Arsenal is running the smallest squad in the PL. Is that good or bad?




In our first article in this series we opened with an examination of the argument that having a small squad in the Premier League is not a clever idea since clubs need a lot of players to be able to maintain a high standard, and indeed to have cover in case anyone gets injured.

Then we moved on to look not just at the squad size across the league, but also the number of players actually used.   There we found that Arsenal had the smallest number of players of any Premier League squad, the lowest number of players used in PL games, the lowest average age of players in the squad, and the lowest average age of the starting XI.

Our conclusion was that by refusing to talk about the organisation and standards of refereeing (for example) or the issue of squad ages, costs and size, the media has removed from itself the major topics of debate.  Indeed, if they were also to recognise that smaller squads work better, they would be truly screwed when it comes to having something to write about all the way through the summer and January transfer windows.

Thus just as we don’t get the true story about referees and the way some favour the home team and others the away team, and how the same referee oversees matches of one or two teams over and over again, so we don’t get the real stories about squads, and ultimately transfers.

But as many people who work with groups will attest, it is much easier for a small group to bond together, than it is to achieve this with a larger group.  For as groups get larger they splinter into sub-groups and at this point rivalries and cliques can form.  Also at this point, one can get dominant personalities in each sub-group who become interested in developing their own position as leaders, and so further splits occur, which is not to the good of the whole organisation.  (If you want an explanation as to what was happening with Aubameyang at Arsenal, a book on the social psychology of small groups would make helpful reading).

Thus cutting the number of players can on occasion be a very positive move for the well-being of the whole group, and indeed this can be particularly helpful when the average age of the players is low, for young men working with a football club like Arsenal, and being paid significant amounts of money.  That leads to bravado and bravado is by no means what is always wanted on the pitch, where being part of the team and playing according to the tactics is much more critical.

The argument is simply that the balance between group unity and dominant personalities needs to be contained.  Both are easier to do with smaller numbers of players.

Another interesting factor is the difference between the market value of the squad and the position in the league.   Does the club with the highest market value of its players, automatically rise to the top?

In the table below we can see the relationship between the position the club holds in terms of the market value of its team, and its position in the league.  In the final column we take one position from another.  It’s a simple measurement, but it gives us an idea of whether having highly valued players really does make a difference.

A minus value in the “difference” column at the end means the club is lower in the league than we might expect it to be, based solely on the value of the squad.


club Total market value Market Value Pos League pos Difference
£937.17m 1 2 -1
£794.70m 2 7 -5
£718.65m 3 6 -3
£675.27m 4 5 -1
£591.57m 5 3 +2
£554.85m 6 1 +5
£468.54m 7 17 -10
£430.47m 8 20 -12
£389.25m 9 18 -9
£366.98m 10 16 -6
£325.67m 11 14 -3
£320.67m 12 11 +1
£255.24m 13 8 +5
£241.20m 14 15 -1
£237.42m 15 9 +6
£232.38m 16 19 -3
£218.57m 17 12 +5
£217.53m 18 4 +14
£199.80m 19 10 +9
£150.66m 20 13 +7


The biggest winners in terms of being higher up the league than we might expect looking at the market value of the players, are, in order, Brighton, Fulham, Bournemouth, Leeds, Southampton, Arsenal, and Brentford.

The biggest losers in terms of having highly valued players who are not delivering a high place in the league are, Leicester City, Aston Villa, West Ham, Everton and Liverpool.

So of the bigger teams, Arsenal seem thus far to have been the most cost-effective organisation in terms of putting together a squad. It all bodes rather well for the future, which is perhaps why the media ignores it.

And that also explains in part why every newspaper and major football website that we examined before the start of the season that was making a prediction as to where clubs would end up by next summer, predicted a top four of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, in that order.

I suggested at the time that the media were getting it completely wrong and that Arsenal would re-enter the top four.  Of course, I might still be proven wrong, but I rather suspect that those websites and newspapers will not be making much mention of the predictions they made before this season began.

And if that is so, then we, most certainly, will be mentioning our own prediction.

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