Shocking revelations about Manchester United fouling against Arsenal in “friendly”



By Tony Attwood

“Arsenal will be hunted this season – being roughed up by Manchester United proved it”   

That rather frightening headline appeared in the Athletic this week, and indeed it was the match against Manchester United – supposedly a friendly – that showed that something was seriously wrong.

There were 37 fouls in the match between Manchester United and Arsenal.  And in terms of fouling it looked clearly like being one way traffic.  Indeed figures after the game revealed by ESPN  show that 15 fouls were by Arsenal and 22 by Manchester United.

Of course those figures don’t mean anything by themselves, but if we compare this total of 37 fouls with the norm for Arsenal and Manchester United, and remember this was a friendly – a match to allow American fans to see PL clubs close up, this was truly shocking.

To understand how awful this was we must note that in the Premier League last season Arsenal’s average number of fouls per game was 9.8 per game.  Manchester United fouled more, as I think most of us were aware – but not that much more.  They committed 11.2 fouls a game on average.  So for this match Manchester United doubled their fouling rate while Arsenal’s went up by half.

In a “friendly”.

The first question that comes to mind is “why?”  Why did Manchester United double their normal fouling rate for this game?

One reason is that Arsenal now represent a team over whom a victory is something of note.  And in the last ten league games between the two Manchester United have only won two.   What’s more, Manchester United ended up nine points and a whacking great 30 goals behind Arsenal last season.

But of course such things can’t possibly excuse the fact that the ref blew for 22 Manchester United fouls in the game this week, against 15 by Arsenal – in a friendly where refereeing is normally rather relaxed.  

And just to see how awful this was, last season the worst foulers were Leeds with 12.3 fouls per game.   Manchester United fouled Arsenal almost twice as much in that game as Leeds did in an average match last season!!!  And this with the traditionally relaxed refereeing that friendlies see.

So Arsenal were on the receiving end of 22 fouls in a “friendly”.  Yet the most fouled club last season was Aston Villa in 2022/3: an average of 13.1 per game in.  The least was Brighton on an average of 7.3.   So Arsenal received three times as many fouls in that “friendly” as Brighton got in an average league game last season, in the “toughest league in the world.”

Looking at the game it seemed to me that although one or two Arsenal players fancied giving back as good as the side were getting most were simply trying to avoid getting their legs broken.    And indeed it is fair to say that Arsenal were not used to being fouled at this level, and in fact no team in the Premier League is.

Last season Arsenal did get fouled more than Manchester United – the official statistics reproduced by WhoScored show Arsenal being fouled 11.4 times a game, while Manchester United were fouled just 7.8 times per game.

So for Arsenal players to find themselves being fouled twice as often in a friendly game as they were in league games last season must have come as something of a surprise.

What actually kept the match running, and allowed it to finish with 11 players on each side, despite this onslaught of fouls by Manchester United (double their average in the league last season) was Arsenal’s restraint.   Yes the number of Arsenal fouls against Manchester United rose in retaliation, but to nothing like the level Manchester United were handing out against Arsenal.

Of course one thing that encouraged Manchester United to tackle and foul more than Arsenal was that they were struggling to get possession – Arsenal had 55% of the ball across the game.   Also Manchester United’s shooting was particularly wayward.  Only a quarter of their shots were on target while for Arsenal it was half – which was why Manchester United were rather keen to stop Arsenal getting near to shooting positions.

The tragedy of the match was that there were only three yellow cards – two for Manchester United and one for Arsenal.  Had the referee been more forthright with his handling of the game from the start, the game might have more closely resembled football.

Sadly I don’t think this display by Manchester United will stop Arsenal being told to play in America pre-season in the future.  We can however but hope that the powers that set up these games choose a less dirty team.  Leeds United perhaps.

19 Replies to “Shocking revelations about Manchester United fouling against Arsenal in “friendly””

  1. An interesting three word comment “Never Mind” particularly as you put in a fake email address when writing in. Really, are you so unable to be open as to who you are, even with an editor of a blog. But really, if commenting you ought to look at the title of the site to which you are sending the comment. It is “Untold Arsenal” and we take it that the score has already been told, and our readers are fairly well informed about things like that. What was untold by the media in this match was the high level of fouling, so that’s what we reported.
    Really it is all in the blog’s title.
    But we will ignore you in the future, since you didn’t manage to hide your IP address.

  2. What a bucket full of crap,you got beat by the better team
    who had a rookie playing in midfield,who completely shamed Rice and Harvertz.Amad went off and is now injured,and your claim of leg breaking tackles🤣🤣 indicates you are a Clownworld Bellend.Your whopping 9 points comment is hilarious as you choked the title,whilst having an equally amount of points in a lead over City.
    If Arsenal don’t get off to a decent start,legohead will be gone by November,and remember Numbskull that ,your Tinpot club lags behind both Villa and Forest in European achievement,so concentrate on that.

  3. having watched the game, it was a competitve game and surely exactly what both teams needed, lets be honest 3 wins in the last 9 games cost the league, this was down to the lack of physicality that Arsenal had when the going got tough, hence the Rice 105M purchase. What would worry me more is that in the 2nd half against a 2nd string Team creation of real chances was nearly 0? Stop focusing on the opposition and start focusing on Arsenal

  4. What is interesting James is that you don’t address the point made in the article – the extraordinarily high number of fouls in the game. It would be interesting to know why you want to comment on other issues and not that. (The figures on the number of fouls appeared in a fair number of media reports incidentally).

  5. Robert there are over 13,000 articles on this website and the vast majority of them focus on Arsenal. If however we never looked at what the opposition were up to, how could we comment on the ways Arsenal are developing, and might develop in the future, in order to beat the oppositon?

  6. Wow, the quality of commentaries from Manchester United supporters seems to have gone down quite a lot of late. There was a time when a commentary that showed that both clubs committed far more fouls than they normally do could have led to some sensible debate as to what caused such an increase in fouling on both sides. But it seems those days have past.

  7. As you may know from previous comments I am not a fan of slavish adherence to statistics but in this instance they are invaluable. My question is: why would a team that has such a history of great players in the mould of George Best and Bobby Charlton resort to the gutter tactics of Elland Road? I can only assume that the pressures brought about by the Glazer’s recent stock market shenanigans, coupled with too many woeful on-field performances since the retirement of Alex Ferguson, have brought this win-at-any-cost mentality. I find it a shame that such a great club appears to have lost its way both on and off the field. I also worry that this just might be a mirroring of the Leeds United years and of the spectacular decline that followed. Maybe in the years to come the ‘Damned United’ tag will find a new home.

  8. Plain to see from the comments that manure fans & their club were desperate to win a ‘ friendly’.How the mighty have fallen.Look forward to the Prem match where I can assure Manure they won’t get away with those tactics from old egg head..

  9. Always an interesting take Tony, I think there were a few factors that went into getting this crazy number of fouls on the board. I think apart from a bit of needle and players leaving their boot in, the referee had his whistle stuck to his lips all game but left his cards in the dressing room. Every challenge was blown as a foul, this suited Utd well, as Arsenal never thrive in such a stop/start game. Can’t wait for the real games to start in a couple weeks. Up the Arsenal!!

  10. Pre-season friendly or not, we showed our soft underbelly again – as has been the case for the past 15 years!

    Teams have always looked to kick us but we very rarely give it back. Personally, I’d love to have seen Bruno or Martinez given a reducer by one of the reserve players. Even if they’d got sent off it would have sent a message that we can’t be messed with.

  11. United fans

    During his time at United Alex Ferguson missed 17 matches through touchline bans.

    We can only dream of whinging at the level of that man.

    And of course the fans never moan:

    “First Casemiro now this’ – Manchester United fans fume at referee Anthony Taylor vs Southampton”

    “So the VAR is working now after sleeping on the handball?’: Man United fans rage at injustice after being denied penalty shortly before soft foul on Bukayo Saka in the box was given for Gunners”

    “‘Clear foul! – Manchester United fans furious following Bruno Fernandes incident vs Southampton
    Bruno Fernandes was fouled in the build-up to Southampton breaking the deadlock between the Saints and Manchester United at St Mary’s.”

    “Man Utd fans left furious at ‘very soft’ penalty for Barcelona after Fernandes’ foul
    Manchester Untied fans have taken to social media in anger after Barcelona were awarded a ‘soft’ penalty during the first half of their Europa League second leg on Thursday”

    “Furious Man Utd fans insist referee ignored two ‘clear’ fouls before Atletico goal
    Manchester United fans are furious after the referee in their 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid supposedly ‘ignored’ two incidents ahead of the crucial goal that knocked them out of the Champions League”

    All fans have a moan when they see things they are not happy with, and United’s are no different.

    Personally I was a bit disappointed at how we played, but it is early days and we will improve. We need to.

    But that doesn’t alter the fact that Man Utds approach to this match was very poor. They are called ‘friendlies’ for a reason.

    Many players are not up to speed. They are not fully fit. In other words they are vulnerable.

    Declan Rice for example had very recently returned from holiday. To expect him, and others, to be at match speed is ridiculous. But the thing is, you don’t need to be fit, or ‘up to match speed’ to kick someone. You do to avoid it. And that’s the difference.

    Yes, a level of competitiveness, but what we saw from United was beyond what you expect at this stage of pre season in a ‘friendly’, and as others have said, it was a sad reflection of the level to which United have fallen that they felt they needed to resort to such tactics.

    On a broader point I believe both Arsenal and Man Utd will give Man City a run for their money.

    I also believe Saturdays match tells us nothing about what is to come.

    As for the United fans responses above. Lets just leave it at childish shall we.

  12. KingRalphUK

    “Teams have always looked to kick us but we very rarely give it back. Personally, I’d love to have seen Bruno or Martinez given a reducer by one of the reserve players. Even if they’d got sent off it would have sent a message that we can’t be messed with.”

    But it doesn’t work. If you have been reading Tony’s articles you will of seen his in depth analysis of how Arteta has reduced our Yellow/Red card count. It has been achieved by reducing the number of fouls we commit, and that has been achieved by reducing the number of tackles we put in. Historically, as Untold has shown time and time again, the moment we ‘give it back’ so to speak, our cards go through the roof. It was unsustainable. We had to take the card option away from the referees. If we did as you suggest we would be back to finishing with 10 men again on a regular basis, or at the very least having players on yellows for much of the game.

    Look at these historical figures

    Players with the most red cards in the Premier League in England as of 2023

    Patrick Vieira 8
    Lee Cattermole 7
    Vinnie Jones 7
    Roy Keane 7

    That’s more than Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Vinnie Jones….Really?

    Most Red Cards in Premier League History

    2nd Arsenal 103

    4th Chelsea 85

    8th Spurs 72

    9th Man Utd 70

    Are we really 30% worse than Man Utd.

    ‘Giving it back’ is just not an option for us. What we need is referees to do their job properly and sadly that is as rare as rocking horse shite.

  13. Hi Tony. Cracking article as usual, though the point seems to have been missed or purposely ignored by certain comments. Unsurprisingly though, as this has always been the tactic of those who can’t discuss matters. They always resort to childish attack on opposing discourse, forgetting to acknowledge the topic in question. Keep up the good work Untold, the scrap produced by the red tops are usually bitter United/Liverpool fans and journalism on this site is a refreshing break from the mould.

  14. And just to be clear about this

    Laws Of The Game

    “A foul is an unfair act by a player, deemed by the referee to contravene the game’s laws, that interferes with the active play of the game. Fouls are punished by the award of a free kick (possibly a penalty kick) to the opposing team”.

    ‘Unfair’ ‘Contravening the Laws of the Game’

    So “…..being roughed up by Manchester United……” is not exactly true is it. Fouling is cheating. It contravenes the Laws of the Game.

    But you use the term ‘being roughed up’ rather than ‘persistently fouled’, when you want to excuse the perpetrators don’t you.

    I mean after all, if you admit that Man Utd persistently fouled Arsenal, or put another way, persistently broke the laws of the game, you have to ask how they got away with it don’t you? You have to ask, why didn’t the referee do something to stop it?

    But calling it ‘roughing up’ legitimises the activity, doesn’t it! And worse, it actually puts the blame on Arsenal for ‘allowing’ themselves to be ‘roughed up’, as if it was our fault United chose to persistently foul us, and that the referee allowed it to go largely unpunished.

    In other words, despite breaking the Laws of the game on 22 occasions, over double the premier League average, United did nothing wrong. Quite the opposite actually, as apparently it was Arsenals own fault for allowing them to do it.

    Obviously the referee was just a casual observer.

  15. knew they were aggressive but that was illuminating. Cannot imagine a PL ref would have tolerated it. Martinez would have had 2 yellows, possibly Fernandes, who is always at it. (and i agree someone should have done him) My worry is that United will be given licence as usual.

  16. I believe our danger players will be hit with robust tackles this coming season .I don’t trust the var.
    The deliberate stamp with studs was hit with a yc when it shd have bee n a rc
    It’s up 0to Webb to tell the refs to haul up the thugs and hit them with a 5 match ban

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