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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|
|17. Tottenham Hotspur||353||8|
|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).
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