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Wenger: Panic Buys and Historical Truths in the Transfer Market

I went to the website Transfer League to look at Arsene Wenger’s recent transfers. I was looking for a pattern for this oft-cited project. But you can’t find significant patterns on just dates and prices. And overall, it’s not that important. Yes, Wenger has been very effective and prosperous by spending a mere 11 million net in his 15 years at Arsenal (and that’s without amortization). But that is not the narrative I was looking for.

It took birth dates and age at purchase to provide the patterns I was seeking, and then I needed to expand it to his full time at Arsenal. If you start to look at Wenger’s purchasing history, there is a very different story to the one we hear about his genius at purchasing youth. It turns out that he is far from a genius and is rather pedestrian at scouting teenagers. But once a player hits 20, Wenger becomes the best assessor of talent on the planet. Unlike a Ferguson, Schaaf and Moyes (contemporaries by duration) who all buy duds on occasion of all ages, Wenger rarely buys a dud with players aged 20-26.

Going through the list of his nearly 100 players bought during the course of his tenure, his best purchases have been in the 20-23 range, rather than teenagers. His record is poor for U21’s and U17’s. After age 26, Wenger has almost no concern with players other than goalkeepers and his few buys have rarely produced quality. Comparing this history with the past window, he took too many chances: two 19 year old kids, an 18 year old, 3 players over 27, two that are 26 and one player that is guaranteed to be a success in Gervinho. More on that statement in a moment. One guarantee and eight purchases in areas where historically he hasn’t been strong. That could be a very bad portent to Arsenal’s season. But not their supporters who demanded this. But patterns are often overlooked.

For this exercise, I have broke down his purchases into U17’s, U21’s, U23’s and then added 26 as further line of demarcation.

Arsenal U17’s

Let’s start with the kids. First the Academy. Now Arsenal use a very liberal interpretation of graduating from their academy. But it’s just PR. Cesc Fabregas was a product of La Mesia, not Arsenal. The academy has actually produced less talent for the senior side than is sold to the public. Most of their graduates are transfers from other academies, such as Bendtner or Djourou. But that doesn’t mean the system doesn’t produce. Since Wenger took over, Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Frimpong and Wojciech Szczęsny are the main graduates to help the first team. That’s not bad for a team of Arsenal’s size (massive sides tend to produce less players for their first team). It dwarfs London neighbors Tottenham and Chelsea. And many graduates have went on to contribute to other clubs, such as David Bentley and Fabrice Muamba. Overall, not on the level of Barcelona or even Manchester City pre-Mansour, but nothing to be ashamed of and nothing that needs padding.

But there is the issue of the U17’s that were bought and then used as academy graduates. Looking at Wenger’s record with U17 purchases, he has a fairly poor record. But, to his credit, he has also shown restraint. Understanding that they aren’t physically developed, Wenger has only signed 14 players in his time at such a young age, relying more heavily on the academy as mentioned above. Obviously we focus on Cesc Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott; however, the other 11 have been a mixed bag. Obviously Galli can’t be judged due to his untimely death. But Canoville, Traore, Merida, Quincy, Vela and Barazite never lived up to their potential. Djourou and Jermaine Pennant are decent players, but not great and Ebecillo and Freeman are still being evaluated. So three out of 14 isn’t as good as one would be led to believe.

Arsenal U19’s

If we look at the U19’s, those signed between the 17th and 19th birthdays, we would expect him to shine. They are closer to adult development and so many greats get started at this age. And we have been constantly reminded of Wenger’s genius at spotting young talent. The truth is that Wenger has had an even worse record here, as he has had just three good signings in this age bracket, but he brought through many more players than the U17’s. Nicolas Anelka, Gael Clichy and Song are the best of this bunch, which actually doesn’t sound very impressive. It also includes Matthew Upson, Guy Demel, Boa Morte, Diaby, Senderos and Bendtner, who are all average footballers. None made the team better nor Wenger much money. The rest, other than Miyachi and Galindo, who are still in evaluation, are a list of people few have ever heard of, except Francis Jeffers, who is best known for his failure. There are 11 players on that list who are nobodies. So here, three out of 22 is rather dire.

Arsenal U21-23’s

But that’s where it ends. Because once a player hits the 20-23 range, Wenger is amazing at getting value and talent in the market. While he has had some failures, like Bischoff or Daniilevicius, they are rare. He has had maybe six bad signings in his 15 years (not including the current campaign). Along with the two mentioned, there is Tavlardis, Wright, Diawara and Mendez. He signed Lassana Diarra, who is terrific, but left soon after joining because of another person in this age range: Matthieu Flamini. Eduardo and Reyes are very good players, but didn’t fulfill their potential in North London due to circumstances (the horrific injury to the Croatian and the home sickness of the Spaniard). Christopher Wreh was a serviceable player and Fabianski may still come good as a keeper. These are the neutral buys and they are fairly impressive. So let’s look at the list of good (and calling it good is slightly offensive as it is top-heavy with world class players) signings in this age range.

Vermaelen, Nasri, Adebayor, Flamini, van Persie, Toure, Edu, Henry, Kanu*, Lauren, Ljungberg, Viera and Overmars. Wow! Notice how many of the invincibles are in that list. It includes five of the starting XI and two important squad players. Here, Wenger can rest on his laurels if he wishes. His record is that impeccable. And for the count that is 16 out of 24.

Arsenal U26’s

But the 24-26 range produced a plethora of good players too. This age range brought in Petit, Grimandi, Koscielny, Sol Campbell, Gilberto Silva, Eboue, Rosicky, Hleb, Sagna, Pires and Wiltord. The only failure in this range is Stepanovs. Chamakh could join him and Manuel Almunia probably will. Silvinho and van Brockhorst were short lived, so are hard to judge. The rest are all outstanding players. Ten out of 15 is superb.

Arsenal, Over 26’s

After this, Wenger loses his touch or more likely, his interest. After 27, he has mostly poor returns. Malz and Sjaaban were forgettable. Cygan was average. Suker was a mistake. Squillaci shouldn’t start. And Arshavin has been a one game wonder. There have been a few backup goalkeepers and some cover defenders. But after age 26, Wenger has not bought often and of them only two have been great players: Gallas and Lehmann, He has also bought two useful squad players: Garde and Luzhny, but both were in the 90’s. One wouldn’t mistake him for Harry Redknapp down the street, who can find value in age, but little in the important 20-23 area.

So what does that tell us about this year’s crop of last minute signings? They might be mistakes. Arteta, Benayoun and Santos are in the age range where Wenger is untested to be kind – or not very good to blunt: 27 to 30. Park Chu-Young and Per Mertesacker are 26, the outer edge of his expertise. He usually does well in that area, but having watched Mertesacker a lot, this might well be a massive mistake. He is very slow in the turn. He reads the game well as it comes at him, but poorly when it goes away from him; thus, he tends to get turned in transition too easily. Teams hitting on the counter would do well to focus on him. Gervinho is almost guaranteed to be great. Carl Jenkinson looks like a magnificent find but like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell, only time will tell. The issue here is that he bought too many players outside of his comfort zone. Three young kids and 3 players over 26 is unheard of for Wenger.He only bought one player in that guaranteed 20-23 range. And one of his 26 year-olds turns 27 very soon, which means there’s as much chance of him being a flop as a success.

In the long run, watching Frimpong, who I think is a revelation, and Conor Henderson, and considering the existence of Song, Wilshere and Ramsey in the squad, plus a potentially healthy Rosicky, it might have been a better choice to stick with the academy than buy two injury prone players in Benayoun or Arteta. Although both Arsenal and Juan Mata may regret that failed deal. At his age and skill level, he’s guaranteed greatness. Links to Cedric Mongongu, Jan Vertonghen or Sedar Tasci would have been better to focus on than Santos and Mertesacker.

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  1. Peter O'Connor

    January 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Well I have read this whole spread and found some intelligent opinions, mite I add you have to take into account the personalities aswell. (Potential negative for the club) . Arsene has bought players with leadership and very intelligent people all around, this is whats missing for the younger personalities. Kids need a role model and a structure they can all belong to and strive. Park, Henry and Rosicky can make the development of youth better in my opinion.

    Fabregas left Arsenal because he play at Barcelona as a kid, then came to Arsenal and watched some of the best football in the world (Vieira, Henry, Pires, Bergkamp, Adams, and of course Freddy who was perfect). Then when he became out best player he wanted to go home mainly due to the learning factor, Barcelona is a fantastic club with all the players who win for the team aka Xavi and messi I wish him all the best and he he will be missed forever at the same time I love watching him score for barcelona. He done brillant with Arsenal and I support him FOREVER. (Nasri on the other hand I dont, though looking back he joined Arsenal on the same grounds so we cant complain) Mite I add players that leave Arsenal never look as good apart from Overmars who i nearly forgot) You look at Xavi he could score more goals and could be the main figure at any club on the planet instead he works the team system, therefore giving other players the satisfaction and want to improve, also at the same time he is great for the dynamics. I am pround to Love Arsenal and we owe Mr Wenger who everybody seems to have a dig at so so much. Highbury to the emirates ????? Also satistics which certain people love talking about on the thread lets start now. You look at match day revenue the Emirates speaks for itself actually If it was based on tht alone we twould be Top. Real and barcelona rely on 40 – 50% of their revenue From Broadcasting alone, between them they take half of the total kity and the other clubs get a G & T without the Gin. The Guy has worked wonders and all with passion while respecting the System. Infact we cant go any faster without harming other clubs growth cycle. I see Spurs play and think WOW I love what they are doing, I really hope they continue over the next 5-10 years. I often thought and still do wonder what if North London had one club.

    Everybody can have their opinion of course, though why waste energy talking about Wenger, without him Arsenal would still be playing at Highbury, maybe getting one star player now and again. I can understand people look at Arsene and think he’s weaker now lets throw the sink at him. No no no guys, ladies sometimes in life you have to accept natural progression combined with poeple willing to sacrifice time instead of winning the medals and frankly destroying the image of the F.A. In 30 Years I want my kids to hav a season ticket and hope they understand the greater good, intsead of copying clubs who have want success at first contact, in a strange way this helps the bigger clubs get the right personalities In. Though feel sad when i look at alot of clubs who are now gone and the Clubs fighting for their lives. Hard working clubs with a brillant fan tradition. The main question In your mind is this

    Would you take Wenger in 1996? Or stick with what you have!

    IF these fair play rules ever happen all will become clear though they will be probally be postponed!!!

    2014 we get the chance to generate new sponsor deals!!!

    in 2021 we get the chance to add more seating to the emirates even if it does mean taking the roof off, the london underground need to get a move on and keep up with us!

    Ive went on a rant ok though I am happy with Arsenal even if it does mean finishing 5th which is very important!!! I wish all the other clubs success and hope their management team can think of 20 years instead of NOW NOW NOW. What will happen when their owners want a new challenge and they dont get the same people in, they have all the ingredients of falling over like pompey (I wont mention the 2 clubs though I suspect you know) Empty Seats espically in midweek Carling Cup for instance. Though one thing I will say as supporters we are to quiet at home I was shocked at some of the games! I thought who are these people who wont shout and help the team…

  2. lookma

    September 29, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Well researched article but the logic leaves a bit too be desired.

    “The issue here is that he bought too many players outside of his comfort zone. Three young kids and 3 players over 26 is unheard of for Wenger.He only bought one player in that guaranteed 20-23 range. And one of his 26 year-olds turns 27 very soon, which means there’s as much chance of him being a flop as a success.”

    That does not follow. The world is subjective and past “results” (as you see them) have no bearing on the future – they may speak to some degree to Arsene’s “talent” in picking players, and that part of the article is fairly well presented. But your conclusions do not follow.

    That the results may be poorer in regards to the signing of “older” players in the past does not dictate the future of those he signed today. It may speak somewhat to future likelihoods, but even then that’s and awful limited sell – these are not commodities he is purchasing.

    Most significantly, buys are dictated by immediate team needs – or the lack thereof. That he may have purchased “older” players than he may typically have is indicative of the more immediate team needs. His “goal” with respect to these purchases is different that the “goal” with respect to a purchase of other players, such as the 20-23 year old age group in which he had past success. Call them panic buys if you must, but to do so obscures the fact that the team’s needs are not static, that there is always an intertemporal tradeoff in signing players, and that these two facts mean the “discount rate” through which we evaluate future success as compared to immediate success is not a constant

    Well researched but perhaps your overreach a bit in the leaps you make to reach the end, no?

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece!

  3. scrumper

    September 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I’m no Arsenal supporter, but if they sack Wenger who the hell else will they get?? I would expect half a dozen premier teams to line up for his services. Get real they’ll be back. Like someone said this article is too baseball statistic and is nonsense.

  4. jonathan

    September 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    these were panic buys…wenger was happy with the team in june…then the thrashing happened and injuries to jack and vermaelan and here we are. fingers crossed they work out.

  5. meesterlee

    September 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Grimandi, Koscielny, Gilberto Silva, Eboue, Rosicky, Hleb, Sagna, and Wiltord….

    Outstanding? Decent at best.

    And Kanu in the 21-23 bracket? He was at least 30 when he signed…

    • Heldros

      September 19, 2011 at 7:02 am

      Nwankwo Kanu 1/08/1976
      1998-2004 Arsenal 197 (44)

  6. dcfcvpsg

    September 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Yeah. Great article/analysis but while we,re pondering how great or not great Arsene Wenger is, Alex Ferguson is busy winning things. I dont want a present day Ron Greenwood turning out nice teams who cant even beat Birmingham in a cup final.
    We all know Man U , Man City etc.. were not interested in the players Arsenal signed on transfer deadline day. Its all a long way from Bergkamp (who i know Arsene didnt buy), Viera, Overmars, Henry etc.. who would all have walked into the Man U, Man City teams.

  7. Josef

    September 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

    “Nicolas Anelka, Gael Clichy and Song are the best of this bunch, which actually doesn’t sound very impressive. It also includes Matthew Upson, Guy Demel, Boa Morte, Diaby, Senderos and Bendtner, who are all average footballers.”

    I stopped affording the author much credibility after this sentence. Anelka, Clichy and Song are all established internationals who any team would welcome with open arms. Boa Morte had 28 caps for Portugal, Diaby started for the French in their last world cup campaign, Senderos has 44 appearances for Switzerland, Bendtner leads the line for his nation, Upson has 21 caps for England, Demel has 26 caps for Cote de Ivoire…

    Vela starts for the very good Mexican national team, but he (along with Traore, starting for QPR, and Bazarite, who’s all of 21) is dismissed as “never fulfilling his potential while those others are all “average”?

    This is patently absurd. The standards being used here are clearly neither rational nor consistent – in fact, as far as I can tell they are non-existent, and the author is merely voicing his barely considered opinion dressed up with a semblance of analysis. When he wrote, “one of his 26 year-olds turns 27 very soon, which means there’s as much chance of him being a flop as a success” it became clear that this is an instance where someone sees a trend in data and places far too much weight on it without verifying that it is substantial and not coincidental.

  8. Dave JLH

    September 12, 2011 at 5:51 am

    “The academy has actually produced less talent for the senior side than is sold to the public”

    What?! What exactly is ‘sold to the public’ about our academy exactly? It seems like you are looking to discover some kind of conspiracy theory about some form of ‘academy propaganda’ that never actually existed. Most fans know very well that Wenger’s best asset is finding promising unproven players, bringing them in for cheap and then improving them, whether they are 19 or 20 is fairly insignificant. The truth is that, like with most other clubs who have stayed in the top four of the EPL, scouting for talent is a far more reliable way of improving your squad than trying to create it in your academy, but the difference is with Wenger is that he has to look for value, he can’t just sign the biggest names in Europe because they will all be offered more money at City, United or Chelsea. That is why he focuses on players in their early twenties, because they are less risky than teenagers, but not as expensive as players in their prime (mid twenties).

  9. dave

    September 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    RE: “Matthew Upson, Guy Demel, Boa Morte, Diaby, Senderos and Bendtner, who are all average footballers”
    That’s extremely harsh. Everyone on that list is an International footballer, ie some of the best their respective countries have to offer, and Upson, Demel, and Boa Morte have achieved success at club level away from Arsenal as well.

  10. P-MG

    September 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    You have slandered Arsenal a bit with claims that they cook the books on who was Academy graduate. Arsenal’s academy is small in numbers, and almost all the players are English, based in Hale End, and are brought up from the age of 9 or so. Djourou, Senderos, Bendtner, Cesc, etc were not Academy players, and were never claimed to be. They mesh with the Academy Graduates and play u-18’s, but most just went straight into the reserves

    Wilshere, Frimpong, Afobe, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Chuks Aneke, Lansbury, Sanchez Watt, Muamba, Cole, Bentley, Sidwell, O’Hara, Jay Bothroyd, Jay Simpson, Ricketts, and many more, are Academy players.

    Arsenal are always scouting overseas players, two or three join every year, but more and more the Academy players are the ones that look like they will make it over them.

  11. Tom

    September 11, 2011 at 7:17 am

    A very interesting article, though I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion:

    “In the long run, watching Frimpong, who I think is a revelation, and Conor Henderson, and considering the existence of Song, Wilshere and Ramsey in the squad, plus a potentially healthy Rosicky, it might have been a better choice to stick with the academy than buy two injury prone players in Benayoun or Arteta.”

    Frimpong looks a real talent, but Arteta would improve nearly any side, and Arsenal were crying out for a few senior players. There’s a brilliant piece on Arsenal in the new episode of The Blizzard (if you’ve not subscribed already, do it now) which makes the point that because they are so stats-focused, with every player hand-picked for their attributes, it is almost inconceivable to them that they should lose. When they do lose, it’s almost like a failure of logic, and that’s why they find it so hard to bounce back from set-backs. Quite a persuasive argument for me.

  12. Rob

    September 10, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    One of the more thought out and objective articles written on Arsenal for this site. If you hadn’t told me you supported Spurs I would never have guessed. Well done.

  13. Josh

    September 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Nice idea but the classic mistake is that Wenger spots and buys every player. Do you think he is at PSG under 16s spotting a player? No. And if Arsenal sign a under-17 player, unless he is a freak like Cesc or a extremely promising player like Walcott(well…maybe) or Ramsey, then they will only get to the first team a couple of years down the line and that will be through the Carling Cup squad.

    Wenger gave Arsenal its vision but hes doesnt do absolutely everything. And most of the buys you class as a failure are all low cost gambles that were worth a punt.

  14. Isaac

    September 10, 2011 at 6:05 am

    One of the reason for the failure of these U17 and U19 is mentorship. U can get much mentorship from players struggling with injuries, who are inexperienced and needing much mentorship themselves and who had little or no success stories of there own. This is one element missing in Arsenal.

  15. Dave

    September 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I did an analysis that compared hair length to success, and the results showed me that this article is crap. I actually liked it for its analysis, but you oversold it. Interesting, yes, a predictor, no. Remember how many titles Fabregas won……and Im a big fan of Arsenal!

  16. campasyoulike

    September 9, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    You are mostly correct but you have pre-judged and omitted a lot of youth players: Landsbury is the most obvious – he will be an England international at least I’d he surprised if Afobe and Emmanuel-Thomas don’t reach that grade. Of the “failures” it’s too early to write off Merida and Vela. Your “average” U19s include 5 internationals of whom Diaby is a first pick for France – one of the best teams in the world, Bendtner is top scorer for Denmark who are about in the same ball park as England – watch him this year… Miyachi looks certain to come through.
    Cygan was average? He was terrible. For a one-game wonder Arshavin (the captain of Russia) has remarkably good stats – don’t listen the prawn sandwich munchers, watch his game.
    More to the point Wilshere, RVP, Fabregas and possibly Ramsey will go down as all time greats.

  17. TommyVA

    September 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Did some of these people even read the article?
    The author’s comments about Gervinho relate to Wenger’s unrivalled success in the age bracket Gervinho falls in. Thus he is almost a guaranteed success, or at least a highly likely one, based on Wenger’s previous. Interesting article, although a following comprehensive list of the players and their ages when signed would have been nice, then we could decide for ourselves who was a “success” or not!
    Re the comment about Ozil and Mourinho, it would be crazy to suggest a manager like Wenger (or any top flight manager in any country) didn’t know of Ozil’s talents, but how can most teams compete with what Real can offer in terms of wages, prestige, coaching, facilities, quality teammates, endorsement opportunities, beaches etc etc? It has absolutely nothing to do with transfer fees otherwise Stoke would have bought him.

    • simbear

      October 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      @Doublepivot, can you post your lists online? or are they already?

  18. melcfromfinsburypark

    September 9, 2011 at 8:09 am

    RVP dropping is something that i think we will see a lot of this year. But, I don’t think it will be so that another out and out number 9 can play up top. Rather, RVP dropping to look for balls inside the fullbacks for Gervinho and Walcott. With two players that quick there is the potential for RVP to create lot of goals this season.

    As for the five new players who came in the last couple of days, lets wait and see. No point at all in pre-judging any of them

  19. Tester Say

    September 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I guess even an old dog must learn new tricks in the EPL – Wenger is learning – I am sure he will get his plans right in about 2 seasons –

  20. raj

    September 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Alot is made of Wenger’s transfer activity, but there is something to be said about team selection as well. True he lost of the best chance-creators in Fabregas, but he has another one who is much hungrier waiting…Van Persie. People might say he is suited as a centre forward, but I believe you have a better prototypical centre forward in Chamakh, his physical presence will do wonders for taking the pressures of VP, and allow him to link up with team mates better. Through the first few games we have all had many screen shots of vp getting the ball up there and being by himself and expecting to create the goals all on his own. He is the most valuble asset now, protect him with Chamakh, who showed in the first half of last year that he can score goals on his own and hold the ball up admirably. This would also allow cover for Ramsey, Arshavin, and Walcott to make runs past these 2 big men. The pieces were already there people, Arsene just hasn’t put the puzzle together yet, and I think this idea would do wonders for them.

    • nick

      September 9, 2011 at 4:37 am

      problem with chamakh is that all he wants to do is hold the ball up. I’ve seen him receive a great ball where he can run in on goal and have a shot but instead he stops, controls and turns so his back is to the goal and passes back. Great strikers are slightly selfish and will always look to score a goal/have a crack if they have the chance to do so. Chamakh started off well last year but has been awful since january.
      I agree the van persie can be a creator rather than sole striker but i think walcott upfront would be best. He doesn’t have the tricks to play on the wing so best to make use of his finishing and pace upfront.

  21. Steve

    September 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Stop putting pretentious garbage articles on this site.

    • boduke

      September 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Quite agree, not enough room for all the regular garbage articles.

      • simbear

        October 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

        Where can we find the humbling, treasure “esque” articles you so eloquently speak of?

        So I don’t have to see these garbage replies.

  22. Efrain

    September 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Interesting article. Lots of stats. As they say, numbers don’ lie. For Arsenal’s sake, I hope you and the numbers are wrong.

  23. AM

    September 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Came across this on the web. Maybe all of you Arsenal critics should shut up now and admit the man’s genius.

    Fergie V Benitez V Mourinho V Jol V Wenger V Newcastle Total Net Average per year
    Net Spend 04/05 to 07/08 Season
    Mourinho £162.930.000 £54.310.000
    Benitez £87.670.000 £29.223.333
    Fergie £79.170.000 £26.390.000
    Jol £57.050.000 £19.016.667
    Newcastle United £51.850.000 £17.283.333
    Wenger £4.120.000 £1.373.333

    Arsenal Total Net Average Per Year
    Pre Commencement of Ashburton Grove £50.716.000 £5.635.111
    Post Commencement of Ashburton Grove £4.560.000 £760.000

    • Edgar

      September 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      You do realize the most expensive players that Mourinho so called “bought” where players he had no interest in. He never wanted andriy shevchenko or micahel ballack or the other players that cost so much. Roman was the one who wanted to control everything and Mourinho gave him a choice of giving him full power or firing him. Roman made the biggest mistake of his Chelsea ownership by firing him because when he went to Inter he was given full power like at Porto and won the treble. Wenger is not a genious, he is terrible at tactics especially defensive ones. Mourinho just bought Ozil for around 10 million euros which is ridiculously cheap for a player that good. Wenger could buy cheap good potential but he doesn’t have an eye for good talent. Wenger always had the money but too stupid not to use it. Arsenal where the only top 4 team not in debt so he had shit load to use but when he finally used it he used it on panic buys without time to see if those players are worth it or even fit his squad.

      • AM

        September 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

        Sorry Edgar, but Mourinho’s average spend during that period was 54mn per year while Wenger’s was 1.3 mn. I think you’ll find it difficult to argue your point here.

        I believe players like Ozil and Sahin prefer to go to Real Madrid over Arsenal. The fact that Real can offer higher wages coupled with their prestige makes them more appealing to most players. I will agree that tactically Wenger is weaker than Ferguson or Mourinho. However, I believe that this is down to ideology more than anything. Post 2005, Wenger really has tried to bring “Total Football” to North London and playing negatively is something I don’t think he considers.

        Also, let’s not forget that only one team in all of football has beaten Barcelona at their own game. Wenger’s tactics were spot on then when he attacked Barca in the final 20 mins. Mourinho may have more titles but there’s a reason the Real board approached Wenger before him.

        • Edgar

          September 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm

          If you watched the Super Cup in Spain this past month then you would have seen that Real Madrid played ala Barca. Also Real Madrid offered the job to Wenger before they hired Pellegrini but Mourinho was actually offered the job at Barcelona after he left Chelsea but wanted to take time off from football for that season.

          • AM

            September 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm

            I think the 2nd leg of the Super Cup spoke volumes about Mourinho. Let’s not forget that he played a key role in ruining the Classicos last year.

      • Corks

        September 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

        You do realize Michael Ballack was signed on a free!!!

  24. AM

    September 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Wow… 11mn net spend over the last 15 years.

    Mourinho’s teams spend at least that every summer. Makes you realize the difference in resources that clubs have at their disposal

    • Edgar

      September 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      He never spent 11m in summer at Porto where he won 2 european trophys (uefa cup and champions league). Arsenal always had the money but Arsene was too stubborn to spend.

      • AM

        September 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm

        True about Mourinho’s European success at Porto. However, I’ve always believed that luck and timing plays a huge role in winning the Champions League. Nonetheless, it’s a brilliant accomplishment.

        In regards to your comment about Wenger being too cheap, check out the stats on my comment below. Why do you think Arsenal’s spend decreased drastically after we left Highbury??

  25. Todd Parker

    September 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I think you undersell other age groups outside of the 20-23 year old range just to prove that signing a Vertonghen, for example, would have been better than signing Mertesacker. I disagree with your thesis. Cesc is a prime example, Jack is a prime example, Ramsey is a prime example, and there are others as well, that completely blow up your statements. No doubt the 20-23 range is his best, but who can dispute some of the other names. I think you are also overly critical with Mertesacker. I coach for a living and any coach will tell armchair pundits that it is as much about building “team” as it is about buying individual players. I like the acronym for TEAM: “together everyone achieves more.” I would love us still to sign Vertonghen, but it does not mean Mertesacker signing first is a bad buy, far from it. Mertesacker indeed would be a perfect complement to a healthy Vermaelen. Both great in the air, both dangerous in both boxes, both natural born and organizational leaders. One ready to step and attack, the other ready to sit back and direct. Both acutely competent in the art of timing a tackle. One with more international and champions league experience, but both experienced all the same. Bottom line: the makings of a very intelligent partnership that frankly has potential to be one of the best in Europe. Both Center Halves are responsible for delaying the counter attack as our wing backs push forward, so targeting Mertesacker’s turn of pace alone is not objective. You minimize the organizational ability he has as a leader in negating such opportunities before they start as well. You may be thinking, language barrier and I would tell you that there are ways professional clubs develop communication and that this obstacle is far from new and has been dealt with before.

    In shorter summary-Wenger does indeed have a record of signing talent at every age that is stellar and that is why he is the winningest coach in Arsenal Football history. Some are duds and others are not, while some are mega stars that give us a profitability that other clubs (too include the top clubs in the world) only dream of. The duds do not negate the breadth of his work and the stars only support the fact that he does indeed have an amazing eye for talent and a coaching staff to train them into the mega stars they are that have a history over 15 years of winning trophies and producing the club a profit that puts them alone in the football stratosphere.
    Your amusing manipulation of statistics and in some cases faulty exaggeration of player effectiveness or ineffectiveness (Arshavin although inconsistent has been involved in more scoring chances than any other Arsenal player since his arrival besides Cesc himself) does not change the fact that under Arsene more trophies and more money have been won than at any other time in club history….period!

  26. Hank

    September 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    This is really well done, but of course, all of us could quibble with individual assessments. (Arshavin, for example: A one game wonder? I remember this guy basically injecting life into a team devoid of creativity when we were on the brink of missing out on the Champion’s League to Aston Villa. He has been up and down, but not a failure at all.)

    I also agree with whomever said that Wenger not buying a U-23 player says something about their relative success, given his success rate and I’d add an addendum: The list of players Wenger is known to admire but failed to recruit this time (Hazard, Goetze, M’Vila) are a better idea of where he “should” have spent money, but I suspect that he couldn’t have spent that money there or he would have bought one of these players.

    Also, yeah, I’d love a bit more info on why Gervinho is tipped for greatness, though I don’t necessarily disagree.

    • DoublePivot

      September 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      Yes, sometimes this thing you thought was obvious in your head, turns out not to be in final draft 🙁

      The idea was that since Wenger is almost flawless in the 20-23 range and up to 26, Gervinho is 24, that I think he is guaranteed to be a great signing.

      But I agree upon looking at it, that this statement was lost somewhere in the handful of braincells that still work.

      The change over to the site means I can’t edit.

      Oh well.

      And hands of Goetze. Dortmund are the funnest team to watch in Europe 🙂

  27. Rejoice

    September 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

    A Wenger hater. Your title was a complete turn off. Your likes derive joy in picking holes with anything Arsenal. Fortunately, I didn’t read beyond 2 paragraghs. Don’t you have something good to write, except gloom and doom. This is my first and last on this blog. I do not believe in negative and pessimist style.

    • Murfatlar

      September 12, 2011 at 9:02 am

      “I do not believe in negative and pessimist style.”

      That doesn’t explain your post then. Had you read further, and without preconception/misconception, you would have seen he is anything but.

  28. justin

    September 8, 2011 at 11:56 am



  29. oliver

    September 8, 2011 at 11:04 am

    “one player that is guaranteed to be a success in Gervinho. More on that statement in a moment.”

    the “more on that” is:
    “Gervinho is almost guaranteed to be great.”


  30. jm

    September 8, 2011 at 10:57 am

    This is an interesting analysis, and I enjoyed reading this piece. One thing I am curious about is what the return rate is on U17’s and U19’s more generally. One would expect that these would be more volatile commodities, less likely to return predictable value than players age 20-23 or so. In other words, how much of Wenger’s disappointing record with the U17’s and U19’s is a product of the *general* volatility of those players, and how much is down to his scouting? We could tell with some general success rates for buys in that group, though that would require some substantial additional research.

    One concern I do have, however, is with the standard being applied across groups. In the U17 purchases, you don’t count Djourou or Pennant, and come up with 3 out of 14 (Fabregas, Walcott, Ramsey). When discussing the more favorable 21-23’s, you list Fabianski as someone who may still come good. Now, I think it is right that we are limited for some of these players, since they are too young to really get a sense of their career value. Yet, if Fabianksi counts as a success, then I’m not sure why Djourou and Pennant don’t. They all seem to be players capable of playing well, but inconsistently, and are fringe first-teamers in talent level.

    One other thought is that I’m not sure it follows that “links to Cedric Mongongu, Jan Vertonghen or Sedar Tasci would have been better to focus on than Santos and Mertesacker.” After all, your thesis is that Wenger is really good at picking 21-23 year old players – not that 21-23 year olds are a better bet in general (though they may be). If so, then the fact that Wenger did not sign these players may indicate that he was *right not to.* I think your point might be better phrased that: “Wenger made a number of signings out of a talent pool which lies outside of his strength and this increases the risk we might assign to these signings.”

    • DoublePivot

      September 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      Hi, I didn’t rate Fabianski as a positive. Or if I did, it was a mistake. He’s a neutral, I would think. I have him in yellow on my spreadsheet 🙂 I did take the liberty to include Lass, Reyes and Eduardo as positives. I didn’t include somebody like Pennant because he didn’t produce for the club (or anybody to be honest). But your numbers will undoubtedly be different from mine. And my hope, as I am no expert on Arsenal, is that I learn even more in feedback. The work I did to form this article taught me so much. It was worth the effort even if I didn’t write this.

      As for volatility, I think it has a lot to do with it. A player can look great at 17 and be passed physically by 21. Or in the case of Vela/GDS, they became complacent after winning the UWC and stopped progressing (as did that entire side). The point isn’t that Wenger can’t spot talent at that level, just his returns can be very poor, yet the common perception is that he is almost perfect with kids. I hoped that the general theme of the article is that he is a genius with that 20-23 group, which is where Moneyball would suggest teams purchase. And I mean genius. That list is amazing. So perhaps (all 9 players he bought could turn out to be absolutely world class….I don’t know) he should have focused there where his strength lies. But I think taking a chance on the 3 kids is usually worth the risk. Although Soccernomics taught us that he shouldn’t have paid over the odds for Campbell, just like he refused to do with Mata (never let am international tournament skew your view)

      Good point on the last paragraph. Trying to wrap it up in a certain way and it was the wrong way to phrase that. Thanks for the input.

      And remember, I am a Spurs supporter. I’m just one that doesn’t prescribe to the idea that I have to hate Arsenal. There is a long story about the 70’s Oakland Raiders that drives that. I hate you two days a year, but otherwise I just find you interesting, like Barcelona, Dortmund, Mainz, Rennes, PSV and Lyon. There’s always something to learn from clubs like these. But that does mean, my assessments are not always right. My idea that Djourou is a neutral might not mesh with someone who lives and breathes the club.

      • jm

        September 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm

        You are right, re: Fabianski. I didn’t catch that the 3/14 figure was for “good” buys (or however you coded it), and that you were distinguishing another category with the likes of Fabianski.

        The U19/U23 distinction is interesting, particularly in the Moneyball context you raise. For a number of teams influenced by that line of thought, signing HS baseball players instead of college age players is a misuse of resources because they are far less predictable. I think you are quite right that we should uncritically assume that if Wenger signs a U19 player, he has correctly spotted some talent. It is worth keeping in mind the HS-U19 parallel here. Still, I wonder how one might tease out Wenger’s eye from general volatility (better, worse?). What we really need is a statistic like WAR or some single-metric evaluation of a player’s contribution as we have in baseball, so that we could look at the average U19 player’s WAR and a Wenger-U19er’s WAR. Too bad we can’t get such data for football!

        I think the other lesson learned here is be careful of your title. “Wenger’s Panic Buys” sure brought out the comment section vitriol! I found the point a lot more nuanced than that, one of the better argued pieces I’ve read here.

        • DoublePivot

          September 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm

          To my defense….I didn’t title it 🙂 But I did refer to Arteta, Benayoun and Per as panic buys.

          It might be much simpler to compare teams than I though. We have three definite clubs of good standing that once can say has had a certain steadying influence over the same time frame.

          Lyon under Auslus once they made the top division.

          United obviously

          Werder under Schaaf

          Bayern Munich who have had the same technical staff for years

          Barcelona who have been under the guiding influence of Johan Cruff during the modern revolution

          If compared to those clubs we might get a very good idea of how efficient/inefficient he has been in any of these categories. Except for that 20-23 range. I doubt anybody can touch his record in that one. That would be like going to each ocean to make sure your theory that each isn’t made of orange juice is right 🙂

  31. Phenoum

    September 8, 2011 at 10:34 am

    PS – if you’re calling Wenger’s buys “Panic buys” then this article is sure as hell a “panic article”

  32. Phenoum

    September 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Hrm – fishing for stats to jump to a conclusion before a single one of the additions have stepped onto the field? I’ll watch you eat your words over the course of this season. It’s like the ludicrous “stats” the pull up during baseball games in the US. (the first time they’ve won by 3 after losing by 3 following a game when they won by 4 – WTF?)

    Interesting if this had been more focused on the value return for players brought in at different ages, but that the sole purpose of this article was to bash the recent spending makes you look like someone desperate to have a hack at the current under-performing top 5 side. Give it up!

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