Arsenal: Serial Over-achievers Or Par For The Course
Muppet’s On A Mission sounds like a Jim Henson film but no, our resident Muppet got a bee in his bonnet and this is the outcome…
I recently had a Twitter debate with Tim Payton, spokesman for the Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST). I pointed out that despite our barren period, in my view Wenger had over-achieved over the last few years. Tim disagreed, believing Wenger has achieved par on the basis of net transfer spend and wage costs. The latter in his view was as crucial as the former. He passed me a link which demonstrated Arsenal were 17th in a points per £ spend in the last year on Premier League results.
So what is the truth; serial over-achievers or par for the course?
In order to fully assess performance, we must factor in our Champions League and cup performances. The difficulty is in calculating the extent of the achievement compared with the Premier League.
Premier League performance is easy to measure. If Arsenal finish the league with 80 points and the combined salary & transfer spend comes to £100m, then it cost £1.25 million per point. If Manchester United finish with 80 points and their combined salary & transfer spend comes to £200m, their cost is £2.5 million per point. Arsenal are more efficient in this instance.
The problem comes with determining metrics for cups. Adopting a points-based system with a weighting which reflected the relative importance of the cup competitions seems most equitable. The Champions League is of equal importance to the Premier League whilst the Europa League and FA Cup rank as half as important. This leaves the League Cup, worth half the points again.
For the Champions League, in order to achieve parity with the Premier League in terms of an achievement, I decided to allocate 90 points to the winner, on the basis that this is an approximate total which the Premier League champions will achieve. Each round from the 2nd stage is worth 20 further points, starting from the 2nd stage base of 10, with no points for failing at the group phase.
The table below outlines the scoring for each competition:
|Round||Champions League||Europa League / FA Cup||League Cup|
The Competition and period.
The teams selected for comparison were Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs. Apologies to fans of other Premier League clubs who are not included in this, particularly Everton who have done fantastically well on their budget. I had to limit the number of teams for comparison because of the sheer amount of number-crunching involved.
For two reasons the comparison period is the last six years. Firstly, it is the period during which Wenger has been heavily criticised for not winning a trophy. Secondly, it also fits quite nicely as I have 6 years worth of data.
The wages data comes from a website called Football Intelligence. They say their data source is company accounts.
The Net Transfer spend is from a German website called TransferMarkt. I do not believe this data source is company accounts so it may include details of other related transfer spending, such as agents fees.
On the other hand, because the data simply comprises of the net transfer dealings carried out by each club year on year, it is an accurate barometer of performance vs net transfer spend. This is useful because clubs have differing accounting periods, and sometimes carry over transfer deals to the next accounting period, which would distort any comparison.
The year on year data is now summarised further as follows:
|Club||Total Spend (£m)||Total Points||Spend Per Point (£m)||Expected Rank Per Spend||Actual Rank|
Interpretation of above:
Manchester United come out on top, not only with the number of points but their actual rank. Arsenal finish 3rd in the points table, narrowly above Liverpool. But we are 2nd in terms of our spend efficiency. Each point costing £0.88 million.
Chelsea and Manchester City are the least efficient despite the former’s trophy haul and because of the latter’s spending to excess.
If data is deemed to be accurate then Arsenal are overachieving based on their net spend.
The other conclusion is that the weighting system is fair. One could argue that a more meritorious weighting system should be used, for example like that in Grand Prix scoring, which is 25 points for a win, 18 for 2nd, etc. Where the reward is greater for actually coming 1st. This weighting system is based on more absolute figures, and not trophies.
If one is to look at the performance vs number of trophy count, the picture is bleak for Arsenal fans, as there are no trophies in the period 2006-2011.
|Club||Net Spend 2006-11 (£m)||No. of Trophies||Spend per Trophy (£m)|
On this metric, we have been outperformed by all of our main rivals.
The general conclusions is that we have just have been unlucky not to win a trophy. We know this from our 3 finals and the close finish in 2007-2008 in the Premier League. We have spent more than Spurs, yet they have won a trophy. On the points metrics, we have outperformed everybody apart from Manchester United, yet they have all won trophies.
Chelsea and Manchester United Dominance
Over a 6 year period, Chelsea have spent approx £524 million than Arsenal, equating to an incredible £87 million more per season. United have spent £245 million more, £40.8 million more per season. These two clubs have won 13 out of the 18 domestic trophies over this period.
This data hints that there is a strong correlation between expenditure and trophies but that conclusion is spurious if one examines the figures for City. Their expenditure has been carried out by different managers with different priorities. It emphasises the lack of quality in their playing staff as a base point, other clubs such as Arsenal, United and Chelsea had stronger starting points.
Silver Lining The Cloud?
The data indicates that Arsenal would gain a higher return if they invested more heavily in the playing squad, which in turn would lead to silverware. However there is a contradictory theory, supported by Tottenham whose sole trophy came from spending the least. Equally, City prove thus far that spending heavily does not necessarily yield a comparable trophy return.
It is hard to pigeonhole City’s spend. If it leads to a trophy-winning period, their investment seems sound. Anything less and the folly of their owners will be exposed.
There is little argument that Arsenal should have won a trophy by now based. Like City, the data can seem anomalous. However it is clear that Wenger has over-achieved in keeping the club in the top four thus far as opposed to achieving that which is expected.