Six Years And Counting

Posted by Andre The Giant

On Sunday, Mo Farah, celebrity Arsenal fan and customised running show wearer, won a gold at the World Athletics Championship. After the Sun somehow linked his narrow loss in the 10,000m to Arsenal 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, the Radio 5 presenter quipped that Arsenal had finally won a trophy. Despite the utter stupidity that an Arsenal fan winning a sporting event somehow equated to Arsenal winning a trophy it still egged me up enough to curse loudly at the car radio. It has become the stock comment of the uneducated football commenter (sic).

“Oh, you support Arsenal do you? That must be annoying, they haven’t won anything for ages”

Unfortunately, it is an indefensible fact that Arsenal are the only team out of the current ‘top 6’ who have not won a major trophy since the 2004/05 season. But hold on a second. The FA Cup and League Cup have become second rate trophies in recent years so is it fair to include these in the list of major trophies? If you exclude them and consider only Premier League and Champions League trophies then only two English teams, Man Utd and Chelsea, have won a major trophy in the past six seasons. I was interested, therefore, to devise a more intelligent and sensible measure of how teams have performed since 2005 and also to relate this to the club’s available resources.

So we at COTA have devised a (hopefully) reasonably objective measure of performance summarised in the following tables. The tables show the league positioning for each team in the past 6 seasons then tallies trophy wins and allocates points to performances in the following manner:

Champions League or Premier League Title 10 points
FA Cup 5 points
League Cup 4 points
Champions League Qualification 3 points

I did consider including a differential between automatic qualification (top 3 in the league) and reaching the qualifying rounds (fourth) but as every team that has finished fourth has qualified for the final group stages I decided against it.

So here it is:

performance 1

performance 2

Clearly there are other appropriate methods that will throw up slightly different results but it seems a fair conclusion that Man Utd are far and away the most successful English team of the past 6 years with Chelsea following a fair way behind. Arsenal and Liverpool are pretty much on a par having underperformed relative to their previous accolades. Man City have made impressive headway in the past two seasons considering their fairly abject performances up to 2008-09 (but there’s an obvious reason for that, see later) and Tottenham are given far more credit than they deserve having achieved top 4 status only once in the period and a majority of their points coming from what was ultimately a reserve team cup competition.

This is all good and well. There’s nothing really to write home about as an Arsenal fan, other than the fact that it does seem unfair to be continually taunted with the ‘no trophies for 6 years’ when their overall performance has been relatively consistent over the period. To bring some more detail into the analysis we need to consider the resources available to each club. Only one team of the six (Arsenal, obviously) built a new £470m stadium, financed by a £260m bond issue (a first for a European football club). As much as every Arsenal fan wants Arsenal to spend big money on players, with this level of debt commitment and without an open pursed financier, it is simply not possible. That has been the cross that Arsene Wenger has had to bear pretty much single handidly over the period.

So here’s a summary of transfer spending courtesy of www.transferleague.co.uk. It’s not an exact science as it relies on the information that clubs chose to make public. It doesn’t include sell on fees, bonuses or any other special terms and also doesn’t consider a club’s wage bills (a player obtained on a free transfer could cost a club astronomical amounts of money over the period of their contract due to high wage demands). However, this is high level stuff and I don’t have the time to do that research myself so this is the best resource we’re going to get.

performance 3

How does this improve the picture? Man Utd, despite being helped by the sale of Christiano Ronaldo, have still performed incredibly well given their transfer budget. Ferguson’s ability to remain at the top of the game clearly shows him to be one of the greatest football managers of all time (I know he’s a red nosed, rambling tosser, but credit where it’s due).

Man City’s spending is just not funny. £343,000,000 in the last three seasons and God knows what in wage bills. If they don’t win everything very soon then it will be the most outrageously ill advised investment since the Titanic’s insurance underwriter said ‘no problems here’.

Chelsea, the original billionaire’s play thing, have continued to spend themselves into contention. Despite their managerial problems they still remain United’s most viable challengers.

Liverpool spent considerable in the first three years of the period and it nearly paid off in 2008-09. Since then the spending has dropped off and they have suffered as a result.

Tottenham are the only team of the six not to have made a transfer profit during the period. If you consider the kudos that Redknapp is given by the English press both for his transfer wheeling and dealing and their one season of Champions League football, their performances against spending is frankly astonishing. How the Tottenham board can allow him to continue with such a lack of success relative to his reckless spending is completely beyond me. Yet, do we ever hear anyone comment on their lack of league wins in the past 50 years? Do we heck!

Finally, Arsenal. Due to the constraints of the bond issue, the club has achieved a net profit of £24.5m in the six seasons since their last trophy win. Note that I have not included this season’s transfer activity so the figure does not include the net £17,500,000 profit as a result of the sales of Fabregas and Nasri. To put this in perspective this doesn’t only put them at the foot of the table in terms of spend of the six biggest clubs, it puts them at the bottom of the entire current premier league. Maintaining a top four position under these financial conditions is quite frankly a phenomenal achievement. Fans and media who do not recognise this are naïve. Questions about Arsene Wenger’s credentials are mere insults.

So there we have it. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in this analysis but it does put a bit more meat on the bones of the argument that, despite not winning anything in the last six years, Arsenal remain a successful football club. The results of the season will be incredibly interesting. If Arsenal achieve another top four placing then I hope they receive the credit they deserve instead of a chorus of “7 years without a trophy”.

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