To give some spice to this blog, we at UFV sometimes delve into non-refereeing issues. Bottom-line; we are fans of the game and ultimately care more about the 22 players competing against each other, playing positive attractive football, and would rather the officials let them play and get out of the way.
Currently, one of the most interesting stories in the Premier League is the situation at Arsenal as they transition from arguably their greatest ever and longest serving manager, Arsene Wenger, to the new bloke, Unai Emery. The Gunners are now struggling to sustain a relatively good start under the new regime. A 22 game unbeaten run recently came to an end with defeat at Southampton. More ominously, five weeks ago they were cruising 8 points above Man United, but the Red Devils, under their new manager, are now surging and have obliterated the points difference between the clubs, only behind in league standing due to an inferior goal difference. With the classic new manager boost out of the way, reality is slowly but surely settling in on gooners.
Receding fast into the memory hole is the pre- and early-season happy talk of a brand new era.
- Big players with big reputations sidelined as the new manager claims tactical reasons will enable him to win games without the favorites of his predecessor.
- New defender and defensive midfielders signed early in the transfer window and bedded in pre-season to cure the defensive neglect of the past.
- New manager showing greater tactical flexibility making substitutions and changing shape at half-time rather than sticking to his game plan unlike the stubborn old boss.
There is a much longer list of clichés and hackneyed tributes to the new manager than I have bulleted. Then and now, they had nothing to do with cold, sober assessment of the challenges facing Emery but simply post hoc rationalization of the belief held by many that Wenger was past his sell-by date and change was needed.
Such thinking could survive so long as the 22 game unbeaten run was sustained despite evidence that performances did not match the hype. There was one spell where Aubameyang had a streak of seven goals from seven shots on target, an out of the world level of goal-scoring that was unsustainable and would inevitably return to the mean; i.e. his historical 20% conversion rate. But confirmation bias is a powerful, irrational part of the human psyche that often defies science, in this case the laws of probability.
Wrong diagnosis, wrong prescription
It is well known in medicine that making the wrong diagnosis will lead to prescribing the wrong medicine. The wrong medicine will often not cure the sickness but sometimes make it worse, sometimes leading to death. It is a truism applicable to football as it is to medical science.
Unfortunately there are many “quacks” inside and outside the Arsenal fanbase, who, contrary to the factual data, decided that Wenger was bad for the football club. The idea was popularized for years by many in mainstream and social media, that under his management the club was underperforming. For example, according to The Express:
“ARSENAL’s 1-0 Premier League defeat to West Ham shows Unai Emery is the new Arsene Wenger. A man powerless to prevent mediocrity.”
Apart from the odious comparison between Emery and Wenger, not the least being Emery has had less than six months on the job compared to 22 years to his predecessor, what is even more startling is the idea that Wenger represented mediocrity. He is unanimously acclaimed for his first 10 years (his three PL title, two doubles and an Invincible season), but the mainstream media and many so-called Arsenal bloggers, tweeters and podcasters have found it very profitable scaring fans with stories of mediocrity and decline under Wenger.
Wenger over par
Not surprisingly, the campaign to represent Wenger’s last 10 years as a period of mediocrity is not supported by the data. For purposes of this blog we focus on net transfer spend over the past ten years and compare it to average league position during the same period for the traditional top-6 teams.
|Club||Net Transfer||Avg In PL|
It is obvious from the table that Arsenal under Wenger Arsenal over-performed relative to net transfer expenditure, achieving an average of 4th in the league compared to being 5th in transfer spending. In comparison, Manchester United, who was Arsenal’s number one rival during Wenger’s first ten years, made three-times the net transfer expenditure of the Gunners but only averaged 3rd in league position. They fell to as low as 7th place in 2013-14. Given the amount of money they have spent, second only to Man City who have direct access to the oil wealth of the UAE, United has been the poster child of under-achievement and mediocrity.
Biggest underachiever, by the way, is that proverbial darling of the English press and the PGMOL, i.e. Liverpool FC, who despite being fourth in net spending averaged 6th position in the league over the past 10 years. Where were the headlines associating their previous managers such as Rafa Benitez, Kenny Daglish and Brendan Rogers with mediocrity.
Despite being the biggest net spenders by far, in this 10-year analysis Man City is not highlighted for one principal reason; their big outlays started in 07-08 with a net transfer spend of £(117.77) million, a time when they were 9th in the league. It took time for their massive spending to bear fruit, initially falling to 10th in 08-09 before finding their feet. A five year analysis up to 2018 gives a better idea of their improvement in league position relative to net transfer expenditure when compared to Arsenal and the rest of the top-6.
|Club||Net Transfer||Avg In PL|
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe and conclude from the data that the consistent and sustained spending by Man City, starting 10 years ago and continuing into the past five, has made them the most dominant club in the league, now averaging 2nd place. Nobody else comes close. To the contrary, while Man United is second in net spend, just £130 million less than their one-time little neighbor, they could only average 5th place in the league. Isn’t this the definition of mediocrity and under-achievement?
Wenger at and under par
In contrast, Arsenal, under Wenger, with a cumulative spend £280 million less than United, averaged 4th place in the league, one clear place higher. Again, Wenger did much better than the old rival despite far inferior resources.
Obviously the critics of Arsene Wenger, some well-meaning, will observe that in the past five years he had more money to spend than Chelsea so he should be better off than 4th. One wonders why these critics fail to point out that the Frenchman only had access to more money starting in 2014-15 and that it would take time for the results of such spending to bear fruit, in the same way it took City five years to become dominant. Surely it is illogical and unreasonable to expect Wenger and Arsenal to overcome in three years the cumulative impact of 10 years heavy spending by Abramovich, Chelsea’s owner, which was only exceeded by City and United.
Meanwhile one cannot dismiss that over the past five years both Liverpool and Tottenham had less spending than Arsenal. Gooners may not like it but the fact is in recent years, under Pochetinno’s leadership, they have improved their league position to the equivalent of Arsenal. Meanwhile Liverpool, despite the constant churn in management, maintain an inferior average league position to Arsenal. Yet Arsene Wenger was bad for Arsenal. Go figure.
If we consider the transfer spending vs league position as the equivalent of a health study, one wonders what kind of quackery could have convinced Arsenal fans that Arsene Wenger was a disease bad for the club. Is it any wonder Arsenal fans are confused at what is the remedy for the downturn they are now experiencing. Any surprise there is no agreement at what is the correct prescription?
Show your support by Liking this blog or leaving a Comment below.
Subscribe and receive this blog directly in your mailbox immediately after publication.
Follow us on Twitter at @unite4VAR.
Support UFV’s advocacy of fair and unbiased refereeing in the premier league.