Nottingham Forest v Arsenal: where Forest’s approach to tackling goes wrong



By Bulldog Drummond

Arsenal remain the best away team in the league, while at home Nottingham Forest are 12th out of 20.  Here are the comparative figures using data from 11v11


Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
12 Nottingham Forest 18 7 6 5 26 24 2 27
1 Arsenal 18 12 3 3 35 17 18 39


Over the season that suggests Arsenal will win the average away game 1-2, while Forest will draw the average home game 1-1.   To see how this might pan out we can look at the last six home and away games of each side in a league team.


Premier League Form (Home/away)
Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
13 Nott’m Forest home 6 2 2 2 11 11 0 8
3 Arsenal away 6 3 2 1 11 8 3 11


These figures suggest either a 2-2 draw or an Arsenal win 1-2.    With the 1-2 away win to Arsenal coming up twice in this review, I’ll go for that.  The one thing that upsets that view is that when we look at the last six games, ignoring home and away form we find the clubs are very close together in form.


Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
12 Arsenal 6 2 2 2 11 13 -2 8
13 Nott’m Forest 6 2 1 3 12 13 -1 7


This shows that Arsenal are not completely out of their dip yet, while Forest are not behaving like a club facing relegation.  But they are still in the relegation mix.  With two games to go for all the clubs at the bottom of the table, Leicester City, Leeds United and Everton could all overtake Nottingham Forest if they won and Forest were to lose to Arsenal.  So all the motivation for Forest is there while Arsenal have already secured second place.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
2 Arsenal 36 25 6 5 83 42 41 81
16 Nottingham Forest 36 8 10 18 36 67 -31 34
17 Everton 36 7 11 18 32 56 -24 32
18 Leeds United 36 7 10 19 46 71 -25 31
19 Leicester City 36 8 6 22 49 67 -18 30
20 Southampton 36 6 6 24 31 66 -35 24


Everton are away to Wolverhampton (who are 13th), Leeds are away to West Ham and Leicester are away to Newcastle.

Let’s move on to our other favourite charts: tackles, fouls and yellows.  The big stand out figure here is that Forest are top of the yellow card table alongside Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers.   They put in 15% more tackles more than Arsenal, commit 19% more fouls than Arsenal and get 58% more yellow cards than Arsenal.  

That final figure seems to be something of an over-reaction by referees, and when the season is over we’ll do a complete review of all the clubs to see those who are clearly not saying the right words to PGMO.


Tackles Fouls  Yellows
Arsenal 15.1 9.8 1.39
Nottingham Forest 17.3 11.7 2.19
Forest difference +15% +19% +58%


Now the comparison table with data drawn from WhoScored


Tackles/foul Tackles/yellow  Fouls/yellow
Arsenal 1.54 10.86 7.05
Nottingham Forest 1.48 7.90 5.34
Forest differences -3.90% -27.25% -24.25%


Now normally we see that clubs that tackle a lot can get away with more tackles than Arsenal, without having them called out as fouls, but in fact Nottingham Forest are having tackles called out as fouls all the way through.  As a result, their tackles are 27% more likely to be given yellow cards and their fouls are 24% more likely than Arsenal’s fouls to be given as yellow cards.

The message throughout is that it is not just that Nottingham Forest put in more tackles and commit more fouls, it is that Forest’s fouls are as seen by referees are considered to be more worthy of a yellow card than Arsenal’s.   

This might be because they are worse fouls, but looking at the figures gathered through the season we can see that referees also simply don’t like clubs that tackle a lot.   However, in most cases, clubs that tackle a lot are allowed by referees to get away with lots of tackles up to a point, without punishment, but not Forest.  They really should do something about that. 

In fact just as Mikel Arteta changed Arsenal by cutting out tackles, in order to take Arsenal from the top of the yellow card table down to a position regularly near to the bottom, this is exactly what Forest have to do.

I suspect that the fact that they are not is due to the worry that without the high level of tackling the club simply doesn’t have the defenders capable of stopping goals, or because the defensive midfield is not good enough at breaking those attacks up.  It is however a dangerous path to tread, because our figures through the season do suggest that referees start to see clubs as being of a particular type, and clearly Forest are now seen by referees as foulers, whose fouls are worthy of a yellow card.  They are, as noted, at the top of the yellow card table.

More anon…

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