West Ham v Arsenal: Why do West Ham get so few yellow cards?



WHU v Arsenal: the statistics

By Bulldog Drummond

Arsenal under Arteta have been, as we have traced since the moment he arrived, built on the Manchester City model – part of which is the removal of tackling from the game.  Of course that does not mean the total removal of tackling from the game, but a reduction in the number of tackles, so that referees have far fewer opportunities to interfere with the flow of the game.

Arsenal are not down to the Manchester City level yet, but have moved from being the most tackling team to being the second least tackling team since Arteta arrived.

In the tables that follow we include Manchester City as the least tackling team, Chelsea and Leeds as among the most tackling teams, and Leicester because of their most curious history, in that when we started doing these analyses it was because we discovered that they, uniquely among PL clubs were tackling with near impunity.

Here are the current figures…


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Yellows PG
Manchester City 12.8 9.3 1.2
Arsenal 14.9 9.6 1.5
Chelsea 20.3 10.8 2.1
West Ham United 16.2 9.9 1.2
Leeds United 22.8 12.2 2.1
Leicester 18.3 10.7 1.4


As ever what we now do is look at the key ratios – the number of tackles per foul, the number of tackles per yellow card, and the number of fouls per yellow card.   The thesis is simple: if all clubs are being treated alike these ratios will come out pretty much the same.  If one club were fouling in a singularly violent way, they would of course have more red cards (which we don’t measure as the number is so low) but they would nonetheless quickly amend their ways.


Team Tackles / Foul Tackles / Yellow Fouls / Yellow
Manchester City 1.38 10.67 7.75
Arsenal 1.56 9.93 6.40
Chelsea 1.88 9.67 5.14
West Ham 1.64 13.59 8.25
Leeds United 1.87 10.86 5.81
Leicester City 1.71 13.07 7.64


Pulling this data together for all six teams, first of all we can see that Chelsea can put in 36% more tackles than Manchester City before having a foul called.

West Ham can put in 37% more tackles than Arsenal before getting a yellow card.

West Ham can commit 29% more fouls than Arsenal before having a yellow card awarded against them.

In fact taking our sample table of clubs West Ham can commit the most fouls before getting a yellow card.   Indeed they can commit over 60% more fouls without a yellow card, than Chelsea.

Now of course it can be argued that West Ham’s fouls are persistently innocuous and so underserving of a yellow card, but having watched a few West Ham games on TV I most certainly don’t feel this is so.

However, as a result of this approach by PGMO referees, West Ham United have picked up around half the number of yellow cards of Fulham and Nottingham Forest.

Now one explanation that has been given is that cards are mostly given for bad tackles and that clubs with a high level of possession, tackle less and thus foul less because, obviously, they have possession.

So in this table I’ve compared the number of yellow cards with the percentage of possession – in that the team with the most possession should have the fewest number of yellow cards.  The club with the most cards is rated 20 and the club with the least is rated 1.

Now sometimes this works out… Manchester City has the highest rate of possession at 65%, and is second in the card table.  That makes sense – they have possession so they don’t need to tackle to get the ball back so they get fewer cards.

But West Ham have a very low level of possession – only two clubs in the league have less possession than they do (Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth).   And yet West Ham get fewer cards than any other club.  How can that be?


Team Yellow cards Possession% Possession position Card position
West Ham United 36 42.1% 18 1
Manchester City 36 65.0% 1 2
Brighton & Hove 37 60.1% 2 3
Brentford 40 43.0% 17 4
Liverpool 43 58.4% 5 5
Arsenal 44 60.1% 3 6
Leicester City 45 49.4% 10 7
Newcastle United 51 51.3% 7 8
Southampton 54 44.4% 14 9
AFC Bournemouth 54 38.3% 20 10
Aston Villa 59 49.4% 11 11
Tottenham Hotspur 61 50.2% 9 12
Manchester United 61 53.4% 6 13
Chelsea 63 59.2% 4 14
Leeds United 64 48.2% 12 15
Everton 64 43.4% 16 16
Wolverhampton W 64 50.5% 8 17
Crystal Palace 67 43.7% 15 18
Fulham 69 48.2% 13 19
Nottingham Forest 70 39.8% 19 20


Of course one can argue that West Ham get so few cards because they tackle so rarely.  But that is not the case.  They are not huge tacklers but they are still 13th in the tackling table provided by WhoScored.

In the end the only consistent explanation for these figures is that referees have a perception of certain clubs as “clean” and others as “dirty”.  Clubs can fight this by tackling less – which is what Arsenal did and so effectively cut their yellow card ratio virtually in half from 86 yellow cards in 2019/20 to 47 the following season.

West Ham are getting away with extraordinary numbers of tackles before getting a yellow card, and the only club rivalling them in this regard is… of course… Leicester City, still playing the same game, but now finding that PGMO referees’ work have woken up to their game.

3 Replies to “West Ham v Arsenal: Why do West Ham get so few yellow cards?”

  1. Following Spurs home defeat today we will be celebrating St Totteringhams Day tomorrow if we beat West Ham.

  2. the inability of the press to do similar analysis makes one wonder if they aren’t in cahoots with some on the fringes of the game. Gamblers perhaps? Somebody is gaining from the silence of the lambs

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