I often see arguments like this on Twitter:
“Arsene Wenger has done brilliantly to keep up with clubs who spend much more than Arsenal.”
“What are you talking about? Our wage bill is massive. It’s nearly as big as Man Utd’s.”
“Yes, but not quite as big, so obviously they’re ahead of us.”
“They’re 20 points ahead of us, but their wage bill is only a few million higher.”
“Well it’s still bigger. And we are always ahead of the teams who have wage bills smaller than ours.”
“Our wage bill is double Everton’s and £50m a year more than Tottenham’s, but they’re right up with us.”
“Let’s see where we finish at the end of the season.”
Well the end of the season is nearly upon us. And at the moment we are struggling to achieve the top four position that we have come to know and love. Others have come and gone, but Arsenal have remained top four for a solid 16 years, something that has never before happened in Arsenal history. (Herbert Chapman might have done it of course, had he not inconveniently died; we’ll never know.)
One thing is sure: we are certainly nearer to a couple of teams with much smaller wage bills than ours than we are to Man Utd. But then neither Chelsea or Man City are very close to Man Utd either, and their wage bills are bigger. What does that tell us? Clearly that some managers perform better than others, and in the absence of a spending cap or the implementation of my brilliant idea to get all the managers randomly swapped around to different teams in the Premier League the day before the season starts, we can only measure manager performance on how many points they should be expected to get for their budget.
So here it is, helpfully presented by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, in his most recent ‘Fink Tank’ column. Well looky-here, that nice Mr Ferguson is top of the list, with a massive 16.8 points more than he should expect from his wage bill. I don’t like him, but you have to recognise and respect his level of success over so many years. (Remember when he said he was retiring about ten years ago? The lying toad.)
David Moyes and Andre Villas-Boas also do rather well, on relatively modest budgets, which shows that we should be a lot further ahead of them than we are.
The funniest statistic here is of course dear ‘Arry, bumbling along at the foot of the table, when on the wages he forks out his team should be 20 points better off. What’s that ‘Arry? It’s all nuffin to do with you? Of course not, you’re still available for that England job, aintcha? Heh heh.
Alan ‘eight-year contract’ Pardew is also failing miserably, while Brendan Rodgers isn’t doing too well either. Though he’s rebuilding, see? It’ll all work out for Liverpool soon, back to former glories. So they tell me. Though I’m not putting my house on it.
And of course right in the middle, with (prior to last weekend) 0.6 of a point fewer than you would expect given our wage bill, is Arsene Wenger. Currently he is not great, nor is he terrible. He has turned himself into an average manager.
Well I say that, but of course there are a few caveats: firstly this is wages only and takes no account of transfer spend, which in some clubs is massive. Very few spend a net figure smaller than Arsenal on transfers. Arsene supporters obviously point this out in his defence, and it’s valid – though transfers are never as good a guide to performance as wages.
Another point is that even the most die-hard Arsene fan has to admit that a fair proportion of Arsenal’s wage spend is on dross who don’t deserve it. If we could get rid of all the players who don’t actually play, then we could easily cut £20m a year off the wage bill. So on players actually playing Arsene is doing better. (Having said that: who bought the duds in the first place, and don’t all squads have some dead wood?)
Thirdly, with Arsene there is amazing consistency. And this really is amazing. You would expect at some point that Arsenal would have a really great season or a really terrible one, but we’ve had eight average ones in a row. Before that we were in a duopoly with Man Utd since the start of Wenger’s reign – we were second biggest spenders then, so sometimes outperformed by beating Man U, and sometimes stayed on par by being second. So you could say we were ‘average’ then as well, in a way, though average on a higher scale.
Since 2005 the story is much the same: Arsene has managed to remain on par or sometimes one place better, but as there are now more big spending teams than there used to be we’ve dropped a bit in the table. But other teams have a great season now and again, outperform expectations and wage bills, then the next year drop much lower. Since 2005 I think Liverpool have been as high as second and as low as seventh; so have Chelsea. Man City have risen in that time. Arsenal have let others rise and fall around them.
Sometimes one terrible season turns into several – Leeds were Champions League semi-finalists in Arsene’s reign; Newcaste played in the CL too. So it’s very easy to understate what Arsene has actually achieved with his consistency, it really isn’t as easy as some people make out, which is why I don’t bash AW as some do.
Having said that: can we have a trophy soon, please?
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