Thank goodness that two commanding victories–at Fenerbache mid-week and at Fulham this weekend–have slightly quieted the Arsenal drumbeat. If I hear the words “crisis,” “misery,” or “drought” connected with the club again, I don’t want to be responsible for my actions. You know what I’m talking about. It’s everywhere on the internet, and Zachary Roth even wrote a story for the most recent issue of The Howler titled after the ubiquitous Emirates Stadium chant: “Spend Some Fucking Money: Can Arsenal compete in modern soccer?” When I hear that chant, I have to confess to an instinctive response: “Grow the fuck up!”
When I was in high school, we had some acquaintances, both of them successful professionals, whose son got a chance to tour Bill Gates’s home as a part of some group. Returning to his family’s $500,000 home (I’ve made that number up and reported it in adjusted imaginary dollars, but you get the picture), he looked around disconsolately and declared, “We live in a hovel!” before flouncing off to his room. I don’t know if that kid grew up to become a soccer fan, but if he did, I bet he’s an Arsenal supporter.
It’s not that there aren’t some legitimate concerns about the club’s performance in the transfer market or questions that can be asked about how Arsenal has operated in this transfer market. The Swiss Ramble has recently produced an excellent account of Arsenal’s cash reserves and concluded that more could, in fact, be spent on transfers at the moment.
But let’s get real about this ongoing “crisis.” Arsenal has been 8 years without a trophy. That puts them in the situation of–well, of virtually every other team in the Premier League, to say nothing of the rest of the Football League. During that time, exactly three teams have won the League (like you don’t know: Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City). The only other side to even finish above Arsenal in that time is Liverpool. Four teams.
But then there’s the FA and Carling/What’s in your wallet Cup. That brings the tally of hardware winners up to nine teams, though two of those winners were relegated the same season and a third (Portsmouth, obviously) was relegated shortly afterward and was very nearly liquidated this past year. Looking to trade places with Wigan or Birmingham City, Arsenal fans? How about Portsmouth?
So at most we’re talking about six unrelegated teams with hardware over 8 years. I’m too lazy to figure the exact number, but that’s 6-9 out of the somewhere between 23 and 38 teams that have been in the Premier League over that period. Let’s call it an even 30. That means that 70%-80% of the league is in the same crisis–and almost all of them have been for considerably longer than Arsenal.
“But we’re a big club.” True enough, you’re the one of the largest sports clubs in the world, which is the genteel way of saying one of the richest. Money has its privileges. It allows you to regularly beat the teams with smaller budgets. And you regularly have. The only four teams to finish above you in the past eight years are not poorer than you. They are either much richer than you (Manchester United) or about as rich and backed by billionaires willing to spend like drunken sailors, well beyond the means of a club actually Arsenal’s size (Chelsea, Manchester City), or were also about your size until they tried to keep up with the Zayed-Abromovich-Glazier-Jonses and are now trying to recover from the consequences (Liverpool). Live by the sword, die by the sword. It’s awful the role of money in modern football, blah, blah, blah; but when that awfulness has played a very large role in keeping you, for over a decade, ahead of nearly every other team in the country–in Europe, for that matter–maybe you should, you know, swallow hard and fucking bear it.
Here’s something that could help you silently endure your oh-so-difficult suffering: Arsenal has never finished below 4th place in the league in that time and has made it to the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the past eleven years. You know who else has done that? No one. Not one (English) team.
Here’s a comparison of Arsenal’s performance over the past 8 years in comparison to their main competitors over the same period. It’s the average of the percentile finished in over that 8 years in the Premier and Champions League (winning the league/final is 100%, while finishing runner-up is 95%, 19th of 20, or 97% (31st of 32), with 0% for not making the Premier League or the group stage). Just for fun, I’ve also included the regular season performances of some of the most dominant 8-year runs in US sports, substituting the play-offs for the Champions League (apples and oranges, but still interesting).
|Premier League Teams, 2005-13||PL 8Y Avg.||CL 8Y Avg.|
|North American “Dream” Teams||RS 8Y Avg.||PO 8Y Avg.|
|New York Yankees, 1996-2003||93.01%||84.38%|
|Chicago Bulls, 1990-98||90.99%||93.75%|
|only counting 6 MJ years||97.86%||100.00%|
|Edmonton Oilers, 1982-90||91.37%||89.84%|
|Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972-79||87.98%||82.81%|
(More details available on this spreadsheet of Arsenal Comparables.)
Clearly, United and Chelsea have outperformed Arsenal, though it’s interesting to notice that technically Arsenal has a higher finishing average than United in the Champions League and is less than one percentile behind Chelsea. But they have thoroughly outclassed (over the whole of the period) the other trophy-winning teams to which an Arsenal fan is likely to compare his team (it goes without saying that Swansea City, Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, and Portsmouth will not enter the equation). Hey Spurs fans, would you trade in that 2008 Carling Cup for 7 extra years of Champions League football? And would you Arsenal fans be willing to take that swap?
The point: complain if you want about transfer policy or lack of ambition or whatever. But try to remember the rest of us who aren’t United, Chelsea, or Yankees fans. To the rest of us, talk about a crisis or misery sounds like the crying New York Giants fan Daniel Tosh offered a web redemption (having trouble with embedding, but this link to the video is worth watching). So stop crying, pussy.