The Lead

Slow football news day, which you can tell by the fact the Daily Mail has led with…well…whatever this is supposed to be, and that the BBC decided Alex McLeish’s opinion on something football related (in this case, that Gordon Strachan should be the next Scotland manager with Craig Levein gone) was worthy of a front page headline.

The only common thread seems to be a typical voyeurism with regard to Arsenal. Andre Santos apologized for his half-time attempted shirt-swap with Robin van Persie, and there is growing speculation that Theo Walcott’s “stomach virus” is related to his inability to reach a new deal with the club.

There is one piece that sticks out for me however, one written by the venerable Jonathan Wilson. Here’s his familiar prognosis for the “Arsenal problem”:

Nine points off the top of the table, after its worst ever start to a Premier League season, even the vaguest title aspiration has gone; Arsenal’s target is, once again, Champions League qualification. But the question really is what the board’s long-term target is. At the AGM last week, the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, refused to rule out the possibility of drawing a dividend. That, understandably, raised the thought that the board’s main aim is to achieve regular Champions League qualification as cheaply as possible, maximizing profits. Until 1998, that would have been against the Football Association’s Law 34, which required football club-companies to be run essentially as non-profit organizations, with their directors serving as ‘custodians’.

As it stands, it is entirely legal. But in sport, success is surely measured in glory and trophies, not sound fiscal governance and dividends.

In other words, Arsenal is being run as a corporation with fiscal responsibility to their shareholders, not as a club with responsibility to their fans. Implied of course as a given here is that Arsenal would win more if they spent more money in the transfer market.

In making his argument, Wilson refers to the work of Zach Slaton on linking transfer market expenditure to table finish, a metric I believe is valuable but can be subject to abuse when singled out as a determinant of final table position.

For example, Slaton’s transfer table for the 2011-2012 season had both Norwich and Swansea in 19th and 20th positions respectively. Their actual final table positions were 12 and 11th. Therefore Swansea and Norwich “over-performed” by nine and eight table positions.

It’s certainly possible their return was a “one off,” or that transfer expenditures are more important closer to the top of the table. But clearly, the clubs did something to compensate for their lack of heft in the transfer market that was as equally important as their transfer bill.

For example, it’s possible they purchased players with valuable skills not obviously reflected in their transfer market value. It’s equally possible the club managers were tactically adept at defeating ostensibly superior teams.

These kind of skills are not outliers in the game; they are as essential to winning as spending money on star players. And there’s a case to be made that the management at Arsenal is not up to the task in bridging the transfer gap with both market savvy player purchases and on-field tactics. Simply blaming Gazidis and Kroenke for not shelling out more on transfers isn’t good enough.

Still, with major stars leaving over the past few season, why didn’t Arsenal act quickly to replace them? Well, there is also solid evidence that new star signings don’t always immediately translate into Ws and trophies. For all of Manchester City’s transfer market heft, they have an FA Cup and a domestic title to their name. In return, the club last showed an operating loss of 195 million pounds.

All of this is to say, simply, that it may not all be down to the transfer bill. It may, in fact, have to do with bad transfer acquisitions (hey Santos!), and, I’m sorry to say, poor, unresponsive tactics on the part of the manager. The transfer bill is an easy target and certainly plays a role in Arsenal’s failure to win silverware in the last seven years, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

NB: An original version of this article made an erroneous reference to Arsenal’s yearly wage bill. The editor regrets the error.


Canadian Soccer Association to announce new technical director today.


Arsenal’s Andre Santos regrets half-time shirt swap with former teammate Robin van Persie.

Celebrating 26 years of Sir Alex Ferguson as United honour manager with a bronze statue.

Chamakh may leave Arsenal in January.

Mark Clattenburg won’t referee game again this weekend due to ongoing investigation.

Spain’s Juan Mata is EPL’s player of the month.

Ajax’s Ryan Babel says Man City’s squad has too many egos.


Hear Milan manager Allegri before the match against Malaga

La Liga

Ozil confident Madrid will defeat Dortmund today.

No surprise factor here, but Cristiano Ronaldo says if it were possible he’d vote for himself to win the Ballon d’Or.


Jose Mourinho says Dortmund could go all the way.

Schalke’s coach insists line-up changes against Arsenal “have nothing to do with defeat (against Hoffenheim).”

Bit and Bobs

Full match previews to today’s Champions League games.

Sid Lowe explains how Radamel Falcao earned his nickname ‘The Tiger’.

In case you missed Messi’s punch, here it is again.

Robert Treasure on dismissal of Scotland manager Craig Levein.