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October 2016
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In the past it was the clubs lower down the league that fouled most. Now it is the clubs near the top.

By Tony Attwood

The web site Footstats has recently produced some very interesting league tables of its own, and through their kind permission, I am able to bring you one or two of these, starting with the Premier League Table of fouls.

You may remember (if you were paying attention) that in the early days of Wenger the English media went on an absolute PR blitzkrieg in which they alleged day after day that Arsenal were the dirtiest team in the league.  “The 50th red card since Wenger took over” was a typical headline.

Of course the giveaway was that no one ever produced a comparative table showing each club with the number of fouls given and received, or the number of red and yellow cards.  The only stat you ever heard was Arsenal’s – and it was utterly, totally and completely wrong.

There was sadly no Untold in those days to hold the naughty fantasists who masqueraded as football experts on radio, TV and in the press to account, but at least these days (thanks to sites like Footstats) we can investigate matters a little more closely.

But in doing so there are a few rules to remember.

First, just because a referee blows for a foul, it doesn’t mean there was a foul, any more than when he puts both hand across his tummy and sweeps them out to the side with hands flat it doesn’t always mean there was no foul.  It is just what he sees.  But the number of fouls awarded is still interesting, even if we have to handle them with caution.

In this first chart we an see the teams ranked by the number of fouls committed by each team.  Thus Arsenal committed 350 actions in the season that were considered fouls by the refs.  Man U were the most profligate in that they committed 472 acts that were considered fouls.  That is Man U committed 35% more events reckoned by the refs to be fouls than Arsenal.

Lge Position Team Played Fouls committed by Team
Total Per Game
11 Everton 38 315 8.29
2 Arsenal 38 350 9.21
16 Bournemouth 38 362 9.53
7 West Ham 38 381 10.03
12 Swansea 38 392 10.32
14 West Brom 38 392 10.32
17 Sunderland 38 396 10.42
1 Leicester 38 405 10.66
10 Chelsea 38 408 10.74
4 Man City 38 409 10.76
18 Newcastle 38 414 10.89
6 Southampton 38 416 10.95
19 Norwich 38 417 10.97
9 Stoke 38 419 11.03
8 Liverpool? 38 422 11.11
20 Aston Villa 38 431 11.34
3 Tottenham 38 452 11.89
13 Watford 38 460 12.11
15 Crystal Palace 38 465 12.24
5 Man United 38 472 12.42

Now we can look at the matter the other way around: fouls given by referees against opposing teams.  Thus if Arsenal played Man U and Man U committed a foul, it is shown as a “foul committed by the opposition” in the Arsenal row.

Position Team Fouls committed by Opposition
Total Per Game
19 Norwich 327 8.61
1 Leicester 373 9.82
5 Man United 374 9.84
6 Southampton 375 9.87
20 Aston Villa 376 9.89
18 Newcastle 383 10.08
8 Liverpool? 394 10.37
13 Watford 397 10.45
4 Man City 402 10.58
9 Stoke 402 10.58
16 Bournemouth 402 10.58
3 Tottenham 403 10.61
17 Sunderland 403 10.61
14 West Brom 412 10.84
11 Everton 425 11.18
2 Arsenal 448 11.79
15 Crystal Palace 450 11.84
7 West Ham 467 12.29
12 Swansea 468 12.32
10 Chelsea 497 13.08

So from the first table we see Arsenal commit fewer fouls (ie An Arsenal man does something that the referee interprets rightly or wrongly as a foul).  And Arsenal has a relatively high number of fouls committed against the club.  We don’t foul them, they foul us.

Chelsea were the team that got their opponents worked up, and I think we can see why – we only have to remember that Gabriel was wrongly sent off, and how Costa wasn’t sent off once until March.  This shows us how they somehow (by foul means or foul) managed to get referees to give them free kicks all through the season.

In a reversal of this position, Man U commit lots of fouls but are not fouled much.   But there is no really consistent pattern here – you can’t really predict where a club will be in one chart by looking at the other.

To help unravel this Footstats gives the clubs a Profile.  This is a technical device to try and help us understand exactly what is going on, and it is calculated by the formula

(100 x fouls committed by Team) divided by fouls committed by Opposition

As a result there are four types of team we can find

  • Teams that commit few fouls, but are fouled a lot: they would be a score below 100. 
  • Teams that commit few fouls, and have few fouls against them: they might score around 100.
  • Teams that commit lots of fouls and is fouled a lot: they also would score around 100.
  • Teams that commit lots of fouls but are rarely fouled in return: they would get a score considerably above 100

The point here is that teams that give as much as they take (either both sides foul, or neither side fouls) the ranking is around 100.   The team that plays by the rules but gets kicked off the park scores low.  The team that kicks everything that moves and bullies the opposition into submission scores high.

League Tables – Fouls – English Premier – All – 2015/2016

Lge Position Team Profile
11 Everton 74.12
2 Arsenal 78.13
7 West Ham Utd 81.58
10 Chelsea 82.09
12 Swansea 83.76
16 Bournemouth 90.05
14 West Brom 95.15
17 Sunderland 98.26
4 Man City 101.74
15 Crystal Palace 103.33
9 Stoke 104.23
8 Liverpool? 107.11
18 Newcastle 108.09
1 Leicester 108.58
6 Southampton 110.93
3 Tottenham 112.16
20 Aston Villa 114.63
13 Watford 115.87
5 Man United 126.20
19 Norwich 127.52

We can probably all agree that being the aggressors in terms of fouls, without any excuse that the other team were doing it just as much, is not what football should be about, and yet we can see that four of the clubs that ended up in the top six in the league, used this aggressive approach.  Only Arsenal out of the top six were being fouled without retaliation.  Man City were neutral, giving and taking in equal amounts.

We can now combine all the tables and place them in order according to the final league positions:

Position Team Played Fouls committed by Team Fouls committed by Opposition Profile
Total Per Game Total Per Game
1 Leicester 38 405 10.66 373 9.82 108.58
2 Arsenal 38 350 9.21 448 11.79 78.13
3 Tottenham 38 452 11.89 403 10.61 112.16
4 Man City 38 409 10.76 402 10.58 101.74
5 Man United 38 472 12.42 374 9.84 126.20
6 Southampton 38 416 10.95 375 9.87 110.93
7 West Ham 38 381 10.03 467 12.29 81.58
8 Liverpool? 38 422 11.11 394 10.37 107.11
9 Stoke 38 419 11.03 402 10.58 104.23
10 Chelsea 38 408 10.74 497 13.08 82.09
11 Everton 38 315 8.29 425 11.18 74.12
12 Swansea 38 392 10.32 468 12.32 83.76
13 Watford 38 460 12.11 397 10.45 115.87
14 West Brom 38 392 10.32 412 10.84 95.15
15 Crystal Palace 38 465 12.24 450 11.84 103.33
16 Bournemouth 38 362 9.53 402 10.58 90.05
17 Sunderland 38 396 10.42 403 10.61 98.26
18 Newcastle 38 414 10.89 383 10.08 108.09
19 Norwich 38 417 10.97 327 8.61 127.52
20 Aston Villa 38 431 11.34 376 9.89 114.63

Now I mentioned at the start how in the early days of Mr Wenger’s time at Arsenal the media gave out endless stories about how many red cards Arsenal had had under his leadership.  Now that should be reflected in the number of fouls, so I thought it might be interesting to compare these figures with 2000/2001.

Here is the same sort of analysis but for that season at the start of the century.  Remember a low profile means the club is being fouled, but not giving back, a high score means the club is fouling but not being fouled back.

League Tables – Fouls – English Premier – All – 2000/2001

Position Team Played Fouls committed by Team Fouls committed by Opposition Profile
Total Per Game Total Per Game
5 Ipswich 38 414 10.89 495 13.03 83.64
13 Leicester 38 426 11.21 489 12.87 87.12
1 Man United 38 433 11.39 488 12.84 88.73
9 Charlton 38 467 12.29 511 13.45 91.39
4 Leeds 38 589 15.50 641 16.87 91.89
2 Arsenal 38 495 13.03 538 14.16 92.01
15 West Ham 38 473 12.45 506 13.32 93.48
14 Middlesbrough 38 498 13.11 531 13.97 93.79
6 Chelsea 38 545 14.34 569 14.97 95.78
20 Bradford 38 517 13.61 520 13.68 99.42
7 Sunderland 38 618 16.26 618 16.26 100.00
3 Liverpool 38 473 12.45 459 12.08 103.05
19 Coventry 38 529 13.92 509 13.39 103.93
8 Aston Villa 38 491 12.92 469 12.34 104.69
10 Southampton 38 509 13.39 483 12.71 105.38
17 Derby 38 529 13.92 493 12.97 107.30
16 Everton 38 558 14.68 491 12.92 113.65
11 Newcastle 38 552 14.53 484 12.74 114.05
12 Tottenham 38 526 13.84 459 12.08 114.60
18 Man City 38 589 15.50 478 12.58 123.22

Now you can see that five of the top six are all on the right side of the chart – that is that they have numbers below 100.   This is the complete reversal of today where almost of all of the top six have scores above 100.

So does this mean teams have got more cynical – that perhaps 15 years ago teams with quality and style would never demean themselves by kicking the opposition to bits?  Maybe.

But there is another explanation.  I started this piece with a convoluted attempt to point out that fouls are not an absolute measure, but are in part the referees reading of the game.

If the referee is getting it 100% right, then fouls given and received are exactly what has happened.   But if the referee is bent he might be moved to give fouls where none should be given, or indeed not give fouls where all is fine.

So consider this scenario.  15 years ago, teams with quality and ability did not have to resort to fouling, but teams with less able players had to foul to stand any chance of keeping the score down.  Thus teams near the bottom of the league fouled more, teams near the top got fouled – but knew that by and large they had the protection of refs.  The 2000/1 table reflects this.

But today this is not the case – teams near the top are fouling more than teams near the bottom.  One explanation for this is that some teams are exerting pressure on referees and the referees give into that pressure.  Of course the ref knows that everything is filmed, so they can’t go too far over the top, but they also know most newspapers and all radio and TV stations will not become deeply involved in criticising refs.

In such a scenario you would get a situation as you see today – teams that foul a lot going higher up the table.   They are punished more – but the suspicion is that they are committing a huge number of fouls that are never called.  That is certainly what our weekly referee reviews show.

I hope you find some of this illuminating.  Depending on the response, I’ll do a similar analysis on red and yellow cards later on.  (Oh, and before you ask, no Arsenal didn’t have more cards than any other club as the media suggested in the early years of Mr Wenger’s management.  It was, inevitably, the mindless repetition of something someone once said.  A bit like, Arsenal get the most injuries.)

Recent Posts

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  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
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12 comments to In the past it was the clubs lower down the league that fouled most. Now it is the clubs near the top.

  • Usama Zaka

    Top class work Tony !

  • para

    The reason i like Untold is because, like the books i read, they are both backed up by facts they(the authors) have researched.

    As with the books i read i do not agree with everything either the books or Untold says, but at least 80%-90% makes sense to my limited(by experience)mind and by careful reasoning of my spirit “illuminates” me.

    Therefore i can safely say there is a great campaign against Arsenal, and i am beginning to understand that it also has much to do with the subjects of the books i do read.

    The way it is done to Arsenal is exactly the same as described in these books i read, as if they are following the same formats and principles.

    So i wish to congratulate Untold on “having a voice”. Keep up the good work, but be greatly aware that the “nail that stands up usually gets hammered down”.

  • colario

    An interesting read with information not to be found in the media as far as I know.

  • Jambug

    Very interesting stuff, and something I have taken great interest in, ever since those early days of Wenger, to which you refer.

    It’s nice to see they support the rather crude conclusions I came to way back then.

    As you say, back then there was no Untold Arsenal to refute such misinformation regarding Arsenals discipline, but there was a rather rudimentary on-line ‘chat’ room curtesy of the BBC, on which I regularly posted, refuting such claims.

    Back then my only source of information was the old ‘fair play’ table that used to get published in the Sun every week.

    That table consisted of simply the Number of fouls and Red and Yellow cards.

    Using this basic data it was simple division to work out fouls per card. I gave 1 point for a Yellow card and 2 for a Red, added the total points and divided the amount of Fouls by that total number of points.


    100 fouls

    8 Yellows (8 pts)

    1 Red (2 points)

    Means 100 divided by 10 gives a card every 10 fouls.

    I did this rudimentary equation for years and almost every season we finished top, or bottom depending on how you look at it, of the table.

    Back then, if memory serves, the average was a booking about every 8 fouls, with teams being harshly treated having a lower figure than 8, and those being leniently treated having a higher number than 8.

    We where almost always close to, or indeed actually, the most harshly treated, consistently having a ratio in the region of a card every 5.5 fouls.

    Suffice to say, Manchester United where almost always the most leniently treated.

    I have posted on here about these stats before, and I mentioned in one about how, in the run up the infamous 49th game at OT, they where being allowed to get away with around 15 fouls before receiving a card. They just KNEW what they where going to be able to get away with that day.

    As a foot note, I have to say I am reproducing these figures from memory and cannot, as I would normally like to do, reference any available data sources. I have tried but I simply cannot find them from that long ago.

    If anyone can help I would love to go right back to the start of Wenger’s reign and do that simple equation again for every season to see 1) If my memory serves correctly (I’m sure it does, pretty much), and 2) If it does, has it pretty much stayed the same throughout his tenure.

    It seems Tony, from what the statistics you’ve reproduced above are telling us, that indeed nothing very much has changed in neigh on 20 years.

  • insideright

    Of course. back in the day, some teams (notably those managed by Allardyce) would try to gain free kicks in order to be able to put high balls into the box when both of their centre-backs were in position – not least to impede the opposition goalkeeper. Stoke did the same but as much via rhrow-ins as free kicks. By working on reducing foul tackles (or at least those that could be interpreted as fouls) Arsenal have gone a great way towards nullifying that tactic against them. Helping to enforce the widening of Stoke’s pitch sorted the other one out.
    Like FFP such changes need time to bear fruit – particularly when referees are somewhat conservative when it comes to change and it’s in too many clubs interest to keep the game ‘dirty’.
    Bring them down to our level was their mantra.
    All fans want short term solutions to what they see as problems or barriers to their teams success. Patient application of the long term solutions tend to bear most fruit and, in the end, benefit football as a whole.

  • nicky

    Couldn’t agree more.
    If anyone needed to be convinced of the existence of corrupt
    referees, they should watch the video of the Night of Infamy at Old Trafford.
    All that is the very worst in football was displayed that night, mainly by the thuggish Neville Brothers, aided by the most corrupt of match officials.

  • Thanks for this very interesting analysis!

    The ref reviews suggest that in Arsenal games the opposition fouls the gunners many more times than the refs actually call. But do call all the fouls Arsenal actually commit. It is really outstanding how consistent and accurate the refs are when a Arsenal player is committing a foul. It is close to 100%. But when it comes to the opposition fouling Arsenal players – well the accuracy is very low and consistently so. That this pattern repeats itself every match indicated this is deliberate. The refs are either instructed to do this or rewarded when they do it by the PGMO (Mike Riley) so they continue to do it.

    Given this bent officiating it is a wonder that Arsenal took 2nd place.

  • WalterBroeckx

    If we look at our neighbours it is clear to see that they were a wild kicking team then and… still are. 🙂

  • Jambug


    “All that is the very worst in football was displayed that night, mainly by the thuggish Neville Brothers, aided by the most corrupt of match officials”.

    Very true sir, but what I believe is worse is the way, starting with the 2 Sky commentators, Martin Tyler and Andy Gray I believe, the media brushed it all under the carpet.

    Because it was from this day forward that referees realised that screwing Arsenal was at worst, simply ignored by the media, but at best, and most often, actually applauded.

    They also soon came to realise that conversely, showing any leniency towards Arsenal was tantamount to professional suicide, as the media would slaughter them. Even giving Arsenal a fair crack of the whip was often as not going to land them in hot water with the hacks.

    As I have said many times, I don’t myself believe there is any real corruption regarding the referees. What I mean by that is I don’t think there are any ‘brown envelops’ changing hands, or secret meetings discussing ways to screw us.

    I believe they simply follow the line of least resistance. They are by and large simply looking after there own careers.

    They know it is the media that are there sole, judge, jury, and executioners.

    They know they are only taken to task over a decision if the media make a meal of it, hence, fail to Red card an Arsenal player the media think should of been (Flamini for example) and they are Slaughtered.

    Fail to give Arsenal blatant penalties, A La the 2014 FA Cup final for example, and you are praised to the hilt.

    The real media hatred for Arsenal, and Wenger in particular, kicked in big time following our unbeaten season, and it was on that infamous day at OT that the media let the Referees know that basically, anything goes when it comes to shafting us, and if you want to get on, you better tow the line, or you can kiss your career goodnight.

  • Rich

    Read an Arsenal/Wenger book that covered in detail the early years last year.

    Recounted how Ferguson convened a long friendly gathering- might have been on his birthday or something- with three of his preferred journalists. No doubt the wine flowed.

    Result of it was they all ran stories led by Ferguson’s opinion Arsenal were a very dirty team, refs had to watch them, trying to win by kicking people,etc.

    Led to a bit of a furore and Ferguson giving about a quarter apology, saying he was misquoted or something. Said that he had apologised personally to Wenger for the misunderstanding

    This may well have been the occasion when Wenger was asked about Ferguson’s apology and quipped something about not having received it but maybe Ferguson sent it by a horse.

    All interesting stuff. I recall that reading the book gave a good picture of how the animosity between the two men grew, almost entirely because it became clear Arsenal under Wenger were a force.

    The picture was of one man ‘not playing the game’, i.e not doing the cynical things which, sadly, are rewarded well in football, and his rival who was totally without principle and would do anything to win. *

    The twist in the tale is that Mourinho was always Ferguson’s natural heir, but United really do appear to have believed their own lies that their success was based on principled ruthlessness.

    Eventually, they have got to the right man for them. His dream no doubt has always been to enjoy the sort of treatment Ferguson got from the media and, especially, the referees. The media ,in turn, often give the impression of craving a figure like that to bow before.

    If he can survive the first two or three years in good shape, I’d say the chances are high he could establish Ferguson-type power.

    So fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. In our, and football’s, favour is the three year gap, the high number of powerful managers for him to clash with now, and the hope that unless/until he secures success with them some journalists will hold something back.

    In a couple of years we could actually be free of the curse of Mourinho in the premier league, or he could be established at Old Trafford and enjoying a Ferguson-type hold on power here. It’ll be ugly however it goes.

    * John Cross claims in his recent book the thing which tipped Ferguson over the edge was Wenger’s comment about everyone thinks their wife is the prettiest. Astonishingly, Ferguson supposedly interpreted this as an unforgivable slight against…his wife. And, accordingly, changed his attitude to Wenger afterwards.

    This stunned me as, if true, it left two options : Ferguson is capable of being astonishingly dense; or, he was capable of using a ridiculous pretext to justify his poor behaviour. Furthermore, Cross made no comment on how ludicrous it would be to interpret Wenger’s comment that way.

  • finsbury

    Excellent comment Rich, thank you.

    Safe to say that Sah Slurgus had exhibited sociopathic tendencies at a fairly consistent frequency. “Typical (of) cheats” as the (not so) great man himself might have said.

  • I am very glad to get to know many facts about Arsenal team through your wonderful analysis… Keep sharing more as such!!!