Arsenal 1992-2010 – Extract from Pay As You Play

Pay As You Play is split into four parts, one of which is a section on all 43 clubs to feature in the first 18 Premier League seasons. Obviously some clubs have more information than others, depending on the time spent in the top flight during that time, and their subsequent achievements. This is the part about Arsenal, although there are plenty of further mentions of the club in other areas of the book.


Total Spend (Actual): £284.9m

Total Spend (CTPP): £533.3m

Average League Position: 3.6

Number of Managers: 3

Most Expensive Signing: Andrei Arshavin £15m (CTPP £11.7m)

Best Value Signing: Nicolas Anelka

Worst Value Signing: Francis Jeffers

Player Signings Breakdown (data correct up to end of January transfer window 2010)

• UK: 15; EU: 47; Rest of Europe: 6; Rest of World: 12

Major Trophies Won Since Premier League Began

Premier League Champions: 3 (1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04)

FA Cup: 5 (1993, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005)

League Cup: 1 (1993)

European Cup Winners Cup: 1 (1994)

Premier League Statistics (correct to the end of the 2009/10 season)

Seasons: 18

Played: 696

Won: 375

Drawn: 186

Lost: 135

Goals Scored: 1,199

Goals Conceded: 625

Goal Difference: +574

Total Points: 1,311


With three league titles to their name, Arsenal are behind only Manchester United and Chelsea when it comes to success during the Premier League era. Although they’ve amassed more points than Chelsea, and more top-two finishes after being runners-up five times, their London rivals have won more trophies.

Life in the Premier League didn’t start off too well for the Gunners. Under manager George Graham, and in a sharp fall from winning the league title at the end of the 1990/91 season, they finished the first three Premier League seasons in 10th, 4th and 12th place respectively. Some solace was gained in that first 1992/93 season however, when they won both the League Cup and FA Cup. A similar decline during the early years of the Premier League was shared by two other clubs who were crowned champions during the three seasons preceding the formation of the new league: Liverpool (1989/90) and Leeds United (1991/92). Graham was sacked in February 1995 after it was revealed that he had taken illegal payments from Norwegian football agent Rune Hauge. This followed the 1992 signings of two of Hauge’s clients – John Jensen and Pål Lydersen. Bruce Rioch left Bolton to take over at Arsenal in 1995, but he left after just one season (1995/96) and a 5th-place finish. It would take the arrival of Frenchman Arsène Wenger in September 1996 to turn Arsenal’s fortunes around.

Wenger’s first season in charge brought a 3rd-place finish for the Gunners, before they were crowned champions at the end of 1997/98. They finished with 78 points, a low total by recent standards, and one point ahead of runners-up Manchester United. The roles were reversed in the following season, with Arsenal finishing one point behind Alex Ferguson’s side, who racked up 79 points. Under Arsène Wenger, Arsenal continued to fight it out with United for the top honours in English football between 1997/98 and 2004/05, before the emergence of Chelsea broke the duopoly. During this period Arsenal finished no lower than 2nd, winning the league title three times and completing the Premier League and FA Cup double on two occasions (1998 and 2002).

The 2003/04 season saw Arsenal win the Premier League title without losing a single game, becoming only the second team to go the entire league season in the top flight unbeaten. This feat earned them the tagline ‘The Invincibles’, a term that was originally used to describe Preston North End’s team after their undefeated record in winning the 1888/89 league title.

Arsenal hold a number of Premier League records including the most consecutive wins (14: shared with three other teams) and the fewest defeats in a season (0: 2003/04), and they are also the only team to have scored in every league game during a Premier League season (2001/02).

Most Utilised Players

Thirteen of Arsenal’s Most Utilised Players in the Premier League era are Arsène Wenger signings; perhaps not surprising considering he has been in charge for 14 of the 18 years. Despite Wenger’s dominance as a Premier League manager, a number of George Graham’s signings figure high in the top 20. Two of the top five, and four of the top 10, were brought to the club by Graham. Signed for the start of the 2009/10 season, Thomas Vermaelen currently ranks as number one, having started 33 out of a possible 38 League games, giving him an 87% starting ratio. This figure may decrease the longer he stays at Arsenal. However, it is still a sound return from a player who cost £10m and also scored seven league goals, especially considering that overseas players can take up to 18 months to find their feet in English football.

Bacary Sagna, signed for £6m (£6.8m) from Auxerre in 2007, is in second place having started 94 out of a possible 114 games, meaning he has an 82% starting ratio for Arsenal since he joined. Another left-back, Nigel Winterburn, also has an 82% starting ratio, starting 260 out of 316 games. This makes Winterburn, a £400k (£2.4m) signing from Wimbledon in 1987, George Graham’s finest value for money acquisition, ahead of right-back Lee Dixon who also cost £400k (£2.4m) from Stoke City in 1988. Incredibly for two players so intrinsically linked to both golden eras at Arsenal since the 1970s, the pair share almost identical starting ratios. Dixon’s is a fraction behind his fellow full-back, having started 311 out of 392 Premier League games, to give an 81% ratio.

Least Utilised Players

Three of the top four are Wenger’s signings; the exception being Perry Groves who was George Graham’s first signing as Arsenal manager for £75k (£435k) from Colchester in 1986, and was still on the books when the new league was formed. All four failed to start a match for Arsenal in the Premier League era. None of the four can be labelled as expensive failures; the most costly is Tomas Danilevičius, who cost £1m (£1.7m).

Possibly Arsène Wenger’s most disappointing signing is Francis Jeffers. Signed from Everton for £10m (£13.1m) in 2001, he started just two out of a possible 114 matches  – although plenty of those 112 failures to feature were because he was out on loan from 2002 onwards – before he was eventually sold to Charlton in 2004; giving him a starting ratio of just 1.5%.


Top 5 Players Sold for a Profit

•      Anelka – Bought for: £500k (£1.5m), Sold for: £23m (£54m), Profit of: £22.5m (£52.5m)

•      Overmars – Bought for: £5m (£17m), Sold for: £25m (£44.5m), Profit of: £20m (£27.5m)

•      Adebayor – Bought for: £7m (£12.8m), Sold for: £25m (£25m), Profit of: £18m (£12.4m)

•      Cole – Bought for: £0, Sold for: £16m (£28m), Profit of: £16m (£28m)

•      Touré – Bought for: £150k (£197k), Sold for: £16m (£16m), Profit of: £15.85m (£15.83)

Top 20 CTPP Purchases

Expert View

Kieron O’Connor (@SwissRamble)

Arsenal fan & Editor of The Swiss Ramble, a blog about the business of football

Arsène Wenger is arguably the best manager that Arsenal have ever had. He’s certainly the most successful in terms of trophies and is also the club’s longest-serving manager. However, his reign has been a little like the proverbial “game of two halves”, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in his first nine years, followed by no silverware at all in the last five years.

It’s probably over-simplistic to say that this is due to changes in the club’s finances, but that has certainly played a part. For example, many fans might be surprised to hear that Arsenal’s first league win under Wenger was achieved with pretty much the league’s most expensive XI in current-day prices. Having said that, the legendary Invincibles, featuring the glorious talents of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, should also be called the Incredibles, as they won the 2004 title with a team worth only 64% of that season’s most expensive £XI.

Since then, austerity has been the order of the day with Arsenal spending far less than other major clubs, having been hit with a double whammy. Externally, the transfer market was artificially inflated by the presence of extremely wealthy benefactors like Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, leading to the “financial doping” so despised by Wenger. This relative financial weakness was then compounded by the self-imposed constraints arising from the construction of the Emirates stadium.

Arsenal’s response has been to focus on younger players. In fact, there are two elements to the youth policy. The one that everyone understands is utilising the worldwide scouting network to buy young players from other clubs, develop them for a few years, hoping that they will ultimately become a fixture in the first team, but selling them for good money if they do not – the best examples being Cesc Fàbregas (whose value, in current terms, is £36m higher than the fee paid in 2003) and Nicolas Anelka (an amazing £53m CTPP profit).

The second strand is what might be described as the extreme youth policy, based on the successful approach that Barcelona, and Ajax in days gone by, have adopted. This is a long-term project, whereby the academy recruits young English talent and brings it through to the first team, Jack Wilshere being the obvious success story.

For Arsenal to spend so little in this period and yet still remain competitive, epitomised by qualifying for the Champions League a record 13 years in a row, all the time playing a dazzling brand of football unrecognisable from the days of “boring, boring” Arsenal, is a tremendous feat, which is why the vast majority of fans idolise Wenger: “In Arsène we trust”.

There is no doubt that he is an outstanding manager, though there is a feeling that he might need to modify his transfer policy and loosen the purse strings to ensure that his legacy is not tarnished. Either that, or UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations will bring the other clubs’ way of thinking round to “The Professor’s”.

Expert View

Michael Cox (@zonal_marking)

Editor, Zonal Marking

Arsène Wenger has embraced – or has been forced to embrace – a different way of assembling a squad to his title rivals. The Frenchman’s commitment to developing young players and moulding them into a cohesive group has so far yielded little success in terms of trophies. A recent Arsenal Supporters’ Trust survey showed that 75% are optimistic for the future, but more intriguingly, 53% said Wenger’s football philosophy took too much precedence over the objective of winning trophies.

Openly admitting “what is difficult for me is not that clubs have more money”, his plan was to “get young players in early so I do not find myself exposed on the transfer market”. This has had mixed results. When Arsenal’s attacking players combine well, they are the most beautiful side in the country – but with the main three centre-backs all having been recruited in the past two summer transfer windows, Arsenal still lack cohesion in the one area of the pitch where working as a unit is the most important.

In a model most similar to Barcelona’s belief in bringing through as many players as possible from their La Masia academy, Wenger’s idea is “to compensate by creating a style of play, by creating a culture at the club”. Many of Arsenal’s key players this season joined the club as teenagers, and their close relationship will, in Wenger’s words, “give us strength that other clubs will not have.”

“I agreed on a structure to the club four or five years ago, I believed it could work and we are at the period now when we will see whether I was right or not.” If he is, the man with the Master’s degree in economics might change the way other clubs go about their transfer business.


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