From all the commentary since September 1st, the transfer window was exceptional for those in the marketplace who believe in the primacy of transfers in attaining competitive success in football. As a result the mainstream media and its fellow travelers milked every ounce of sensationalism they could, jubilantly proclaiming that English clubs had smashed through the £1bn transfer barrier. With Sky and BT Sport paying a record £5.136bn for Premier League TV rights from 2016-17, clubs had the motivation to buy and the sellers were only too happy to oblige. If, as the mainstream media has proclaimed, more spending results in better footballers, then surely a £1,435,420,000 outlay in 2016 should result in a doubling of the quality of the football compared to 5 years ago when only £627,881,000 was spent that summer. Hmm.
Applying the logic of the mainstream media to Arsenal, surely the club should be odds on to win the 2016-17 title. Take a gander at the following table of Arsenal’s last six years in the transfer market:
One does not need a statistical degree to observe the trend. Since the infamous summer of 2011/12, when both Messers Fabregas and Nasri decided to seek much greener pastures, Arsenal Football Club has rebounded from the nadir and is no longer a selling club. Except for 2015/16 it has been very active in the transfer market. In my opinion, the three most eye-catching years, apart from this year’s window, were 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2011/12. The first two are clearly significant for the acquisition of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez respectively but to me 2011/12 is most telling. Despite the sensational declarations by the commercial media and its faithful echo chamber in the blogsphere of the failure of Arsene’s “project youth”, despite the infamous trolley dash on deadline day of summer 2012 (to this day the signing of Park Chu-Young is used as a stick to ridicule the manager), despite declarations of the “end of an era”, despite the outpourings of doom and gloom, Arsenal came 3rd in the League surpassing media darlings like Spurs and Liverpool.
To me the summer of 2011/12 is the emblematic of how much the emotions of the public is a “contrarian” indicator. Exacerbated by the media, the collective doom and gloom by Arsenal fans especially after that 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United, with the Arsene barely having a decent XI to confront the exultant hordes at Old Trafford, was diametrically contrary to the reality that the club was still being led by its most successful and by far most consistent manager ever in its history.
All of the foregoing is again leading back to my initial point. Surely, if Arsenal is spending and, better yet, using its money to acquire quality players, how come the media and Arsenal blogs haven’t become more optimistic about our chances of winning the title this year. From what I have read and heard on podcasts a new narrative is taking shape. While it is recognized that £90 million have been spent on new players, good old inferiority complex is back at work. Now it is convenient to remember that Arsenal’s spending has been dwarfed by the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United, who themselves spent around £170 million and £150 million respectively, and even more significantly they have new managers with superior ability.
One Arsenal blogger, who will remain nameless as this quote is merely being used for illustrative purposes, concluded:
“but with superstar managers such as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte taking up top jobs in England, along with the fact that Arsenal are already 5 points behind the early pace-setters, it is looking like as hard a season as any to finally bring home the league championship.”
In any serious analytical work, the baseline for any prediction must be the consistent performance of the variable under study. For example a professional who studies the lunar cycle will confidently predict with 99.9% certainty that while on August 31 we had a new moon with 1% visibility on August 31st, he/she can predict with 99.9% certainty that there will be a full moon on September 16th. Unlike the physical sciences, where the laws of nature have been well established and generally taken for granted for their predictive value, in the area of human behavior, football being one, the predictions by our pundits are worse than the weatherman and more akin to fortune tellers and palm readers.
Fortunately the statisticians have developed rigorous tools which enable us to make predictions with a certain level of confidence. I have a preference for the investment world where no true professional will invest in a stock without a minimum 95% probability of success. Anything less and he or she will eventually lose their capital (seemingly one or two of these losers strike gold, eventually become a useless tv-pundit). My previous blogs on Fear and Despair and Lucas Perez explains the contrarian indicators which a professional will bet against.In the case of Arsenal we have data from 20 years of Arsene Wenger’s management. In my view it should be divided into two eras, based on the significant differences in financial resources that were available. First was the Pre Emirates years, when going up against the wealth of Manchester United and the managerial nous of Alex Ferguson, Wenger except for the first and last year, never came less than 2nd, three times coming first including the immortal, unbeaten year. By 2005-06 the break-up of the Invincibles was well underway as the club reduced investments in big transfers to focus on paying for the new stadium.
Apart from the remarkable record of consistently top level outcomes, another of the many reasons to post the table is to demonstrate that to win the title Arsenal have had to achieve at least 26 wins and to score at least 73 goals per season, with one exception in either category. In 97/98 we won only 23 games but still claimed the league title and in 05/06 we had as many as 25 wins but came 2nd to Chelsea who, at the time, was the sole sugar daddy club able to fire £50 pound notes across the lawn of almost every top-flight club in Europe. Contrast the foregoing with the Emirate years to- date.
The Emirate Years
We all know that in the relatively barren years at the Emirates, title-wise, Wenger has consistently kept the team in the top-4 but one key metric from the Highbury days, number of wins has fallen by an average of 9%, from 23 to 21. The data indicates that the number of goals scored was not a significant predictor of league success; an average of 71 goals per season in both eras. Not surprisingly, the data confirms that the closest we came to matching our Pre-Emirates success was the Eduardo year when we amassed 24 wins but could not hold onto our lead after tragedy struck the team. The data is suggesting we need 26 wins, six more than last year to be in with a shot.
How much of a big ask is that? Between 06-07 and 07-08, we had 5 more wins and earned 15 more points. If Perez has anything like the impact of Eduardo, I suggest we are in with a big shout regardless of Pep, Mourinho and Conte. If we are to go by the data, never bet against Wenger’s consistency.