Are Arsenal getting better or worse?

Arsenal to finish fourth and win the FA Cup? Maybe not this year then, so it’s Wenger out?

Financial fair play?

I look at many different aspects of football aside from the general market pricing. Being able to read a financial report, a club’s financials can be quite useful for predicting long-term performance. Clubs that carry a lot of debt expense will see their ability to finance the purchase of new players squeezed. Clubs that are flush with finance can spend their way to the top.

Financial fair play restrictions have curtailed really crazy spending. But speaking to a club chairman recently, seemingly in the wrong way! It seems that as it is related to the size of the club all the fair play restrictions will do is maintain the status quo. It’s unlikely any club outside of the top clubs will ever challenge under the rules.

Success is relative

One key factor surrounding success in the modern game is money, if you earn and spend it you can do better. Before FFP it was possible to catapult your way to the top. The best example being Man City who were nowhere near a top performer but now have the highest wage bill in the Premier League. Their status within the game is rising, but not quite where they should be in response to the massive spend.

The real devil in the detail is when you look at spend relative to each other, that reveals much more detail. Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd are trying to buy as much silverware as possible. In a constant battle to buy the best players they are pushing up their wage bill at a rate of knots and the top three places really should be between these three teams.

If you look at Arsenal they have generally been the 4th biggest spenders in the league over the sample we took and have averaged a finish place of 3rd, not exactly a disaster. If we glance one lower we can see Liverpool how have not had a spend near the big four. It seems they will need to invest a significant amount of money if they are to challenge for the title.

For comparison, the line on Spurs shows a steady and increasing spend but some way short of all the others mentioned so far. Their relative performance over that period has been steady but the appointment of ‘Poch’ seems to have got them to a higher level. They have fair exceeded expectations in the last couple of years.


At the bottom of the chart, you can see a line that no longer extends out to the right. The reason for this is relegation. Aston Villa spent less relative to the other clubs and couldn’t keep up with the relative growth, so the fell towards the bottom of the pile. A slight underperformance that season and you will be in trouble and that’s exactly how it played out.

Dropping from the premier league is a financial disaster for a club. The championship is super competitive, as the teams often overspend with the riches of the premier league beckoning on fiscal irresponsibility. Relegation is a major issue, even with parachute payments.

Hidden detail

The interesting thing about this data is that it contains hidden information. It’s not worth talking about it now, as it’s a start of season thing, but it does give you a clue as to where the outperformers will come from. It seems that incentives in the premier league often distort how clubs perform each season.

Bad Season?

So did Arsenal have a bad season? Within the natural variability of the league probably not. But with notable outperformance from Liverpool and their bitter rivals Spurs, that’s going to hurt.

Arsenal, relatively speaking, are performing better than ever before; just not relative to their peers. So my concluesion is that they had a good and bad season!

With Wenger’s contract up for renewal and their spend falling relative to other clubs, it would be a surprise if anything above fourth is achievable long term unless something changes. But you get that feeling that only change could create a step change at the club to move them to another level. But as the other clubs have shown, things don’t always work out the way you planned.


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