Fouling: The part of the game where Arsenal suffered but now are coming good





By Bulldog Drummond

There is a set of statistics that I have never seen quoted in relation to the Premier League, and so, because this is “Untold” I thought I would have a look.   

Now with fouls, we have two numbers, fouls committed and fouls suffered.   In terms of fouls committed you might not be surprised with the figures that show the teams that foul the most are Leeds, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton, and then Aston Villa and (surprisingly if you have not watched them) Manchester United tied for fifth place.  Arsenal are 17th in the fouling league.  Manchester United commit 16% more fouls than an average match.  Bournemouth on the other hand commit only 6% more fouls than Arsenal.

The top ten fouling teams at the moment are shown below in this table which is in the order of fouls committed per game.  Generally, the lower a team is in the league the more it is fouling but as we can see Manchester United and Tottenham are playing (in terms of fouling) as if they were in the lower part of the table, whereas in fact they are 3rd and 4th.   Thus they are using fouls as a way of rising up the table, rather than just as last ditch measure for stopping attacks.   (Figures here and below are from WhoScored).

Team League position Fouls Committed per game
1. Leeds 17 12.7
2. Southampton 20 11.9
3. Crystal Palace 12 11.7
4. Wolverhampton 15 11.6
5. Aston Villa 11 11.3
6. Manchester United 3 11.3
7. Tottenham 4 11
8. Nottingham Forest 13 11
9. Chelsea 10 11
10. Brighton 8 10.7


This was not quite the result we expected so we thought we would look at the two sets of figures – the fouls committed (these are the figures above), and the fouls suffered.  Then we decided to divide fouls suffered by fouls committed to work out what seems to be a new concept: the Foul Ratio.   

This is shown in the column at the end in the next table.  So to see the meaning of this…

  • Over 1.0: these are the teams that are fouled more than they foul others
  • 1.0: the team fouls as much as it is fouled
  • Under 1.0: these are the dirty teams that dish it out, but are not fouled in return.

The number next to the team in each case is that team’s position in the fouling league.  So Manchester City commit the least number of fouls (nine per game) and are first.  Arsenal are second in terms of fouls with 9.7 per game.

Now if you have been following us for a few years you will know that in 2019/20 Arsenal got a staggering 86 yellow cards – and in the first part of the 2020/21 season it was quite clear that Arsenal were constantly getting the referees who gave out the most yellow cards. 

Arteta dramatically changed things on the pitch, and put simply, Arsenal stopped tackling and thus stopped giving away free kicks and thus stopped getting yellows.  Arsenal’s number of yellows collapsed to 47 in 2020/21.   There is more on this whole series of events here but the essence of the change was: stop tackling in order to stop yellow cards, which is what Arsenal did.  Not completely of course, but a lot.

But another factor that turned up was that clubs that foul a lot, are allowed to get away with a lot more by referees, but ultimately the yellow cards would come out, if the club under assault from endless fouls, didn’t retaliate.  So the number of fouls had to be kept low.

This season only Liverpool, Manchester City and Brentford have committed fewer fouls than Arsenal – a total reversal from the situation when Arteta arrived.  And in fact in terms of the fouling ratio (fouls suffered divided by fouls committed), Arsenal are second in the league, just fractionally below Brentford (which partially explains their success this season).

But what is particularly interesting here is that the two teams with the worst fouling ratio (meaning they commit many more fouls than are committed against them) are Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.  Here’s the data…


Team Fouls committed Fouls suffered Ratio
Brentford 8.8 10.1 1.22
Arsenal 9.7 11.6 1.20
Chelsea 11 12.3 1.12
Manchester City 9 9.9 1.10
Aston Villa 11.3 12.2 1.08
Everton 9.9 10 1.01
Newcastle United 10.3 10.3 1.00
Bournemouth 10.3 10.3 1.00
Nottingham Forest 11 10.6 0.96
Fulham 10.5 10 0.95
Brighton & Hove 10.7 9.8 0.92
Leicester City 10.5 9.7 0.92
Liverpool 9.6 8.7 0.91
Leeds United 12.7 11.1 0.87
West Ham United 9.9 8.4 0.85
Wolverhampton Wand 11.6 9.8 0.84
Southampton 11.9 10 0.84
Tottenham Hotspur 11 9 0.82
Manchester United 11.3 7.5 0.66


As we show week after week, referees are not even-handed in giving out yellow cards, and clubs that foul a lot are allowed to foul much more before each card is handed out, than clubs that foul far less often.  But fouling a lot is dangerous because over time it does lead to more and more yellow cards.

And over time Manchester United, to take but one example will suffer.  They are fourth in the yellow card table between Everton and Leeds, having picked up 36% more cards than Arsenal this season.  The suspensions will start coming, just when it will hurt them most.  

Not tackling and thus not fouling is not a sufficient tactic on its own, but combined with others, it can be very useful.

2 Replies to “Fouling: The part of the game where Arsenal suffered but now are coming good”

  1. The most important fact here is that despite fouling more they are still not getting the cards merited. The fact this is United and Spuds is of absolutely no surprise to anyone who has watched over the years

  2. Also, it is worth remembering that many of the fouls which are awarded to Spurs have been “won” by their players using all their skill and experience. (ie by cheating)

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