Arsenal Are Overachieving, And That’s Exactly Their Problem

Another season is coming down the home stretch, and once again Arsenal are overachieving.

Yes, Arsenal are overachieving.

The Gunners are gunning for the Champions League places with a puncher’s chance at third, and a realistic shot at fourth. Arsenal are favorites to play in Europe’s top club competition for the 17th straight year, a streak only eclipsed in English football by Manchester United.

Sure, Arsene Wenger’s side will go an eighth straight year without adding to the trophy cabinet at the Emirates courtesy of a gallant failure in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, a thoroughly embarrassing exit from the ugly step-child of cup competitions (the aptly named Capital One Cup), and a poor defeat in the FA Cup (0-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers).

But can Arsenal really expect to win trophies anymore? The fact that Wenger simply has his team in line for the jackpot that is the Champions League for another season suggests that Arsenal may be the biggest overachievers ever in the Premier League.

Out of all the clubs in the top flight this season, over the last five years, Arsenal has the lowest net expenditure in the transfer market. Arsenal have a net transfer market tab of +£36,700,000. That puts the Gunners in 20th place for net money spent. They’ve been long relegated in the money race.

Sure, Arsenal have spent quite a bit of money over the last five years, but the money going out to buy new players is nowhere near the amount of money their rivals are spending. Arsenal have spent less than Manchester City and United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and even Aston Villa, while Sunderland are trailing closely behind.

But Arsenal are a selling club. The numbers prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. Wenger has sold players over the last five years to the tune of £182,400,000. Most, if not all, of Arsenal’s true big-name players have skipped out the door, a fact underlined by the startling truth that Arsenal have had a different captain each of the last three years, and will probably have a new skipper next year as well.

So sitting in third place, Arsenal are massively overachieving. And that’s exactly the problem.

None of what I’ve just written is hyperbole. Arsene Wenger has again got his team clicking at the right time. Arsenal are hitting their groove when it matters most, and Wenger has cajoled the most out of a team of players that would look more at home in the Europa League. He has managed to keep the club afloat even after selling stars like Fabregas and legends like Van Persie, year after year after year. That’s impressive.

But since when have the standards been so dramatically lowered that Arsenal are overachieving in third place? Overachieving in a season when they’ve been embarrassed time after time in cup competitions? A season where one of the world’s most storied clubs are 21 points off the league lead? Since when are Arsenal a selling club?

Understanding that Arsenal are outperforming their ability this season should give you a good idea of how far the club has fallen. The Gunners are in a sad state of decline. The club’s competitiveness has been rotting away ever since the Invincibles season in 2003-2004. Apathy has set in. Fourth place has become good enough.

Patrick Vieira has turned into Mikel Arteta. Thierry Henry turned into Olivier Giroud. Jens Lehmann is Lukas Fabianski. The club has gone from demanding and getting great, to asking for and often receiving good. How did the decline occur?

It would be easy to say Arsenal got complacent after they went undefeated in the Premier League in ’03-’04. To some extent, Wenger let the “Le Professor” talk go to his head. Arsenal got cocky. And 2004 was a bad time to get cocky. Manchester United were resurging, Chelsea and big money were bursting onto the scene, and Liverpool, under Steven Gerrard and Rafael Benitez, were making a comeback as well.

Wenger started selling players, thinking he could build his team from the ground up, coax young players into playing the beautiful game, while opening up a beautiful new stadium. He thought he, not his world-class team, was the most important part of Arsenal’s success.

At the time, his argument carried weight. The Emirates Arsenal were young, they played pretty, and Wenger said they only needed time. But when the kids grew up, they were sold. And once you’re a selling club, it’s hard to break out of being a selling club.

In fact, we’ve known that Wenger’s way hasn’t worked for half a decade. But Arsenal won’t fire him. And why should they? Wenger is still a top coach in terms of performing on the field, and he’s getting the best out of the team he has assembled. Problem is, he’s assembled a mediocre team, a team that looks worse than the previous year’s mediocre team, just as he has done for the better part of a decade.

While Chelsea’s way of doing business – sacking managers every half season – is inhumane, grotesque, stupefying, and often plain stupid, it keeps people well aware of the club’s expectations. Excellence, nothing less.

Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern — all of the top clubs all follow the same principle. They have no patience. Win, maintain and exceed the club’s high demands, and you may just keep your job.

Arsenal are like an old amusement park that had its heyday in the 1960’s, and has been slowly breaking down ever since, but isn’t willing to renovate for fear of losing the park’s old charm.

So the question to Arsenal fans is, is it acceptable to finish fourth every year? Acceptable to make a late season surge, but never gain silverware? Acceptable to sell the club’s best players? Wenger doesn’t need to be fired, he’s been to the mountain top, and he can find it again. He just needs a GPS.

The club needs to completely rethink its strategy, methods and expectations. They have a long way back to the top of English football. Arsenal are overachieving right now. And with the season they are having, that should never be good enough.

21 thoughts on “Arsenal Are Overachieving, And That’s Exactly Their Problem”

  1. Arsenal are not overachieving. They may not have won any trophies for a long time but with the talent of their squad they should be right where they are, in the mix for a top 4 spot.

  2. thank you for this amazing post, you pointed at the main problem and you are the first person to write a post worth spending time in reading it.

  3. what a waste of 3 minutes! 4rm d title, i thought u’ld write something dat makes sense, but all u just did was bash d team… If u’ld critisise,make it constructive..

  4. AFC used to compete for the league crown and FA cup now they hope to get a CL berth.not sure what it means but standards have been lowered.

  5. Surprised at your abject blindness to the financial picture that Wenger has been handling. The opening of a new stadium within a club that believes in fiscal responsibility has meant that we’ve indeed been selling players and working with what we have to maintain our position. The reality that you so gleefully overlook is that the stadium is nearly paid down, and the financial handcuffs that have been in place as a result of that massive debt are nearly off. To not sit back and understand this, and then respectfully appreciate the decisions that have been made, is childish. I kept waiting for you to address the troubles others have had with debt and new stadiums, but you never got to it. As a lifelong Gooner I’m looking very much forward to the future with a fiscally responsible club who have played their way through purchasing a brand new stadium and avoided the rot that usually befouls those happy with loads of debt.

    I knew there was a reason I pulled this site from my RSS feed…

    1. Thank-you. I can’t believe the author didn’t mention the move at all. Even though there is no trophy for the books, but I am proud of the way Arsenal operate.

    2. Wenger is supposedly there to coach players not build stadiums.
      He has sold players and not replaced them with the proceeds.
      If the board curtailed his spending then he should have made a stand, do you think Arsenal fans wouldn’t have supported him in the pursuit of a bigger transfer budget?
      If he was trying to prove how smart he was and show that he could ‘grow’ a world class team it hasn’t worked.
      Wenger is at fault for a lot of what has happened to the club, being a good manager is about controlling people on and off the pitch.
      Wenger doesn’t have great people skills, how many players have left UTD over the past 10yrs that they didn’t want to leave? One!
      Wenger should have kept players but didn’t, his fault.

      1. I agree, but Wenger has worked w/ what he was given, and while I think he’s a stubborn, tight pursed manager, he is a motivator. and can get the best out of any player, er most…but he’s good in a pinch. I just think he’s past his sell by date, stuck in the early 00’s when he was still a revolutionary.

    3. Exactly what the author was talking about. Apathy. Arsenal fanboys now have to make excuses for their club’s lack of performance. Sad.

      1. Go roll around in your mountains of debt with trophies on top of them – your input here was really nothing but trollbait.

  6. I’m not sure if they’ve overachieved that much. Chelsea should probably be in front of them, but I’m not sure who else in the EPL I’d say has better talent.

    I do think you’re diagnosing the problem correctly though. It takes ELITE talent to win the EPL. I think Wenger’s trading philosophy would work a lot better in a lower league where there are so many players at certain ability levels that you can mix and match them to make a team. It’s like playing FIFA when you’re trying to build a team of player abilities around 70. There are TONS of players, so if someone offers you a huge fee for a player, you just sell them because you can buy another one easily. It’s a LOT harder at the more elite levels because there just aren’t that many players who are that good….and Madrid, Bayern, PSG, City, Man United, Chelsea, etc. are ALL trying to buy the same guys.

    1. Agreed. Arsenal are maybe 4 elite players away from being right in the mix. A top class keeper, a commanding centre half, a midfield general and a talisman up front. Buying potential does not cut it if that’s all you buy. Teams like Arsenal have to be interested in the big names if they are to compete with the others.

  7. When you go through this article, the line of reasoning is obvious, a childish mind devoid of intricate conceptual reasoning and representation of facts and ideas. From the word go, he is oblivious of what the club stands for, fiscal discipline and responsibility, living within your means and breaking even. Again, knowing that the writer is a Chelsea’s fan would help to appreciate his background, values and orientation. In Nigeria here, most of Chelsea fans are Okada (motorcycle ) riders who except few are considered mostly unruly with more often than not, tendency to antisocial behaviours. Therefore, the writer’s values would resemble that of the club he represents; Chelsea,noted for her high profligacy, reckless and arrogant trespass of fundamental human rights and flouting of every known decent business rules in the attempt to win trophies. Such a club with high level of indiscipline from owners to players cannot be used as a prototype of good football club and we do not expect anything better from her supporters. Arsenal is a club that does things right, working for her own success and not dependent on camouflaged rogues. Arsenal has history, ethics, good will and philosophy which clubs like Chelsea and City lacked.F

    1. And your reasoning is not childish? I know as a fact that many Arsenal fans in Nigeria are mostly touts and bandwagonners from the Henry days. Most of them have deserted the sinking ship today like rays.

    2. And your reasoning is not childish? I know as a fact that many Arsenal fans in Nigeria are mostly touts and bandwagonners from the Henry days. Most of them have deserted the sinking ship today like rats.

  8. When they built the ES,the intention was to challenge MU in terms of gate receipts.They have narrowed this gap significantly but the rf has managed to pull ahead in sponsorship deals because MU have been winning trophies regularly.
    To Wenger,getting 4th is a trophy.Well this coud be the season when the gunners fail to get cl soccer.If thathappens ,he better quit. Although he says he says he always honour his contract,dont be surprised he goes to PSG.
    Thanks to his project y and Barcelona type of soccer,the gunners have gone backwards the last 7 years.The name of the game is winning not weaving intricate patterns and making a thousand pass before shooting.
    You watch how AV destroyed Sunderland. Why can’t the gunners play direct and shoot long range instead of waiting for the perfect pass.
    If he doesn’t go especially if the gunners drop to 5th/6th,Arsenal will gi into terminal decline.

  9. The premise that Arsenal are overachieving is absolute madness. They are doing exactly what they should be doing with the 4th highest wage bill in the country and one of the best managers in football.

    Net transfer expenditure is not the end-all-be-all metric for financial clout or resources. Ridiculous argument.

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