I watched Moneyball this weekend, and enjoyed it for two main reasons: 1) as a fan of the former Montreal Expos, I could relate to the David vs Goliath storyline (small-market teams vs big-market teams), and 2) I saw many parallels to Arsenal’s current situation.
Spoiler alert in this paragraph: In a nutshell, Moneyball focuses on Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane. Beane, who has been with the A’s for almost as long as Wenger has been with Arsenal, was faced with the thankless job of finding replacements for three big-name players who were lured away from Oakland by big money. There’s an important scene in the movie where he’s arguing with his scouts, “If we play ball the Yankees way, we will lose to the Yankees.” Beane knew that he would never be able to compete with the big-market teams in recruiting and retaining marquee players. So he and his newly hired assistant GM relied heavily on statistics to acquire lesser-known, less desirable, cheaper players who met certain criteria (for example, on-base percentage). The result? The A’s finished the season at the top of the American League West, eventually losing to the Twins during the playoffs.
The movie helped me to understand what (I believe) Arsène Wenger and Ivan Gazidis are trying to accomplish. They know that they cannot compete with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City for pure spending power. Na$ri is an obvious example, but Chelsea dropped a lot of cash for Fernando Torres and even Liverpool got in the spending game before the start of this season. To compete with an oil baron would be futile and financial suicide. UEFA’s financial fair play is a joke, when Manchester City’s stadium deal is allowed to stand.
So how can a team prosper in spite of a financial handicap? In part with a strong youth academy, but also by acquiring lesser-known, less desirable, cheaper players who meet certain criteria. This is why Arsenal fans are always saying “Who?” when there’s news of a new acquisition. Juan Mata? Nope, it’s Yossi Benayoun. Gary Cahill? Wrong, we got Andre Santos. No disrespect intended here, but Arsène picked players who flew under the radar of the big-spending clubs. I’m not a stats wizard (I leave the number crunching in the capable hands of 7am kickoff) but I’m sure Wenger did the due diligence all summer. Off the top of my head, I’m guessing he looked at pass percentage, number of yellow (or red) cards per season (in the case of defenders), foot speed, and other relevant stats that one needs to play the Arsenal way. Moneyball is about value; how much $ did you spend per win?
So here are my predictions for the season; feel free to bookmark this post and roast me in May:
- Arsène will not leave the club. He, Gazidis and Stan Kroenke are all on the same page, re: Moneyball. The overall objective is to spend reasonable $ per win. If you need approximately 29 wins in a season to win the Premier League, the board has a specific budget in mind, based on projected revenue (next season, that revenue may be reduced if we don’t qualify for the Champions League).
- Although the team is going through rough times right now, the current squad will turn things around in due time and will compete for fourth place. Buying players at the very last minute was not in Arsène’s plan, so they’re a bit behind schedule. No matter how much the media and fans will howl, inside the dressing room the players believe in Wenger and will form a cohesive unit sooner than you think.
- We will not sign a big-name player in January. We will continue to acquire lesser-known players and long-term projects.
- We will lose RVP at the end of the season. He will attract a lot of money from big-spending clubs and we will not be able to match those offers. From his point of view, Arsenal’s chances of winning trophies in the near future are slim-to-none. He has to make the jump to a real contender before it’s too late. If we do lose RVP, I don’t see how we could retain Walcott or Vermaelen either.
Even if you’re not a fan of baseball, I would recommend that every Arsenal fan check out the film. While you’re watching it, replace Billy Beane with Ivan Gazidis and Peter Brand with Arsène Wenger.