For the decade after Arsenal’s Invincibles Arsenal supporters were told “we don’t buy superstars, we make them.” This was the sales pitch for Arsenal’s seeming lack of activity in the transfer market. We might not get the big name transfer in but fans could hang their hat on the fact that their club weren’t like Chelsea or Man U, we didn’t just buy players.
In Wenger’s autobiography he broke the news (which wasn’t really news) that after Arsenal moved to the Emirates stadium Arsenal needed to sell players to break even. This had been apparent in the books and something that the peerless Swiss Ramble pointed out every year when he did his analysis of Arsenal’s finances.
From 2007 to 2012 Arsenal’s net transfer spend was -$59m. In other words, Arsenal generated $59m in profits from player sales. At that time, Arsenal’s biggest rivals for the top four were spending like crazy.
Net spend 2007-2012:
- Man City – $589m
- Chelsea – $311m
- Liverpool – $182m
- Man U – $160m
- Arsenal – (-$59m)
In 2013 the Premier League announced new foreign and domestic television broadcast deals, taking the TV total from $4.5bn to $7.2bn. And immediately the floodgates opened for Arsenal. There had been few changes at the club. Kroneke was still majority but not sole owner. The stadium hadn’t been refinanced. Arsenal hadn’t struck a deal with Deutsche Bank. All the clubs were just awash with new money and Arsenal decided to spend. That summer Arsenal signed Mesut Özil for a record fee but unfortunately everyone was spending.
Net spend 2013-2016:
- Man City – $547m
- Man U – $459m
- Arsenal – $280m
- Liverpool – $119m
- Chelsea – $87m
Chelsea’s net spend is a bit low here and we’ll get into that in a second.
But after that glut of spending the TV deals went buck wild again, jumping to $11bn in 2017 and then $12.5bn in 2019, which is where we find ourselves now. And since then Arsenal have joined the mega-elite clubs in net spend:
Net spend 2017-2020:
- Man U – $297m
- Arsenal – $269m
- Man City – $232m
- Chelsea – $222m
- Liverpool – $191m
Kroenke’s Arsenal are spending money in the transfer market and have been fairly liberal with transfer spend since 2013 and especially since 2018 after he took full control of the club.
The historical view that Arsenal don’t “spend some mucking funny” is still somewhat true:
However, when we look at the last four years, the club are spending in the transfer market:
But net spend doesn’t tell the whole story. I have included both the purchases and sales figures in the above chart. Arsenal’s purchases since 2017 total more than all but the few big-spending clubs (Man U, Man City, and Chelsea) but despite spending nearly a billion dollars on new players since 2017, Chelsea’s net spend ($295m) is closer to Arsenal’s ($263m) than Man U ($465m). This is entirely down to their incredible player sales scheme. They have sold more in player value ($544m) than even the much lauded Liverpool ($314m). Most of their player sales aren’t to China, but instead to the Spanish market where they have made a killing on Hazard, Courtois, and Costa and have even mostly recouped their initial outlay for Morata ($20m loan + 38m transfer).
And Chelsea don’t seem to be ready to stop with this model: Fikayo Tomori was just sold to AC Milan for $32m. The Chelsea plan to buy and loan hundreds of players before selling them off for a profit, along with excellent recruitment, and the ability to offer top wages along with almost guaranteed trophies, has proven to be quite successful. They seem to have grown from a club which require a sugar-daddy owner to a mature football club which mostly uses business smarts to build title-winning sides.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are spending the money. The problem isn’t money spent, but rather who the money has been spent on and Arsenal’s inability to sell these players when they no longer want them. Since 2016 Arsenal have purchased the following players which they either can’t/couldn’t sell and let go for free or seem to keep loaning the player out:
- Mustafi – $45m (left on a free)
- Torreira – $32m (loans)
- Guendouzi – $9m (loans)
- Sokratis – $18m (left on a free)
- Saliba – $33m (loans)
- David Luiz – $10m (left on a free)
That’s not even getting into the problem Arsenal had with salaries: paying obscene fees for Özil, Kolasinac, Lich, David Luiz, and Willian.
Kroenke can’t be accused of “not spending the money”. Arsenal are finally spending the money that they make off the fans. The problem is that they are spending money poorly.