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October 2016
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Which is the dirtiest team in the Premier League, who are the dirtiest players?

By Tony Attwood

Following my occasional jaunts around statistics in terms of how well expensive players do when they are brought into a team, and how many players are injured, I thought it might be interesting to look at the team committing the most fouls in the Premier League.

I’m interested in this because my desire to create Untold Arsenal started around 1998/9 when the media was endlessly quoting that Arsenal had an “incredible” and “unacceptable” level of red and yellow cards.   It got to an outrageous level when on Sky George Best was interviewed and asked what the “fact” that Arsenal had just got its 50th yellow card under Wenger told us about Arsenal.  Best replied that “they are dirty bastards”.  Guffaws all round.

What annoyed me was two things.  One was that no one was quoting the number of cards by any other team, and the other was that even though my records were quite good, I couldn’t make the numbers I had, tally even remotely with the number given by the media.

These days of course the keeping of the tallies is much easier, as there is so much data on the internet, so I wondered what that might show now – and I wondered if it had anything to do with the number of players injured.

So for this season here are the teams in order of yellows

Yellow Red
Arsenal 14 2
State Aid 18 4
Stoke 20 2
Norwich 20 2
Everton 21 2
Watford 21 1
Man United 22 0
Crystal Pal 23 1
Chelsea 23 3
Bournemth 23 0
Leicester 24 0
Man C 24 0
Aston Villa 24 0
Swansea 24 0
Sunderland 26 2
The Tinies 27 0
Southampton 27 2
Newcastle 27 3
Liverpool! 29 1
WBA thugs 29 1
And what do you know we are at the bottom of the league in terms of number yellows given (or top if as here we work from bottom up). In this regards the red cards are interesting – in that one of them was rescinded.  But a bit late.  (Reds can also be misleading – they can be for two yellows of course, so numbers get counted twice – which is why I prefer to count the yellows as the prime indicator.)
I then tried doing a table based on fouls given per games.  Arsenal are pretty near the top of the good guys league with 9.5 fouls per match, but WBA are curious – they have a very low fouls per game.  The final column shows the current number of injured players – there’s no real link.
Tackles pg Intercepts pg  Fouls pg
Everton 19.4 12.1 9.4  6
WBA 17 17.7 9.5  1
Arsenal 20.8 19.8 9.5  8
Man City 17 13 9.7  4
West Ham 19.3 16.3 9.8  5
Newcastle 19.8 16.8 9.8  10
Swansea 14.6 15.4 10  0
Bournemth 17.2 15.7 10.1  6
Southampton 17.8 18.9 10.2  3
Stoke 20.2 13.5 10.4  3
Leicester 23 22.4 10.4  1
Norwich 17.2 11.7 11.6  2
Aston Villa 19.6 19.5 12.2  3
Chelsea 21.2 13.7 12.2  2
Liverpool! 24.5 15 12.2  8
Watford 20.5 18.8 12.5  2
Sunderland 22.7 15 12.6  2
Man U 19.5 16.4 13 9
Crystal Pal 18.6 15.3 13.3  4
Dirty Tots 23.9 18.5 14.3  5

Tottenham are the bad guys with 14.3 fouls per game and at the high end of the number of yellow cards as well.   For ease of reading here is the table in order of the number of tackles per game.

Tackles/g Intercepts/g Fouls/game
Swansea 14.6 15.4 10
WBA 17 17.7 9.5
Manchester C 17 13 9.7
Bournem’th 17.2 15.7 10.1
Norwich 17.2 11.7 11.6
Southampton 17.8 18.9 10.2
Crystal Pal 18.6 15.3 13.3
West Ham 19.3 16.3 9.8
Everton 19.4 12.1 9.4
Man U 19.5 16.4 13
Aston Villa 19.6 19.5 12.2
Newcastle U 19.8 16.8 9.8
Stoke 20.2 13.5 10.4
Watford 20.5 18.8 12.5
Arsenal 20.8 19.8 9.5
Chelsea 21.2 13.7 12.2
Sunderland 22.7 15 12.6
Leicester 23 22.4 10.4
Dirty Tots 23.9 18.5 14.3
Liverpool! 24.5 15 12.2

But now take a look at intercepts.  Leicester are way ahead of anyone else – which gives a real clue as to what they are doing to get to the top of the league.  However when we played them at Leicester we stopped that flow and did it back to them – a very clever tactic.

The website adds some data from earlier times.  Using data from the 2003-2004 season and onward, they generated details of the dirtiest Premier League football teams.

A list of the dirtiest Premier League clubs in 2003-14 ordered by their average fouls per game…

  1. Watford: 14.79 fouls per game.
  2. Leeds: 14.26 fouls per game.
  3. Leicester: 13.76 fouls per game.
  4. Blackburn: 13.55 fouls per game.
  5. Derby: 13.26 fouls per game.

What links these teams is that they were relegation fodder.  Leicester are the only team in the list above that are currently in the Premier League.

So, instead we can look at team that have spent a fair amount of time in the premier division between 2003 and 2014.

  1. Blackburn: 13.55 fouls per game.
  2. Aston Villa: 12.704 fouls per game.
  3. West Ham: 12.31 fouls per game.
  4. Everton: 12.24 fouls per game.
  5. Wigan: 12.14 fouls per game

Blackburn are here because they managed to stay in the Premier League until the end of the 2011–2012 season.  (“How hard can it be?”  as the Venky lady said).

Next the site turned to the dirtiest squads in recent memory.  Remember the Tiny Totts are the dirtiest team in the Premier League at the moment with 14.3 fouls per game.

  1. Newcastle committed 15.79 fouls per game in the 05-06 season.
  2. Blackburn committed 15.61 fouls per game in the 04-05 season.
  3. Aston Villa committed 15.26 fouls per game in the 04-05 season.
  4. Blackburn committed 14.95 fouls per game in the 05-06 season.
  5. Tiny Totts committed 14.84 fouls per game in the 03-04 season.

Now these figures all come from 2003-14 period and yet all the worst figures come from the first three years in that era.

This graph from shows that fouls dropped to 2011/12 but then started up again.

Premier League Fouls

To verify this we can look at team with the least number of fouls?

  • Swansea: 8.13 fouls per game in 2011-2012.
  • Spurs: 8.95 fouls per game in 2011-2012.
  • Cardiff: 9.00 fouls per game in 2013-2014.
  • Tiny Totts: 9.00 fouls per game in 2012-2013.
  • Wolves: 9.08 fouls per game in 2011-2012.

Moving on there is the question of whether certain players are targeted by the defensive cloggers.  The most fouled player is Andrew Ayew from Swansea, followed by Alexis Sanchez according to figures from the Mail.

Last thing, the worst offenders last season.

Red Yel Total
1 Moussa Sissoko Newcastle United 2 9 11
2 Tom Huddlestone Hull City 2 7 9
3 Mike Williamson Newcastle United 2 7 9
4 Paul Konchesky Leicester City 2 4 6
5 Kyle Naughton Swansea City 2 1 3
6 Gareth Barry Everton 1 11 12
7 Joey Barton Queens Park Rangers 1 11 12
8 Cesc Fabregas Chelsea 1 11 12
9 Branislav Ivanovic Chelsea 1 11 12
10 Nemanja Matic Chelsea 1 10 11
11 Jonjo Shelvey Swansea City 1 9 10
12 Ciaran Clark Aston Villa 1 9 10
13 Jason Puncheon Crystal Palace 1 8 9
14 Calum Chambers Arsenal 1 8 9
15 Damien Delaney Crystal Palace 1 7 8
16 Gabriel Agbonlahor Aston Villa 1 7 8
17 James Collins West Ham United 1 7 8
18 Pablo Zabaleta Manchester City 1 7 8
19 Steven Gerrard Liverpool! 1 7 8
20 Carlos Sanchez Aston Villa 1 7 8
21 Daryl Janmaat Newcastle United 1 7 8

One Arsenal player.  Three for Chelsea all in a row.

So what can we conclude?

Fouls have been declining but are on the up, but of course we don’t know how much of this is managerial tactics, player incompetence, or a change in the way games are refereed.

Arsenal get the fewest number of yellows, and have almost the lowest number of fouls, and a fairly high number of tackles.  It shows a fundamentally different form of play from, for example, the Tiny Totts.


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Forthcoming titles:

  • Danny Karbassiyoon – what’s it like?  By Danny Karbassiyoon
  • Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970.  By John Sowman.  Introduction by Bob Wilson.

Anniversaries – the full list of anniversaries can be found here

  • 26 November 1955: Doug Lishman final senior game, a 0-1 home defeat for Burnley.  He joined Nottm Forest and scored a hat-trick in the match that got Nottingham Forest promoted in 1956/7, but retired in the summer of 1957 to join his father-in law in a furniture retail business in Stoke on Trent,
  • 26 November 1958: Danny Clapton only appearance for England



18 comments to Which is the dirtiest team in the Premier League, who are the dirtiest players?

  • Gord

    A big problem is that the number of fouls called by the referee is not a got indicator of how many fouls are committed by either team in a game.

  • Andy Mack

    As Gord says, the numbers of actual fouls and ‘called’ fouls have no link at all. The same with the cards, look how many games you’ve seen where you’ve wondered how XXX got away without being sent off for the 6 bookable fouls but he actually didn’t get a single yellow!

  • Al

    Arsenal usually get a yellow card per foul. And if we were treated like other teams, whose players get 5 or 6 warnings before being issued a card, then our figures would be very very low indeed. Or, on the other hand, were the other teams treated the same way Arsenal is (a yellow for every foul), then some teams would have treble the numbers, or more, in the data collated in these stats.

  • Al

    Was going to add that it’s very easy to see we have good discipline to come out with the lowest numbers of yellows despite the low tolerance levels refs show us.

  • Al

    I think what would also be very interesting, although I know this would be very unpopular, would be a table showing which players injured how many players while making a tackle. I’m trying hard, and failing, to recall an incident where an Arsenal player made a tackle that injured an opposition player. Not saying there aren’t any such incidents, but really can’t think of any right now.

  • Al

    My 8:50 post is referring to the last decade btw…

  • Mandy Dodd

    It seems like West Brom don’t get so many fouls called…..same happened when he was at Stoke. Just read the ref review of the west Brom game…..where were the cries from the media for their players to be sanctioned for persistent fouling, as there were with Coq in the Palace game.
    Spurs being up there these days doesn’t surprise me, though the ref let them away with a lot against us recently, Ozil especially seemed targeted with impunity……but then again, we all know who that ref was.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I assume Clattenberg will be suspended for several weeks for allowing rotational fouling, just as Ref Mason was when the media accused him of allowing Coq to get away with it against Palace.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Mandy, he certainly has a rest this weekend – not even on fourth official duties. More likely to be a reward for a job well done than a punishment though!

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Clattenberg’s 90 minute weighted score of 42% was still better than Mike Dean who managed 41%. Amazing, and totally disgraceful for a FIFA referee licensed to officiate any match anywhere in the world.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    just checked my database and I have noted 35 wrongly awarded or nor awarded yellow cards favouring our opponents and 5 favouring Arsenal. I also have 14 wrongly awarded or not awarded second yellow cards and 7 red cards again favouring our opponents. There have been none favouring Arsenal.

    Some of those favouring our opponents are cards wrongly given to our players, and one of the five yellows favouring Arsenal was Coloccini wrongly being booked when we played Newcastle.

    I’m afraid I haven’t separately noted the numbers of fouls by and against Arsenal players and I’m not proposing to extract the data from the referee reports. If someone has the database skills then please have a go …..

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    One last bit of checking, in the West Brom game Arsenal were correctly penalised for 7 fouls and should have been penalised for another 2. West Brom were correctly penalised for 13 fouls, should have been penalised for a further 15. There were three fouls wrongly called against Arsenal players (one of which led to the equalising goal).

  • Mandy Dodd

    Really poor refereeing. Such numbers seem go beyond mere mistakes or incompetence hinting at something more sinister

  • Usama Zaka

    Good data picking Andrew. I am slowly working on a mega stat data sheet regarding all these categories. It will go through many revisions until the end of the season. And of course you, Tony and Walter should keep their good work. 🙂

  • Menace

    Tony, Usama the biggest issue is the PGMO. How many cheating decisions have they given & how much money has been made because of these in the betting market? The bookies don’t know unless there is a pattern, even then they can only assume. Card counts are a superficial skin to hide the reality of corrupt decisions.

    However your approach with systematic analysis of games has its merits & I hope causes fear in the minds of the cheats.

  • Goonermikey

    Splendid stuff Tony. One of my favourite areas of anorakdom!

    A couple of interesting (well I think so) observations.

    Firstly, I must disagree with your hypothesis in respect of interceptions being a reason Leicester are doing well. Man City have the third lowest and Aston Villa the third highest so I don’t think (in isolation) one can draw any conclusion from that particular stat.

    The other interesting thing for me was that Newcastle had the highest number of fouls per game in 2005/06. This was Shearer’s last season and I remember clearly being very annoyed around that time as not only was he a fine advocate of leading with the elbow, he also went two or three seasons as the player who committed the most fouls per season in the premiership. I also recall clearly (and will do the research if anybody asks) during that period as darling of the English media he received one yellow card in two seasons. If I remember rightly, that was about 200 fouls per yellow card. Quite unbelievable until you remember he was the star of English football at the time……and admittedly a damn fine striker. (Perhaps the same reason Rooney doesn’t pick up the 10 reds a season he deserves!)

  • Menace

    Al – each time an Arsenal player takes to the field a thousand bookies get injured bank balances. The PGMO rub their hands with glee & the official put in the position of Rileys spiv fears his job if he remembers honesty.

  • omgarsenal

    Andrew…..FIFA officials cannot referee their national team and also cannot referee some games involving British teams in the CL. I also believe that in the WC they cannot officiate their national team, so they may be able to do any game worldwide but in practice are restricted in certain games.