How journalists totally misunderstood Arteta’s plans






By Tony Attwood

There is an 1800+ word article on ESPN’s web site under the headline,  “Mikel Arteta interview: Taking Arsenal from midtable to Premier League title challengers with his five-phase plan.”   It is very curious in its omissions, and its conclusions, and I think this article gives us quite an insight into what is going on in the media concerning Arsenal, and what Arteta is doing in his handling of the media.

Mikel Arteta’s predecessor Unai Emery was sacked on 28 November 2019 with the club sitting 8th in the league with the same number of points as Sheffield United who were sixth.  Although that doesn’t sound too bad Arsenal were in fact on one fewer than half the points that Liverpool had at the top.

But there is another key factor for this season that is not mentioned in this ESPN article.  Arsenal ended up with 86 yellow cards that season – more than double the likes of Liverpool and Leicester.

Arteta joined Arsenal as manager on 20 December 2019 with the club 10th in the league after 17 games.  The club had the 13th best defence in the league at that moment, conceding 16 more than Leicester who had the best defence.  It had the 8th best attack, but scoring one fewer than half the number of goals of Manchester City.

By the end of the season Arsenal however it was quite clear that there was something very odd happening in terms of the defence…


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellow PG
7. Manchester United 15.3 11.1 1.92
8. Arsenal 15.4 11.1 2.26
9. Leicester 19.5 11 1.08
20. Liverpool 14.5 8.7 1.00


Now it is quite clear there must be a link between tackles, fouls and yellow cards since although not every foul comes from a tackle and not every yellow card is given for a foul, the vast majority do follow this pattern.

But Leicester were putting in 27% more tackles than Arsenal and yet committing fewer fouls and amazingly getting just around half of the yellow cards that Arsenal got.  Which was amazing.

So let me spell that out.

Leicester were committing many more tackles than Arsenal, but were getting under half the yellow cards that Arsenal were getting.  As indeed were Liverpool.

It was clear to everyone that if only Arsenal could get its foul and yellow card rate down to Leicester’s level, Arsenal would more than likely shoot up the league.

Indeed just how bonkers the refereeing was at that moment, is shown in the second chart.   Leicester could commit 28% more tackles than Arsenal before getting a foul, 128% more tackles before getting a yellow card, and 76% more fouls before getting a card.  Their defenders were basically working in a way that said “do what you want.”

Even allowing for Leicester having better defenders than Arsenal those figures were amazing.


Team Tackles per foul tackles per yellow fouls per yellow
7. Manchester United 1.38 7.97 5.78
8. Arsenal 1.39 6.81 4.91
9. Leicester 1.77 18.06 10.19
20. Liverpool 1.67 14.50 8.70


And in fact that idea about having better defenders was not the case.  As the final league table of the season shows, Arsenal conceded just seven more goals than Leicester – that is 0.18 goals per game – or one more goal every five and a half games.


Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
5 Leicester City 38 18 8 12 67 41 26 62
8 Arsenal 38 14 14 10 56 48 8 56


What Arteta did was cut the yellow card total in half by reducing the tackles per game.  The rest of the league stayed pretty much where it had been before, but interestingly Leicester’s tactics started to change, as seemingly referees became wise to what they were up to.  We don’t claim that they were tipped off by us – our series of articles appearing just before the referees changed what they were doing was pure coincidence.


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellow pg
Arsenal 2019/20 15.4 11.10 2.26
Arsenal 2020/21 12.0 9.10 1.24


So that is how it all started, and how Arsenal began the climb from mid-table to top of the league: by knowing how referees were taking control of games, and ensuring that they couldn’t do it any more simply by cutting the number of tackles.  It showed PGMO that Arsenal knew what they were up to, and if there is one thing PGMO absolutely hate it is any revelation about the very odd statistics of their members.   And in this case, the figures are all there, so they can be checked!

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