Why Arsenal get fouled so often and how Rice can put a stop to it



By Tony Attwood

Today seems to be the day that Rice finally signs for Arsenal (if not tomorrow, or maybe the day after or…) and so it’s a moment when maybe we can pull together a couple of points.

All the media are talking about Rice one way or another and a typical comment comes from the Telegraph saying “Rice offers a level of athleticism and physicality that Arsenal were sometimes missing last season.”

That article goes on to add, “This was especially the case against Manchester City in their 4-1 defeat in April, when Arsenal were bullied by a more powerful side. With Rice charging around their midfield and flying into tackles, Arsenal will be a far more imposing team.”

Now in our earlier piece, Why are some teams persistently fouled so much more than other clubs? we expressed puzzlement that there should be such a variation in the number of times teams are fouled, and why the same teams are fouled more than others, year after year.

In that piece we found that across the last five seasons Aston Villa and Crystal Palace had been in the list of the four teams that are fouled the most, four times.  Crystal Palace have appeared four times also, Arsenal three times, Chelsea twice and Tottenham Hotspur twice.  And as we pointed out at the time, it is important to remember that these are clubs that are fouled – not clubs that foul.

One possible reason is that Arsenal have not, until now, had a Rice-like player who “offers a level of athleticism and physicality that Arsenal were sometimes missing last season,” in the words of the Telegraph.   In short, that argument says that with Rice in the team other sides will simply not be able to lay into Arsenal players with constant fouls, as they have been doing for years.

Now as we know, last season, the fouling of Arsenal players reached the level of 456 fouls across the league season, and was clearly used as a method of constantly breaking up play.  But with Rice it would seem that this might well be reduced in 2023/4 because he is making Arsenal more physical, and thus reducing the view of Arsenal held by other teams that “they don’t like it up ’em” (to use Corporal Jones’ immortal words.)

That won’t overcome the other six reasons why this constant fouling of Arsenal season after season is going on, but it could well be a major step in the right direction – a sign to the opposition that any vision of Arsenal being southern softies is being set aside.

And we might remember at this moment that Rice’s old team, West Ham, was one of the least fouled teams in the league last season.

Here’s the top and bottom of the league table of clubs in order of the fouls received in 2022/23…


Team Fouled pg League position
1. Aston Villa 498 7
2. Crystal Palace 479 11
3. Chelsea 464 12
4. Arsenal 433 2
16. Bournemouth 365 15
17. Tottenham Hotspur 353 8
18. Liverpool 319 5
19. West Ham United 315 14
20. Manchester United 296 3


This reminds us that being fouled a lot is not related to league position but it does seem to be a habit for some clubs to foul other clubs a lot, often secure in the knowledge that referees won’t do much about it.

Aston Villa have been in the top four list of teams that are fouled four times (only missed out on the fifth time because they were in the Championship).

Crystal Palace have appeared in the “most fouled top four”, four times also, Arsenal three times, Chelsea twice and Tottenham Hotspur twice.  And remember these are clubs that are fouled – not clubs that foul.

This is not the only reason that Rice has been signed.  But it could be one reason, and if it works and Arsenal get fouled fewer times in the coming season, then that can only work in Arsenal’s favour.

As we suggested before, PGMO probably don’t know about this type of data, for there is no evidence that referees get any sort of training or support in recognizing and handling this sort of event.  If they did, clubs persistently fouling Arsenal would be more readily penalized for so doing.

So if the referees are taking no action, then Arsenal can – by signing Rice.

In fact he is not only worth his weight in terms of the way he plays, he could well start the process of reducing the number of times Arsenal are fouled in a season from last season’s level of 433 fouls against Arsenal down to last season’s number for West Ham: 315.

In short, it is possible that the number of times a foul is used to disrupt an Arsenal attack in the coming season could drop by 27%.   That would be largely because of Rice, but it might also be just a little bit, because Untold Arsenal publicised what is going on.  (Well, you never know).


5 Replies to “Why Arsenal get fouled so often and how Rice can put a stop to it”

  1. “Arsenal were bullied by a more powerful side”.

    I’ve never bought in to this notion that Arsenal get ‘bullied’. Yes we sometimes lose the midfield battle to a better midfield, but so do almost every team at some time during a season, and for most teams that’s how it’s perceived and reported. Out battled. But with Arsenal we never lose a ‘battle’ we always get ‘bullied’.

    And there’s a subtle difference between those two descriptions.

    BATTLE: struggle tenaciously to achieve or resist something.

    BULLY: seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).

    If you battle you are tenaciously trying to resist something or someone, even if you do not prevail.

    Where as you get bullied because you are vulnerable. Worse still, the inference is often that Arsenal actually ‘allow themselves to be bullied’.

    So, in Arsenals case we lose out in midfield because we are Weak and Vulnerable where as others, despite their tenacity, just lose out to a superior force.

    A subtle difference I know, but never the less just another little dig at our character.

    And in any case, I thought fouling was illegal. You don’t allow yourself to be fouled, that is a chosen action of your opponent. An action that the REFEREE should take action to curtail, but often does not.

    As for whether having Rice out there ‘giving it back’ will work, as seems to be the suggestion, I have my doubts, because history suggests we just don’t get away with the same level of fouling as our opponents often do.

    Not only that, but as we all know Arteta has been implementing a non tackling approach so I cant see Rice being given any latitude in that regard in any case.

  2. And now it is confirmed That Granit Xhaka has left us.

    I never lost faith in Granit and thought he stood up well to some very poor refereeing, some very unfair criticism from the media, and last but not least, some shameful abuse from our own fans.

    Despite endless criticism from some quarters he was always first on the team sheet for every manager he played under at Arsenal, and chosen as captain by all his National managers.

    That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens because people that know recognise just how good you are.

    Thank you Granit, and good luck. I will miss you.

  3. I have always appreciated Granit’s effort on the pitch. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he always gave 100%. He was clearly one of the leaders at the club and the lads will miss him greatly. Good Luck at Leverkusen, they have a tidy little stadium and a great fan base.

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