Gazidis is wrong: Arsenal are the most inefficient spending club in the League

On October 26th The Guradian published an article titled “Ivan Gazidis heckled at Arsenal AGM as he defends club’s spending”. In which there was a rather long and precise quote given by Gazidis defending Arsenal’s transfer spend over the last three years and going even further back. The quote;

“There are many agendas at play and many stories during a transfer window – only a fraction of which are accurate. In that environment, it becomes very difficult to see clearly through the noise. Fortunately, there is one very accurate and objective way to assess how well and how consistently clubs perform in this area [transfers] over time.

This method is accurate enough to be the industry standard way to analyse the efficiency of spending of football clubs. It is very simply to compare team performance by a series of objective metrics, usually league position or points against expenditure on transfers.

No club has a perfect record every year under this scrutiny but Arsenal has probably been, of the big clubs certainly, the most consistently over-performing team over time. That is despite the criticism we get and the emotion here in the room and despite some very loud subjective narratives and a great deal of inaccurate information. In fact, on an objective basis, we perform very well and have over a long period of time.”

Immediately I thought “what are they smoking”? Because I know for a fact that Arsenal have spent more (net) on transfers over the last three years than both Chelsea and Tottenham. Using as my information source I compiled transfer spending among the top six clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man U, and Tottenham) going back to 2002.

So, the first thing you have to know is that Arsenal have spent (net) £224m on transfers over the last four seasons (from 2013/14 to 2016/17). I didn’t include this season’s transfer business because it hasn’t concluded and I expect at least one or two sales and purchases this January.

The top four spenders (in millions) over the last four years are:

Man City – £437
Man United – £372
Arsenal – £224
Liverpool – £97
Chelsea – £67
Tottenham – £5

And the points earned over the last four years are:

Chelsea – 312
Man City – 309
Arsenal – 300
Tottenham – 289
Liverpool – 282
Man United – 269

But Gazidis was very specific about this “objective metric” of points per transfer spend so, I did the maths (I divided points by spend) and the final column for the last four years looks like this:

Tottenham – 57.8 (points per million pounds spent on transfers)
Chelsea – 4.7
Liverpool – 2.9
Arsenal – 1.3
Man United – 0.72
Man City – 0.71

Using Gazidis’ own method Arsenal have really not been that efficient over the last four years. However, those four years have been an outlier in terms of transfer spending.

First, Chelsea have been extremely efficient in getting top dollar for their sales and this has allowed them to bankroll massive expenditures on new players without net spending hardly anything. Chelsea have also managed to stockpile players all over the world because of their massive spending in years before these last four.

Also, Arsenal are in a totally anomalous period. Arsenal’s net transfer spend from 2002 to 2017 is £226m. Their net spend over the last four years accounts for £224m of that! Arsenal went from a club which literally spent nothing on transfers to a club which spent £224m on transfers. It makes sense to me that Arsenal are not the most efficient team in that scenario.

If we look at complete net spend from 2002 to 2017 and divide it by the points earned then we find that Arsenal are in fact the most efficient transfer spend per points earned club.

Arsenal – 5.3
Tottenham – 4.4
Liverpool – 2.6
Chelsea – 1.7
United – 1.6
City – 0.9

If we are generous to Gazidis then we would say that he was probably thinking about Arsenal’s performance relative to transfer spend from 2002 (when Arsenal used to win the League) to the present. In which case he is right.

I also wanted to look at net spend spend. In other words how much the clubs spend on everything. Some of the clubs finances are straightforward – Arsenal’s are particularly easy to find – but Man United proved to be a bit of a problem when looking through the Companies House web site. So for these numbers the method I used was to gather the annual reports that the Guardian publishes on club’s finances. The Guardian gives turnover and profit or loss for each club from 2011 to 2016. Adding the turnover plus (or minus) loss (or profit) gave me a “total spend” number which should encompass all of the spending a club does – player acquisition, salaries, agents, coaches, staff, etc.

Dividing points by total spend gives us a much smaller number but over the last three years Tottenham still come out on top:

Tottenham – 0.479 (points earned per total pounds spent)
Liverpool – 0.259
Arsenal – 0.234
Chelsea – 0.216
City – 0.211
United – 0.160

I was unable to find these Guardian articles any further back than 2011 but I am confident that if we were able to piece together total spend from 2002 to present Arsenal would come out on top as the most efficient club in the Premier League.

If I’m generous to Gazidis I would say that he’s right: Arsenal are historically the most efficient team in the top six of the Premier League. However, he’s clearly wrong over the last four years no matter how we break it down, Arsenal have been inefficient with spend relative to points.

There are also a number of other problems with what Gazidis said. This first is that fans literally don’t give a fig about their club winning the “Net Spend Points Efficiency Trophy”. I’ve never met a single Man City supporter or United supporter who said “Man, I wish our club were more efficient with the money.” And never once has a Spurs supporter lorded their “fiscally conservative” approach over Arsenal.

The second is that Arsenal are highly inefficient in a lot of other ways. Take the expiring contracts of Alexis and Ozil. Those two players represent £75m of Arsenal’s £224m net spend – 33% of Arsenal’s spending. And that £75m is literally going to walk out the door for free. One of the things that makes Chelsea and Tottenham so efficient is that they don’t let valuable players run down their contracts and leave for a free.

But worse: not only is Arsenal going to lose £75m in players, but the replacement value for those two is absurd. One can only speculate but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that to buy similar players now would easily cost double what Arsenal originally paid for them.

This makes Arsenal’s final problem even bigger. Arsenal have managed to keep a large cash position at the club at exactly the same time when the value of cash is rapidly disintegrating and the value of players is rapidly rising. Using the annual reports filed with the Companies House I’ve discovered that Arsenal went from having £100m cash on hand in 2008 to £227m in 2016.

This cash in hand position that Arsenal have taken is literally the most inefficient thing that they could be doing. In the season that Arsene Wenger, Ivan gazidis, Chips Cheswick, and Stan and Josh Kroenke only bought Petr Cech, Arsenal had £228m in the bank. That season Arsenal would have won the League if they had bought a second striker, Lacazette for example. Maybe he would have cost a record £100m but Arsenal would have still had £128m leftover.

This cash in hand position that Arsenal have taken is the biggest shame and is the one thing that all fans should be united against. There is literally no reason for this club to be penny pinching on transfers. If you want Lemar, you go get Lemar. You pay over the odds and maybe even sell Alexis for less than you want in order to recoup some of that value.

You spend that money because that money in the bank isn’t making the squad better. That money in the bank is rapidly devaluing as player values are rapidly rising, thus reducing Arsenal’s ability to buy players in the future. Money in the bank isn’t making the fans happy. It isn’t helping Arsenal win trophies. It didn’t help to keep Alexis and Ozil happy. That cash doesn’t play good defense. That cash doesn’t score goals. And it sure isn’t making Arsenal more efficient. Arsenal’s massive cash on hand position is a disgrace.

And Ivan knows it. That cash in hand makes Arsenal the most inefficient club in the Premier League.


Sources: The Guardian,, my personal database


  1. Impressive work, crunching all the numbers hopefully, correctly (just stating the obvious as there may be subjective considerations and even possible errors).
    Maybe, we should have some perspective in giving consideration to the object of the article. As excerpts of Gazidis’ quote stated, “…No club has a perfect record… but Arsenal has probably been, of the big clubs certainly, the most consistently over-performing team over time”. Clearly, Gazidis has not placed a limit to his claim, by saying “over time”; again, he has not restricted his claim to one competition, so using the league points system to arrive at conclusions may not help.
    One critical consideration is the 3 FA cup trophies in the last 4 seasons. With the likes of Chelsea and United falling as low as 10th, 8th and 7th in the last 4 years, with Arsenal placing 3rd, 2nd and only recently, 5th, there may be some sense in his claims, if one looks at things without bias.

    1. Gazidis did mention the League position as another metric but again Arsenal aren’t efficient.

      In the last four years, Chelsea won the League twice, City once, and Arsenal finished below Leicester and in 5th place last season. Moreover, Arsenal refused to buy a striker in the season that we lost the League to Leicester. And Arsenal haven’t won the League since 2004.

      I think I gave Gazidis plenty of credit and objectivity.

      1. You did in the article, which is why the title is misleading. His being wrong or right depends on how you measure the claim.

          1. Ok, you poophead. You wrote: “If we are generous to Gazidis then we would say that he was probably thinking about Arsenal’s performance relative to transfer spend from 2002 (when Arsenal used to win the League) to the present. In which case he is right.” And he’s clear he’s talking about a time period longer than the last four/six years.

            Gazidis, I love you! Don’t listen to the haters! Call me, maybe!

  2. stats are what you make of them to prove….Time and again we have proven that there are bargains out there…

  3. 100% right to qualify your initial headline and give the club, and Arsene, some credit for their long term record.
    100% right too to say that it’s not really the point and to highlight the inefficiency (= managerial indecision) that has seen us haggle over pennies rather than act decisively to buy when needed or to sell when the alternative impacts the club’s ability to replace players (that said £40m for the Oxo cube was good business!).
    Again, as with our lack of midfield defense, I hope Arsene and the board are reading this blog and respond accordingly.

  4. Thanks for setting the record straight. You’re making a very important point here: “That money in the bank is rapidly devaluing as player values are rapidly rising, thus reducing Arsenal’s ability to buy players in the future.” The board mentioned Van Persie’s exit to justify the club’s decision to let Sanchez and Ozil run down their contracts. That was such poor spin from the board. The best scenario is to have your best players extend their contracts. The second best scenario is to sell your best players abroad so that they don’t hurt you in the Premier League (the Vieira, Henry and Fabregas cases). The third best scenario is to sell to a Premier League rival and re-invest the cash in the transfer market (the Van Persie case). And the fourth best scenario, or objectively worst scenario, is to let your best players join a Premier League rival for free (probably the Sanchez and Ozil cases) with no cash to re-invest. What the club is doing with Sanchez and Ozil is definitely worse than selling Van Persie to United.

      1. That’s why the board is spineless. Someone had to force the sale of Sanchez and Ozil while getting Lemar early in the summer. Would I trust Wenger and the board to rebuild the team next summer? Not at all.

        1. Nightmare scenario: they fire Wenger this summer (which I think is going to happen), lose Ozil, Alexis, Wilshere and Ramsey refuses to re-sign. They scramble around looking for a manager and settle on someone unknown. He’s given £150m to buy players. He can’t attract anyone and we pull an Everton – frantically buying players just to make the fans happy.

    1. Money in the bank, in a rapidly inflating market has been my bugbear for the past 2-3 yrs.

      There is no other market to hedge either. So, we are only losing it by not spending it.

      Unless of course the intention isn’t to invest in the squad but to take it out as bonus… consultation fees… etc!

  5. Excellent point regarding value of players vs value of money. Wage inflation means you are better off having your money invested in players, not in the bank. AOC is a prime example. Look what we sold *him* for relative to cost… Imagine what we could have sold Higuan for (after he helped us win a title a few years ago)!

  6. Why do rational people hold cash?
    1. Flexibility. If you think that there’s a talent bell curve even in the top league then keeping your powder dry allows you to make a big push for a truly special player. (Assuming the rumors were true) Our cash position allowed us to bid on Mbappe. Unfortunately our overall competitiveness made that a non-starter, but we had the cash.
    2. If you think we are in a bubble. Whether we are discussing the broadcast contract or the price of talent, prices seem to have disconnected themselves from fundamentals. If Wenger thinks that the current situation is ripe for a major correction then holding cash is a reasonable choice. Of course there’s the old adage, ‘The market can stay wrong longer than you can stay solvent.’

    1. Interesting points… with NBC putting most of the games behind a paywall, the bubble might burst sooner than expected. Though I, for one, would like to thank NBC for its blatant attempt at cash-grabbing. I found the inability to watch the match this weekend strangely… liberating.

    2. We knocked down a stadium that was over a century old, the spiritual home of our football club, so that we could compete with Europe’s best. That move seemed crazy to some at the time, but it was a forward-thinking decision that we had the confidence to take at a time when we were winning titles and competing strongly in the Champions League.

      Since Ashburton Grove opened, the fans of this club have been bled dry to fund Arsenal’s cash position. Those fans deserve better than corporate obfuscations about transfer market bubbles while rivals we should have left in the dust overtake us.

      And you touched on this point, but the fact is our recent lack of Premier League titles has eroded our desirability as a football project for the world’s best players. In amassing the wealth to bid for a guy like Mbappe, we’ve also become (surprise surprise) the club that has cash but can’t compete for the big titles which means those players end up elsewhere.

      How much is that going to cost in the longer term?

    3. Failing to spend the money when clearly needed and failing to buy players when the market was cheaper are two massive failures.

      Holding all that cash and not buying players has a massive knock-on effect:

      We are losing Alexis and Ozil because they refused to build a team that would win the League.
      We are going to pay MORE for lesser players (Lemar, 90m?)
      We dropped to 5th and the club loses money because of the lack of Champions League football.
      Failing to win a Premier League title makes the club less valuable.

      In every way, re-investing that money in players who make Arsenal competitive means making the club richer. Holding on to it in cash is a massive failure.

      During inflation you absolutely do NOT hold on to cash. You use that cash to buy valuable property. Such as top quality players.

      1. You’ll note I never said that holding cash was a good idea, much less the optimal course of action or one that had no downsides. My point was that there are rational reasons why one might choose to stay in cash.

        I agree, by the way, on your points about the costs of holding cash.

        I would submit that there’s a big difference between traditional inflation and asset price inflation, i.e., a bubble. Traditional inflation*, whether driven by rising input costs or rising organic demand, does favor investment rather than holding cash. Asset price inflation, particularly when it metastasizes into a bubble, is typically driven by leverage and money supply, can be a good time to hold onto cash or buy non-inflated assets. As I said before, the market can stay wrong longer than you can stay solvent. Lots of people saw the dot com bubble for what it was, most of them lost money by betting against it too early. Many people saw the housing crisis** coming, but the prevailing view was that “as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”*** To be clear, one can buy into a bubble, lots of people do, often with the intention of being the first one out the door when things go south, many end up crushed in the stampede for the exits. It helps when, like the big banks, you have a rich uncle who can bail you out. ****

        Arsene is not stupid. He is trained as an economist. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought that sports, and football in particular, were in an asset bubble. I would have loved to be at the AGM so that I could ask him what would happen to AFC if the next TV deal were cut by 50%. My guess is he would smile that wry smile and say, “We have examined that possibility, zee consequences would be severe, but the club would survive.”

        *Yeah, I’m aware of Milton Friedman and no, I’m not going down the Keynesian vs Monetarist rabbit hole.
        **perhaps better called the synthetic derivatives bubble and no I’m not going down that rabbit hole either.
        ***Chuck Prince, CEO Citibank in FT 2007. One year before the crash.
        ****Or alternatively, a criminal co-conspirator who can help you lay the losses off on the public while disguising the costs.

  7. What they should really do with the cash is buy a team in France (Nancy?) and have Arsene run it as a feeder club.

  8. Just here to inject some objectivity. Your article is great mate, as always, and meticulously researched. It is ironic, though, that it comes 2 days after the man of the match/game-changer was Kolasinac – A player who Arsenal got a on free and who was in the Bundesliga Team of the season – quite a coup, credit where credit is due. At a time when some clubs are spending £50 million PER full-back/wing-back, our full-backs/wing-backs cost nothing and can hold their own against any in the league. This is why we have so much money in the bank.
    Point 2. The loss of Mr Ozil and Sanchez does not represent the great financial loss to the club that it is being made out to. Let me explain. Even if Ozil and Sanchez stayed at the club, as Arsenal want, they are not going to play forever. At some point in the next 2 to 3 years they would have to replace them. They are both 29/28. Now at that time, players of that ability will easily cost in excess of £150 million. So they can either make them play out the last year of their contracts and replace them them at cost of around may be £70 million each OR pay them £300K/wk for five years (+give them a say in who the club buys) while replacing them in two years when their considerable powers are starting to fail, at cost of £150 million each. Elite players leaving on free happens. How much did Bayern pay Dortmund for Lewandowski….?

    1. I understand the need to inject objectivity, but the comparison to Man City’s spend on Mendy and Walker doesn’t really work. For one, Man City are clearly an outlier – “clubs” aren’t spending 50 million on full-backs, only Man City are. Secondly, Bellerin and Kolasinac are not the final additions to a near-complete team. We still have a fundamentally weak spine even with our first choice XI on the pitch.

      We have so much money in the bank because our self-sustaining policy has taken priority over everything, including having a squad ready to compete in the league/Champions League. It’s why we’re now playing football on Thursday nights.

    2. Failing to spend the money when clearly needed and failing to buy players when the market was cheaper are two massive failures.

      Holding all that cash and not buying players has a massive knock-on effect:

      We are losing Alexis and Ozil because they refused to build a team that would win the League.
      We are going to pay MORE for lesser players (Lemar, 90m?)
      We dropped to 5th and the club loses money because of the lack of Champions League football.
      Failing to win a Premier League title makes the club less valuable.

      In every way, re-investing that money in players who make Arsenal competitive means making the club richer. Holding on to it in cash is a massive failure.

    3. Ironic you would bring up the Lewandowski move to Bayern on a free which by all accounts was a major Borusia Dortmund fu#k up. From low balling the player all along the way , through misleading, and ultimately to failing to sell him at the right moment when he had made it obvious he wouldn’t stay.

      In any case, losing your top two players and arguably the only world class footballers in your squad on a free , and painting the situation as anything other than mismanagement of resources requires some doing.

  9. Holding onto cash when valuations are skyrocketing and inflation rates are relatively low is not a bad strategy per se (it works in the stock market) but the market for football has become more short-term and a few things are working against us:

    1. The real value of our cash took a nosedive after Brexit.
    2. There is no end in sight when it comes to lofty player valuations
    3. Our brand value takes a hit the longer we go on without competing for the title and our next commercial deals won’t be anywhere as lucrative as United, Chelsea or City’s
    4. Similar to our depreciating band value, our “image” i.e. the way other players view us, also takes a hit which makes it harder for us to recruit quality players as soon as there is a competing bid for them.

    My personal take on IG’s interview is that it was a spin like almost everything else that comes out of his mouth. Since when is losing your two best players, on a free, to your rivals, “efficient” in any shape or form? I don’t need any numbers to tell me that.

    Kolasinac, Lacazette and Ox were all good business but there is also the business we didn’t take care of. And this is what has defined Arsenal in the last decade. We do just enough to keep us in the game but never enough to win it. The cycle of mediocrity, led by Wenger and Gazidis, continues. Wenger deals it, Gazidis spins it and the fans buy it.

  10. If we were not prepared to spend money we should have at least been aggressive in recruiting young talents.

    Ousmane/Moussa Dembele, Mbappe, Jesus, Alli, Pulisic, Lemar?, Sane, Asensio etc are the future stars of the game and we have no one on that level meaning we would have to spend close to £100m? to get one of them now.

    The lack of a strategy at Arsenal is going to see the club implode in a few seasons.

    1. even if we have all of them they will go elsewhere as long ask the team is not balanced or strong to compete for major trophies
      they don’t just get it right

  11. Sadly, I doubt anything will change.

    Wenger is happy not to spend the cash which is not available to him in the first place. If we think changing Wenger is the panacea to our problems, we are sadly mistaken. If an ambitious new manager wants to challenge the status quo, the rebellion will be shot down by Stan Kronke.

    Put it this way, the cash on hand did not accumulate by accident. It was a decision and we know who calls the shots. Wenger, Ivan and Keswick merely delivered on that decision.

    Looking at this season, we were once more 1 player shot of a title shot. If we had gotten that 1 mid who is assured in possession, we would have put up more of a fight I think.

    But the club made it a point to brief BBC that after Lacazette, we are out of cash. Depsite, the cash mountain in the bank.

    And oh, Spurs is outperforming, but that is seriously not sustainable in the long run.

  12. Tim – you shouldn’t be using transfermarkt for transfer spending. Figures for transfer spending will be right in the financials on a per annum basis – it will be the net of “impairment of player registration”, “amortisation of player registration”, and “profit on disposal of player registrations”. Aside from being likely much more accurate (would be interesting to see how on the money transfermarkt is), this also has the benefit of accounting for spend on players in the manner in which football clubs look at the spend – ie spread over the length of a contract. This will smooth player expenditure somewhat (though conversely it will increase the volatility of income from player sales, profits from which I imagine are all recognised up front). Not sure how contract renewals/ upfront re-signing bonuses factor in this – possibly they get expensed to wages rather than registrations. I did once meet the head of the Arsenal audit team at a works do about 10 years ago but sadly neglected to ask him about these technicalities.

    1. I agree. However, some clubs (man u) like to hide their business practices in multiple organizations and finding out where they are putting player amortization was a pain. Furthermore, I’m not a paid researcher and don’t have time to compile such data. And finally, I think what I’ve provided is at least as accurate, if not more accurate, than 99% of the newspaper articles you’ll ever read about football.


  13. Rarely do you get to read an article which completly confirms that statistics are meaningless (when wtitten by a statastition), but you have successfully proven and debunked your own message on several occaisions,
    Your conclusion is what??? maybe we are and maybe we’re not !!!!

  14. 1 statement: I love this blog!!! Mandatory reading for the Arsenal board members.
    1 question: how many of those u17 English players play for Arsenal?

    1. At least one (Emile Smith-Rowe), but I’d have to look through the squad list for others.

      Or not: Arsenal’s congratulatory tweet only mentioned young Emile.

  15. Come for the football, stay for the Lit. Crit. and Economic Theory debates… this place just makes my day.

  16. Instead of sitting on all that cash, Arsenal should have bought some Bitcoin and Ethereum a year ago 😉

  17. thank you Bro Tim
    one thing I strongly believe is that the revolution arsenal FC needs will come in no distant time
    hands must change

  18. Ivan obviously told the boys and girls in the back room, “get me some data that shows that we are doing well in transfer spending compared to our contemporaries”. That data is meaningless to the Arsenal fan as you pointed out because it is a false narrative. Efficient spending (who gives a fig about) has just not equated to on the field success for Arsenal. We are not BVD, RB Leipzig, Atletico Madrid or Valencia in terms of having success with low budget teams.
    The arrogance and hubris of putting forth such an irrelevant stat further shows that it is time for an out of touch board to depart.

  19. I wonder how much the club has lost in merchandise sales with the inability to challenge for the Premiership title in the last 5 years or so? They can’t be getting many new fans.

  20. Tottenham – 57.8 points per million £ spent?!
    5.78 seems much more realistic, guessing that is a typo?

  21. Scratch that, my mistake. Tottenham’s net spend over the past four seasons have been £5m. £5m. £5m NET SPEND over FOUR YEARS!

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