Tackles fouls and cards: where Wolverhampton have managed to go wrong



The fouls and yellows: how Arsenal have learned how to handle the refs.

By Tony Attwood

Watching the match on Sunday at Arsenal, knowing I would then start work on the tackles / fouls / cards tables was fascinating.  As were the final figures for the season:  

  • Leeds put in 78% more tackles than Manchester City.
  • Leeds committed 35% more fouls than Manchester City
  • Leeds got 91% more yellow cards than Manchester City.

Now those figures look odd.  Leeds are committing many more fouls than Manchester City – we only need to watch for ten minutes to understand that.  But although they commit more fouls than Manchester City, as one would expect with so many more tackles, the proportion of fouls committed is only 35% higher.  Which means, tackle by tackle, Leeds are putting in many more tackles that DON’T earn a whistle, than Manchester City!

And yet despite only committing only around one third more fouls than Manchester City, Leeds United are getting almost double the number of cards that Manchester City gets.  

So either Leeds are expert tacklers since so many more of their tackles are considered ok by the referees.  OR… as we have suggested before, clubs that tackle a lot are generally given a lot more leeway than clubs that tackle less.  But that catches up with them in the end, as the referees start handing out cards, not for individual fouls, but for accumulative fouls.

But now I want to consider Wolverhampton Wanderers’ position in all this.  In a recent piece on Untold Arsenal we pointed out that Wolverhampton were this season’s yellow card champions being equal top with Leeds and Nottingham Forest each got 84 cards.

A number of Wolverhampton fans wrote in to say in no uncertain terms that the club was being shafted by the referees, and yet when we consider the Wolverhampton figures they were in fact very similar to other clubs.  Let’s compare them with Nottingham Forest….

  • Wolverhampton can make 1.42 tackles per foul being called – for Forest it is 1.48.
  • Wolverhampton can make 7.87 tackles before a card is issued, for Forest it is slightly less, 7.83.

So are Forest being shafted as well?

In terms of the fouls per card Wolverhampton get the slight benefit as they are making 5.52 fouls per card, while Nottingham Forest are making 5.29 fouls per card.   We might also note in this regard that Leeds are committing 5.57 fouls before a card is waved – so the clubs are all in a very similar position.  Commit over five fouls and you get a card. 

So the figures suggest that Wolverhampton tackles are in fact being called out as fouls a little more than most, but not much.  But Wolverhampton are being hit because the number of tackles they can make before a foul is called is very low at .42 – the second-lowest number in the league.  The number of tackles they can make before a yellow card is shown is 7.87, again the second-lowest number in the league.

But this does not mean that Wolverhampton are being penalised.  It just means that the team is using the wrong tactics given the people who are in the team.  If you have a team in which the defenders can put in 10+ tackles before getting a card, then that’s fair enough, use tackling as a way of defending.  But if you can only get away with seven tackles before you get a card, then lay off the tackling unless it is an utter final resort, and then be ready to get the card.

Arsenal realised this in 2019/20 when they came top of the yellow card table.   What Arteta then set out to do was create a team that tackled far less, and thus got the game back under Arsenal’s control, with the yellow cards coming down by around half.  This season Arsenal have the second-lowest number of cards; only Manchester City have fewer.

But supposing we accept for a moment that this is not right, and that Wolverhampton actually have very decent tacklers but it is just that the referees are shafting them all the time.

Then the answer is still simply to reduce the level of tackling so that the referees have far fewer opportunities to blow the whistle, award a foul against and wave a yellow.  They haven’t and that’s where they have got it wrong.  Arsenal did the reduction, and now reap the benefits.

Wolverhampton are the fourth-highest tackling side in the league this season which is just silly.  The three that tackle more are Southampton (relegated), Leeds (relegated) and Nottingham Forest (missed relegation by just four points).

Under Arteta Arsenal acknowledged that the referees were all over the Arsenal players, dishing out more yellows than for anyone else, and almost all of these were for fouls while tackling.  So Arsenal cut back on the tackles – and subsequently rose up the league.

All of this does not say that the referees are right – anyone reading this blog regularly will know we criticise PGMO more than anyone else.  What we are saying is that Arsenal, very reasonably, adjusted their style of play to meet the weird, whacky and eccentric demands of the PGMO men.  Wolverhampton haven’t done that, or at least not done it very well.  

We all know there is something very wrong with PGMO; if they were not they would not be so fanatically secretive.  Mind you, if I was running an organisation with statistics as weird and wacky as those that we see when comparing tackles, fouls and cards, I’d make sure we had absolute secrecy too.

Why Wolverhampton hasn’t cottoned on to this, I’ve no idea.  Maybe if their management team have ever seen the data that we produce they’ve probably just dismissed it as the typical wild ravings of Arsenal supporters.  Which is fine.  We’ve just beaten them four times in a row with a goal tally of 10-1.  With that sort of result going on they can believe anything they want.

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