as claimed. BR has Henry’s transfer fee to Barca as £16.1m. it also has Modric’s and Bale’s to Madrid as £35m and £86m respectively.
    Transfer market has both clubs biggest transfers as
    1. Bale €101m/ AOC -€38m
    2. Walker €52m/ Anelka €35m
    3. Berbatov €38m/ Alexis €34m
    4. Modric €35m/ Fabregas €34m
    5. Carrick €27m/ Rvp €30m
    6. Ericksen -€27m/ Iwobi €30m

    I think it’s quite obvious that Spurs have sold better than us. It would be quite difficult to spin it any other way, especially using figures like “Wenger’s net spend is XYZ” without providing a source. The CIES figures are also self evident. You may argue that we sold our bests when past their prime, maybe, but I think that judgement should be made the season before your sale and not in hindsight, else you would say lille sold Pepe when he was past his prime or Utd got Berbatov past his prime. So for me, a player’s valuation should be more about his previous seasons performances than age. And even if we were to make the call mainly based on age, we still have lots of great players that have left us young and for minimal fees like Coquelin, Fabregas, Nasri, Reyes, Gnabry, Eduardo, Gervinho, Clichy, Torreira, Joel Campbell, lassana Diarra. It’s funny that transfer market has Fabregas as leaving us for €34m, spending 3 or 4 (failed according to lots of gooners) years in Barca and then returning to Chelsea for €33m. We practically sold our best star at his prime for the same amount Barca sold him at an older age and as some would have said past his prime.
    IMHO, the reason why we have sold some of our best players so cheap or free(PEA, Sagna) has been the fact that other clubs picked on their discontent and we weren’t able to manage the situation. It’s not unusual for in form players to feel like they are now bigger than their clubs, but if you manage the situation right -like Liverpool did with Suarez or Athletico did with Griezmann, you might still earn big bucks from their sale. You can see that some of our biggest sales(AOC, Iwobi) have hardly involved our biggest stars who probably left in acrimony.

  12. Another thing that people say that isn’t based on evidence is that “Man utd got only one season out of RVP” as claimed by a poster earlier. RVP scored 26, 12,10 league goals in 3 seasons for man utd. His all competition totals were 30, 22,10. So let’s compare with his best seasons for arsenal : 30(37), 18(22), 11(11)… All figures from footystats. His final goals tallies for both clubs are 278games 132goals for arsenal, 105games 58goals for Man utd.(transfer market).. of course his solitary league title at Man utd. Now looking at these stats, I’d say if Man utd only got one season out of RVP, so did arsenal. However RVP got something in his solitary Man utd season

  13. What do you do when you have more money than you know what to do with? You spend it (or give it away). Often recklessly and foolishly. Others take advantage of you. But do you really care if your spending gets you what you want?
    Newcastle are about to spend like drunken sailors. Do Newcastle fans care? Probably not, because they know that if they throw enough money at the wall, enough of it will stick that they will be a top European side in 5-10 years, irrespective of all the other mistakes they make.

    Arsenal is not in Newcastles position. But as long as we can afford our net spend, other than hoping it brings trophies, should we really be too bothered one way or the other?

  14. Spending is a guaranteee of long term success. As long as your consistently spending substantially more than your rivals. In the big scheme of things, -there are 92 clubs in the league – the 8 clubs listed are all successful, ask any Hartlepool fan.
    If your rivals are spending as much as you or more, and the number of trophies to win is finite, then, not every big spending club will win trophies. But Hartlepool surely won’t win one.

  15. Glenn

    Where did I claim they all came from Bleacher ?

    I put Bleacher beside Modrics fee. That’s all.

    Most figures were from transfer league but I tried to confirm in other sauces and they do vary.

    But for example. You claim Carrick was sold for £27 Million. Transferleague says £18.6. As does Wiki which says:

    “Manchester United’s chief executive David Gill confirmed the transfer fee as £14 million, potentially rising to £18.6 million”.

    As does ManUtdweb.com: “Manchester United chief executive David Gill has defended the decision to spend 18.6million on Michael Carrick’s services”.

    How many more have added £10 Million to?

    And you have the liberty to question my figures.

    Even with your exaggerated figures, your list shows nothing exceptional in Spurs transfer dealings compared to ours, with the one possible exception of Gareth Bale. But that’s the only ‘Mega’ deal they had. And they sp***ed that money up the wall didn’t they. As they do all the money they get.

    I’m not going through it all again, but honestly the lengths you go to to try and cast your own team in a bad light, is unbelievable, especially when you are trying to compare us with Spurs. Even if they have done so much better in the transfer stakes, which they clearly haven’t no matter how you try to spin it (see we can all say that) as I intimated above, WTF have they done with all that money ? They certainly haven’t been winning trophies with it have they, which at the end of the day is whats important isn’t it ??

    AlI can say is they must make up for all that wonderful selling of players by being the worst buyers of players in the history of football. I mean something must be wrong. All those 100’s of millions of pounds for what ?

    2 League cups in 30 years for heavens sake

    On the other hand by your estimations we give all our best players away and somehow still managed to win 3 league titles, 9 FA Cups and 1 league cup as well as 9 community Shields for good measure. AND YOU STILL MOAN !!

    You say some of the most ridiculous things: “we have sold some of our best players so cheap or free (PEA, Sagna) has been the fact that other clubs picked on their discontent and we weren’t able to manage the situation”

    Discontent !!

    Arsenal, despite battling with the Oil Sponsored clubs are still one of the most successful clubs in English football.

    Why would our players be any more discontent than Spurs? As I say 2 LC’s in 30 years. No title for nearly 60 years. Or even Liverpool who went 12 years between 06 and 18 winning 1 FA Cup and 1 LC. None of their players ever got discontent at all then ?

    Maybe not, but then they never had their own fans constantly whinging like you, or booing their own players during a match, or a black scarf movement, or planes flown over their stadiums.

    Come to think of it, with fans like you I think I’d of wanted to get out.

  16. I’m sorry nitram I didn’t read all your stuff, I don’t think it’s necessary. Bleacher report has Modric’s fee as £35m. Besides it looks fraudulent to quote a source only for Modric’s fee, I suspect you’re trying to be clever here, it’s not a good thing to do. Also I didn’t make any personal claim about Carrick’s transfer fee. I quoted the figure posted on transfer market, a source I think many of us consider reputable

  17. @your last paragraph, well they did have fans like you and still wanted out. I think you spend too much time supporting on untold, maybe you could use that energy better at the Emirates

  18. Glen

    I used bleacher because it wasn’t a straight forward transfers regarding add ons and such.

    Why on earth would I need to try and be clever talking to you ?

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