- Arsenal top of the league after the next round of games!
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By Tony Attwood
It has long been our assertion that Mikel Arteta did not come to Arsenal as simply a man who better understood how the existing squad could be deployed, and which new players to buy. Rather we have argued throughout that he also brought to the club a new and fresh insight into how referees behave and how it is possible to counteract their influence on the game while also developing Arsenal’s style.
Arteta joined Arsenal as manager in December 2019 with Arsenal sitting 10th in the league. By the season’s end, the club had crept up to eighth.
Unfortunately, there was however one league that Arsenal was top of – the yellow card table. Arsenal in fact got 86 yellow cards – well over double the number of cards that Leicester City and Liverpool got.
That obviously affected Arsenal deeply. Players were suspended, while others noticeably held back because of a fear of a second card in a game and thus something needed to be done. And it was done, for the following season Arsenal were no longer top of the yellow card table – in fact they were 17th with just seven cards more than Liverpool, who once again came bottom of the card table.
But that transformation came at a cost, for by Christmas Day 2020, just over one year on from Arteta’s arrival, Arsenal were 15th in the league, just four points above the relegation places.
However, that was because by that time a second revolution was in place for, as we noted at the time, Arsenal went on an astonishingly successful run – a run only bettered by Manchester City.
Although there have been some blips along the way as the team has evolved, last season saw Arsenal maintain the approach of keeping the yellow card total right down, with the club being 18th in the yellow card table. This season after eight games, Arsenal are one from bottom in the yellow card table, with 12 cards – under half the number achieved by Tottenham Hotspur (27).
Now what is remarkable about this achievement is that it has come at a time when, if asked what his approach to football is, Arteta answers “Suffocating the opponent more. Create more chances. Conceding zero chances and play further from our goal.”
As you may have noticed, two of those four objectives – suffocating and not conceding – are defensive and you might well be excused for thinking that this would involve tackling, and possibly (given the whims of referees) fouling.
Now the Premier League website, while noting the number of yellow cards, resolutely refuses to record the number of tackles and fouls per team, but we are able to track this from the WhoScored site, and they show that Arsenal are mid-table for the number of tackles they put in per game, but 19th in the league for the number of fouls committed per game.
And this is not by a small margin – Arsenal are committing fouls at a rate of just two-thirds of the top fouling teams.
The table below shows a range of clubs in terms of the number of tackles they put in per match, from tackle-happy Everton to tackle-averse Manchester City. The least adept team at tackling is Newcastle who are able to put in just 1.27 tackles per foul. Arsenal can put in almost half as many more tackles a game before a foul is called.
|Team||Tackles per game||Fouls per game||Tackles per foul per game|
|2. Tottenham H||20||11.5||1.74|
|3. Crystal Palace||20||10.8||1.85|
|14. Manchester United||16.9||10.4||1.63|
|19. Newcastle Utd||15.4||12.1||1.27|
|20. Manchester City||14.1||8.8||1.60|
Part of this approach involves pushing the full-backs and centre back further up the pitch with others ready to help cover if needed. With the ball, Arsenal press strongly, without the ball they push up.
To see if this has been a success or not we only have to compare this season with last season at the eight-game marker.
Four goals fewer have been scored, in part undoubtedly due to the absence or under-performance of Martinelli and Saka on the wings. But two goals fewer have been conceded.
And let us also compare the current top team with their position one year ago after eight games.
|3||Tottenham Hotspur 2022/23||8||5||2||1||19||10||9||17|
|1||Tottenham Hotspur 2023/24||8||6||2||0||18||8||10||20|
Tottenham have scored one goal fewer but conceded two fewer and have one win extra. Finally, Manchester City…
|2||Manchester City 2022/23||8||6||2||0||29||9||20||20|
|3||Manchester City 2023/24||8||6||0||2||17||6||11||18|
And here we see the huge difference. Two games that were drawn have now been lost, but just look at the difference in the number of goals scored. That is a major change, and suggests either the big man up front is losing his touch, or the opposition are starting to work out how to nullify him. Having been at the Arsenal v Manchester City match, I’d suggest the latter.
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