Analysis of failure – A comparison of Arsenal and Liverpool’s transfer strategies

Why we have fallen far behind Liverpool – a different view on transfers by AndersS

A trivia question: Who is the most expensive player Arsenal have ever sold, and when was it?

Do you know off the top of your head? Let it be known in the comments if you do or if maybe your first guess was wrong. Mine was.

You will get the answer towards the end of this article, but before we get to the answer, I will try to explain, why I think it is actually a significant thing.

In an earlier article about the nett spend on transfers, we saw the surprising fact, that Arsenal are the 3rd highest nett spender over the last 5 years, only surpassed by the two Manchester clubs. Surprising, as we have often listened to the myth, that the reason for our demise is our owner’s unwillingness to spend on improving the squad. That is clearly not true. As nett spend probably is the most revealing fact of a club’s willingness to put more money into the squad.

Over the last 5 years, we have spent more or less 2.7 times as much as Liverpool nett, £249 m v £92 m. and in the same period we have seen Liverpool going from being more or less on the same level as we were to become arguably the best, not only in England but in Europe as well. Unfortunately, we have moved in the other direction, despite this much higher nett spend.

The ”nett” spend on transfers comes from deducting your transfer sales from your gross spend on transfers.

If we look only on gross spend on transfers the picture is a lot different.

Over the last 5 years Liverpool have spent £471 m gross on transfers and we have spent £443 m. So a more or less even picture. And this is of course down to the fact, that Liverpool in the period have sold players for £379m while we only have sold players for £92 m. In fact, in 3 of the seasons Liverpool have actually sold players for more, than they have spent on new players! Imagine the uproar and accusations of greedy owners etc. if that had happened at Arsenal.

If you take a moment to think about these facts, there are many interesting conclusions you can draw from them:

1) Liverpool have reached the top not by investing more. They have spent relatively little nett.

2) Liverpool does not have owners that are more willing to spend.

3) Liverpool does not have a different business model which gives them an advantage.

Basically this means the “excuses” we often have seen brought forward for why we haven’t been serious title contenders for several years, are either a product of failure to look at the facts, or maybe they are just a product of the well known phenomenon; if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start believing it.

No, if we want to discuss what we need to have or need to do to become serious title contenders, we need to move away from blaming the owners for a lack of willingness to spend. We need to look at what we can do better under the current ownership.

The good news, if you like, is that it all means, in theory we could have developed like Liverpool and we still can. After all, they are on the same self-sustaining business model, as we are.

Liverpool’s success is in my opinion based on a combination of clever management decisions, and having possibly the best football manager/coach in the world at the moment. But that is also a clever management decision.

Getting Klopp and sticking with him despite a far from impressive start is really a key decision taken then by the management of the club. Liverpool nearly became champions a couple of seasons before, but they still sacked their manager and brought in Klopp.

We might have been able to do it at the time, if it had been on our agenda. Klopp was free on the market, and he went to Liverpool on a salary, that was reportedly 25% less than what we paid Wenger at the time. Only, it wasn’t on our agenda to do it. This is not criticism as such, because nobody could know for sure back then what we know now. Today we know it was clearly a great decision by Liverpool, and one that has been instrumental in bringing the club to the top.

Another great move by them was buying Coutinho for around £10m, making great use of him, developing him into to a world class player, and then selling him for around £110 m in 2017/18. He was arguably their best player at the time. So Liverpool have actually done what we also often hear, that our owners have forced Wenger into selling their best player. In fact, Liverpool also did it with Suarez. But it worked to their advantage, as they were clever enough to spend part of the £110 from the Coutinho sale to buy Van Dijk for £87 m. They sold their best player, but bought a player they needed more and made a handsome profit in the process.

As I see it, our management and decision making have for many years been far from as clever and targeted as it should have been. We have failed by:

1) Not being able to develop players to more valuable assets, thus limiting our options in the transfer market.

2) Not being clever enough in contract negotiations, or contract management if you like, meaning we couldn’t sell at the right time for the right price.

3) Spending too much money on players in areas where we were strong and not on players that would strengthen our weak areas.

3) Not being ruthless and changing Wenger at the right time with a modern manager with a new philosophy, when times had surpassed him.

This brings me to the trivia question in the beginning of the article.

The most expensive player, Arsenal have ever sold, is Marc Overmars for around £35m in year 2000!

I think that sums it up. For 20 years, we haven’t been able to sell a player for more than that, and that has been a big problem. Because other clubs like Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea have actually been able to generate transfer money to spend from selling players with a high value on the market, and spend the money on players offering more value to the team.

We have failed massively here.

So the transfer window is very exciting, but not only because we are all looking at which players we hope we can or will buy. Nearly just as much because the window shows, how good we have been at increasing the value of our players and at managing their contracts and ultimately at creating opportunities to strengthen our squad.

Our chances of becoming title winners again very much hinges on being better off the field as well as on it.



      1. I think you’ll also find that Arsenal sold Overmars to Barca along with Petit for a cobined fee of £32m (25 for overmars and 7m for Petit)
        Both OX and Iwobi went for £35m but i get what the writer is saying here and hopefully the club will be smarter moving forward

        1. I have the numbers from the website, which follows transfers all over Europe. Wheter they are 100% correct, I can’t guarantee, but it doesn’t really change the major points.

  1. Thought Iwobi and Ox were sold for more money. Also a big miss on not selling Sanchez.
    Otherwise I agree with most of what you have written. I think many fans wanted Klopp when he was available rather than sticking with Wenger, I sure did.
    Klopp and their management were ruthless in identifying what they needed and in moving on underperformers. Unfortunately Arsenal kept too many mediocre players deemed “good enough” by the club because 4th place and a CL invite was also deemed “good enough.”
    Point being Liverpool had ambition while Arsenal settled for “good enough.”

    1. I think some of those “mediocre players” were kept at the behest of the fans, you have played your part in the decline of the club. As mentioned City offered £60m for Sanchez and there was uproar from the fans, when you could have taken advantage of Ozil’s form when he was playing well and sold him at a high value the club gave him a new contract based on the rumbling from the fans.

      1. Ah yes Rodney Ayer it’s my fault and the rest of the fans. How dare we be ambitious, the audacity of wanting success. How dare we hold owner to his words, for example:
        1. Moving to Emirates so we could compete with biggest clubs in the world.
        2. Or Kronke saying he didn’t get involved to win titles.
        3. Or if there are better players available the club will go after them.

        Fans giving excuses and accepting their “good enough” mentality is what played a part in getting where we are. Highly paid management staff and board have failed to do their jobs and have not been held accountable.

        1. Durand, spot on. The big lie they tried to sell (which many too easily believed without doing the sums) about leaving Highbury, borrowing to the hilt to build the Emirates and selling our best players to compete with not only the best clubs In the EPL, but also Europe, still sickens me to this day.
          I have always argued that the money has been there; it is just that the player and financial assets of this Club have been squandered by the incompetence of the Board and senior executive.

  2. We passed on many managers to stick with AW. This is why it was so crucial to get him out the club. Too bad after all that Emery was chosen as the replacement, but that’s what happens when you have incompetence running/ruining the club. Liverpool owners may not invest as much but they are far more attentive owners than KSE, and they are actually fans of Liverpool as well. Crazy concept to our owner. I think having to actually care about the team you own makes a huge difference. We are treated only like an asset, which is why Top 4 was perfectly fine with our ownership and why people like Gaizids, Wenger, overstayed their welcomes. I’m ready for ppl to defend AW, but folk need to remeber how we stopped being competitve and only settled for a top 4 trophy. That was under Wenger/Kroenke/Gazidis. And it was only fan frustration that finally led to change. We can judge the decisions taken after sperately, but Arsenal were perfectly fine w/ never improving and challenging. That was only going to last for so long before it came crashing down. No surprise we seem to be very outdated in things like scouting too.

    1. RSH, apart from Klopp, can you please name the “many managers” we passed on and their records compared to AW?
      Let’s also remember it was Arteta that AW recommended to the board, but gazidis, once again, ignored him.

      1. I agree 100 percent. And I also agree that Arsene was the best manager for to manage Arsenal with those fund.

      2. Pep, Ancelotti, Allegri, Conte were all manager that were available during times AW was struggling. Do I need to go over their records, because all are better than Wenger’s in terms of trophies.

        1. 👍👌One could add Claudio Ranieri and Brendon Rogers to that list, without even considering Mourinho😠🤐

  3. Good article 👍
    Wow.. can you imagine selling a player of ours for over 100m?!!
    This has been our trouble.. over paying for average players and not being able to recoup all of that money when they’re sold! Selling decent players for a pittance, letting our best players walk away for nowt!! It’s got to stop!!

    We’ll make a good profit on Guendouzi, for sure… we’d also make good money on Leno & Martinez, if we’re looking at selling one of them (I hope not though)
    I think we’ve got a pretty decent squad for next season, by no means the finished article, but it’s a good start… things are looking good… who knows where we’ll be in 5 years time!! Dare I start dreaming?! 🙂

    1. If Arsenal had a player with that high a value the fans would be outraged at the prospect of him being sold, for example would you be happy to take £50m for either Sako or Martinelli? Most Arsenal fans would say no, “we’d make good money on Leno or Martinez if one of them is sold (I hope not though)” it does not make sense to keep both of them when you can take advantage of the situation to get some money to reinvest in the team. Part of the issue is the owners should listen to the fans less and make more financially sound business decisions.

      1. I only highlighted that (100m), because it’s never happened before and very unlikely to happen in the future!
        If we were to sell one of our best players for big bucks, I’d probably be peeved at the time, yes, but would soon get over it, IF we were to spend the money wisely. Like Liverpool did – do they miss Coutinho and Suarez? No.. they targeted their weak areas and strengthened and are now reaping the benefits! And will continue to do so….
        Listen to the fans less?? I didn’t want them to swap Sanchez for Mkhi… I’d have rather have taken the 60m!! 😂 It’s not down to us that we kept paying over the odds for bang average players!! But hopefully that’s behind us now we have Mikel.. I’m sure he’ll make sound decisions, no messing!!

    2. Sue, a very important factor on the player sales front, has been Arsenal’s total failure to include sell on or buy back clauses in the sale contracts for young players it has developed. Arsenal continues to sell young players eg Serge Gnabry (current value €72 million) Jeff Reine-Adelaide (€28 m, Gedion Zelalem with contract entitlement to buy back at an agreed fee or be remunerated if the player is sold on.

      1. Very true, Ozzie!
        We did have a sell-on clause with Jeff though – when he left Angers for Lyon, albeit only 10%!
        You’re right though, we need to insert these more often… watching Gnabry now – I could cry 😂

        Balogun, Guendouzi….??

  4. Unfortunately even now the players which we want to sell do not have much value with the exception of a few players like lacazette, AMN, Bellerin and Torreira…Our youngsters are not the finished product yet to sell for high prices yet…
    The reason we were not able to sell the players for high fees was because of the contract situation of players and high wages ( which we offered them when we were a Champions League club).One of the examples for this is the case of Carl Jenkinson an English player whom we lost for free (compare this with price of a home grown defender now) despite us trying to sell him for the previous 2 seasons. The reason this happened was because we couldn’t find any buyers for him due to his high wages (60k per week for a squad player!!).
    So moral of the story: Don’t give high wages or a too high a pay rise to a player too soon.. Let him play and prove that he deserves it first…
    Advantage of this approach: If a player flops it will be easier to sell him…
    if the player becomes a hit we are likely to get a huge price for him

  5. Interesting article. I wonder if the attitude of the fans have anything to do with how are players are seen and valued. I’ve always noticed Liverpool fans tend to be slightly older and love the club no matter how bad they do.

    Im not having a dig at AFTV but do platforms like that put more pressure on players and highlight when players have a bad at the office and attribute to lower valuations

    Cant be the only reason but I di often wonder if us fans have a impact?

  6. Kroenke resembles more the Liverpool previous two stooges, Tom Hicks & George Gillet, than the Liverpool current owner, FSG. Both becomes owner of their clubs around the same time (2010/2011) , but whereas FSG continues to make good footballing decision,( i.e approving VVD 75 mio transfer, a world record fee for a defender), incompetent Kroenke does not….and the buck rightfully should stop with him.

    Good owners win football clubs trophies, (Abramovich, Abu Dhabi), bad owners hinders them.

    1. Do you honestly believe Kroenke has a hand in the decision of who to buy and how much to spend? He employs people to make these decisions within the given budget.

  7. Bad business managers destroy companies for a long time. That’s the case for Arsenal. Giving aubameyang a 3 year contract is a bad business. Why give him a lucrative contract at the age of 32 when your team is 5 or 6 players away from competing? Giving Willian a 3 year contract at the age of 32 is a bad business. Not only is he too old but he will occupy the space of a youngster needing development. Pushing your highest earners to the sideline is bad business. A manager’s job is to get the best out of his players. No excuse for not finding a role for Ozil that will help the team. Escalating conflicts is a bad business. It disturbs the day to day operations and upsets supporters. We go from placing 4 to 8 and everybody is happy with the new coach because we won the cup. I will be happy with the new coach if/when we place first or win the European championship. Why not? we spend as much money as the clubs who win them. . Our expectations are lowered every year while the same mistakes are being made. Enough already.

  8. This is why it was so detrimental to our restructuring, of sorts, to side with Raul instead of Diamond Eye…what we needed was a good balance of intelligent scouting, thus lowering our wage bill by acquiring young gems, instead of keeping another corruptible executive on the payroll, who was almost assuredly pocketing some serious coin by cutting deals with his most favoured agents…this is what happens when you have an absentee landlord in charge…just imagine what things could have been like with Klopp and Diamond Eye on the Gunner’s payroll

    1. Do you really think our fan base would have waited as long as the pool fans for even a sniff at a trophy, let alone a CL place?

      1. Ken, didn’t Liverpool fans riot and demonstrate at Anfield?
        Unfortunately too many Arsenal fans no nothing about this Club’s history let alone the great sides Liverpool has hard prior to their trophy drought
        In recent days there have been posters on here denigrate Alan Smith, Edu (an Invincible), Paul Merson, without appearing to know their record of achievement with Arsenal. Their knowledge of Arsenal begins and ends with Arsene Wenger, and as great as he was, Arsenal has had others including George Graham, Bertee Mee and Herbert Chapman. They make statements like Wenger put Arsenal on the world map, being ignorant of an England team containing 7 Arsenal players beating the then FIFA World Cup winners Italy 3-2 on 14 November 1934.
        They know nothing of Arsenal’s winning the European Fairs Cup, First Division Title and FA Cup in 1970/71. Yes, there have been periods of trophy drought, but there has been great success with very good teams and great players, even in the lean times. Allan Ball and Liam Brady are two, who didn’t win much at Arsenal.
        Similarly people talk nonsense about the recent great Spurs teams, winning nothing and forget the sublime Spurs double winners under Danny Blanchflower in 1960/61.
        They miss so much in being only interested in now.

  9. I think Aubameyang is the only top Gunner at Arsenal who if sold this summer, but unlikely should command the sum of £70m and above in transfer fee sale for Arsenal. But he is one Arsenal Gunner that the club won’t dare to contemplate selling him this summer window. This is believed will in some Gooners quarters will not happen because they will be afraid to do it so as not to lose the high number of goals scoring he brings to the club for the past 2 season’s campaign in the Premier League. Which no any other Gunner does it in the team for the club. Even as Auba have only a full season left to run on his deal at the club, but the club still consider him their most valuable assets. Who they won’t let go unless they are forced against their wish to let him. But I will not be blaming the club’s bosses if they hold on to him tightly as they could hold on to him to almost to the point of attempting to strangle him to submission to make him extend his contract deal at the remain at the club for four years from now. Which I think it will be down by adding 3 additional full seasons to the one full season he has left to run at the club which will give him the total of 4 more years on his new contract from next season that will see him attained the age of 35 years at the club when his contract deal finally run out.

    But the problem that Arsenal are looking to be having when it comes to the incoming and outgoing transfers is that many clubs tend to overcharged Arsenal on incoming transfer business deals negotiation as they charge Arsenal a kind of over the board transfer fee which they deliberately placed on the heads of the player who Arsenal want to sign. this these clubs do for the simple reason that they consider AFC as a very very rich club side. For, these clubs will shout He! It’s Arsenal. They have plenty of money to spend, they are very very rich. So, let us overcharge them far far above the cost price of our player they want to sign. Then of course Arsenal do a times back off. Or sign when put under pressure by the Gooners, pressuring them to sign sign, then Arsenal do close their eyes to sign but some times do panic signed @£72m to satisfy the insane pressure put on the club by us Gooners. Arsene Wenger was insanely pressurized by the Gooners to sign sign sign new players when he was at the helm of affairs at the Gunners. And he panic signed Mesut Ozil.

    But whenever Arsenal want to sell one of their own players to some of these clubs, these clubs will submit ridiculous amount of money to Arsenal as bidding fee to sign one of their players. Whereas if they were Arsenal, they will not accept the ridiculous bidding money that they have submitted to Arsenal to sign a player. But if Arsenal were the ones who made such submission to sign any of theirs, they will refuse to accept.

    By the way, which of the two Premier League club sides between Man Utd and Arsena is reported to have submitted a bid in the sum of £22m to the Ligue one club side Lille, to sign their centreback player Gabriel Maglhaes from them this summer? Is it Arsena.? But Maglhaes is reported to have said that he has not yet decided in his choice which of the 2 PL club sides he’ll choose to join as Lille have accepted his request to leave them this summer and are prepared to sell him this window by putting him on sale. But do Arsenal need to do a new centreback signing this summer? I think they do need to do one and including also to do a new defensive midfielder(DM) signing, a new midfield play maker signing and a new striker signing too but should be of top quality grade. So therefore, let Arsenal go ahead to do all these 4 signings this summer. And use them to do an upgrade to their final first team squad for next season’s campaign properly upgrading their squad to adequately be ready to challenge for the quadruple titles winning and win them all.

  10. Good read! Thanks!
    Just speculation on my part but it seems like for the length of their current project under Klopp their capability to identify who they want and get them is scary. Although lucky with the sudden growth of Trent.

  11. We must go back to the culture of selling our best players (if they won’t renew, that is) but this time the proceeds earned MUST be reinvested into the team. We lost Sanchez (£60M) and Ramsey (£40M) and foolishly re-signed Ozil (could have been sold for £20M if lucky). That’s about £120M that could have made a huge difference to the team. Right now we have Aubameyang stalling, I say if no agreement is possible SELL him for heaven’s sake do no try to cling onto him.

    As fans we must also shoulder some of the blame for the mismanagement at this club for pressuring the club into not selling stars who have refused to sign. If a man has said he is not staying then he is not staying, we should get behind Kroenke and the board and trust they did everything possible to sign these players.

    OT: It gives me great joy to see Penalty FC crash out of Europa! 😂

  12. Very nice article. Though there is also another important difference between pool and our strategies. Some of these years we have been a couple of players short of being a contending team. But we never went ahead and aggressively addressed those like pool did with VVD and Alison. They did not wait for another window to buy VVD and yet another one for Alison.

    1. The straw that broke the camels back for me was when Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, only bought Petr Cech and no outfield players in 2015.

      1. That actually was the perfect time to strengthen the needed areas. We had a great chance of winning it the following year when Leicester did.

  13. Well thought out and written article. I mean once upon a time, we had santi, wilshere, Ramsey, AMN, chamberlain and rosicky in the midfield of the team but still went and bought ozil when we had no DM or good CB. When scoring goals wasn’t a problem for Arsenal, leaking goal was but we just had to buy ozil. A whole lot of transfers under Arsene were like that. We didn’t start buying players we needed till he left. If emery had gotten the support wenger had in the window, he probably would have done better. I just hope now with Raul gone, Arteta can make his own decisions and the right ones too. We have a long way to go.

    1. 👍 Kstix, Arsenal just loves “shiny new toys” instead of addressing the positions in need.

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