How the top 3 clubs are using different approaches to maintain their position




By Tony Attwood

Diverting the discussion away from Arsenal successes is a common feature of the chitchat that goes on in the run-up to each match.   As with the headline   ‘Not good enough’ – Gabriel Jesus will never be a great goalscorer, but can Arsenal still win the Premier League with the Brazilian up front? from Goal.Com

ESPN has commented that, “[Erling] Haaland doesn’t miss that chance; that’s the difference. If that’s Haaland, that ball is in the back of the net. Jesus just cannot do what he did there. That is horrendous, not good enough.” 

But if we look at the league table for the end of last season Arsenal were the second-highest scorers with 88 goals, 13 goals ahead of Liverpool in third place in the goalscoring charts, and 16 above the fourth-highest scoring team – Brighton and Hove Albion.   The club was in fact just six goals behind Manchester City overall.   So why pick on one player?

Particularly since if we take the actual PL goalscorers in the league last season we have Martinelli and Odegaard each with 15, Saka with 14 and Jesus with 11 – a unique approach to goal scoring, and one that clearly bamboozled lots of defences who really had no idea where the next goal was going to come from.

In response to the that argument could be the notion that Jesus, at centre forward, was in fact inadequate because he only got 11 goals, but that would fail to take account of the fact that he only played 24 league games, and that he was playing in a formation that bamboozled most defences as they had no idea where the next goal was coming from.

Arsenal’s approach was utterly different from Manchester City who only had two players scoring in double figures in the league, and most of the goals coming from the obvious goal machine. 

So it was a completely different approach for Arsenal from Manchester City who it must be admitted have a once in a generation scorer.  But moving on, where we could see a change however would be a regular midfield of Partey, Rice and Odegaard which could look rather formidable.

All in all, Arsenal have used 20 players as starters in league games this season in the league.  as opposed to 17 by Manchester City and 15 for Tottenham.

And there is another difference to be seen between the way different clubs are using their players.  Arsenal have four players who have played in all eight league games from the start – the same as Manchester City.  Tottenham however have eight players who have played in all eight games from the start.  Liverpool have five.

Indeed, Tottenham’s complete lack of European competition and the fact that they were knocked out in the first round of the league cup by Fulham, have together opened up the possibility of having a very settled team from the off, and this has obviously been an advantage.

But what remains interesting for Tottenham is their level of yellow cards, which of course has been mentioned before.   They have picked up 27 yellow cards, rivaled only by Chelsea on 26 and Wolverhampton on 24.   Arsenal are on 12.

Thus we can see Tottenham are using only 75% of the number of players Arsenal use while picking up 125% more yellow cards, and that means that individual players are likely to be picking up more cards each and heading for suspensions.

In fact Bissouma is teetering on the edge already with four cards in eight games, and Udogie has three.  Eight Tottenham players have two cards each.   In fact only one Tottenham player who has played eight games has avoided any cards: Son.

Thus 16 Tottenham players have picked up a card in the Premier League this season.   For Arsenal it is nine.  The top carded player for Arsenal is Havertz with three.  For Tottenham it is Bissouma with four and Udogie with three.

Of course matters can change, and Tottenham could alter their style, or indeed make a complaint to PGMO about the way they are being treated, but for now the combination of being top of the league for yellow cards in Premier League games, while using one of the smallest groups of players, looks to be a rather dangerous path to follow.

There may well be plenty of other factors involved of course – not least their ability to spread the cards around among the team, but the gung-ho policy to tackling could come back to haunt them. With 20 tackles a game they are in the group at the very top of the Premier League for using tackles as a central part of their game, putting in over 40% more tackles per game than Manchester City.

It is working, but as those yellow cards mount, it might come unstuck at some stage.


13 Replies to “How the top 3 clubs are using different approaches to maintain their position”

  1. Given that Spurs had a fairly difficult start to the season with Manure, Pool & Arsenal, I guess they did better than expected, but their cards will affect them as the season progresses. Luckily for them just 1 of the 3 were away from home, so the reverse fixtures will be interesting. I’ve a few friends who support them, so I temper my remarks but at least it looks like Pool is starting to stand on the nerves of refs and hopefully that will continue. They are the 1 side that has been dealt with éasier’ by refs in my view, but I just trust that they will continue to get some more cards of the deserving kind. Have a great weekend and enjoy the matches.

  2. @ DawieCT

    If you look at the OPTA stats on the BBC website today, you’ll find the Spuds actually had one of the easiest starts to the season whilst Arsenal had one of the more difficult ones. (Not forgetting, of course, the points gifted to the Spuds by terrible officiating.)

  3. DawieT

    “Given that Spurs had a fairly difficult start to the season….” Seriously?

    Thankfully we at Untold tend to support what we say with some sort of evidence as back on the 13th of October in an article titled:


    Within the article difficulty of both games already played and those to come were evaluated. You can see the entire article here:

    if you want a look.

    Within the comments I did my own rudimentary calculation to determine the relative difficulty of the opening games, allotting points to each team relative to their current league position. The team in first getting 1 point, 10th – 10, 20th – 20 and so on. Using this method the team with the lowest aggregate number will of had the most difficult start and the highest the easiest. As you can see using this basic method Spurs have had by far the easiest start having played 5 of the bottom 6 teams.

    Liverpool 71
    Newcastle 78
    Man Utd 78
    Arsenal 83
    Man City 94
    Chelsea 94
    Tottenham 104

    For good measure untold have also looked at the next 5 games and this is how the same system rates the difficulty of the next 5 matches, with the most difficult at the top:

    Chelsea 27
    Man City 50
    Tottenham 51
    Newcastle 55
    Liverpool 64
    Man Utd 68
    Arsenal 72

    We will know more about Spurs title challenge or otherwise after that little lot.

  4. I don’t really see how Spurs could change how they play. The small group of players is what they have to work with and it will probably stay that way until next summer’s transfer window, so they can’t really rotate much. Bissouma apart there’s a correlation with playing more games and picking up more cards but it is what it is. They aren’t going to change their style, Postecoglu has played one way the whole of his managerial career and isn’t going to change now. It may be a dangerous path to follow but it’s the only path they have. In fact Spurs perhaps make your point about goalscoring better than anyone. If you sell Harry Kane, don’t replace him and are still winning games you must be doing something right. One obvious point is European football changes everything. If you are playing twice a week rotation isn’t optional and training becomes more complicated. So the way a team operates when not in Europe is likely to be different to if they are in it. My own feeling is if you aren’t in the champions league you are better off out of Europe altogether, I realise that isn’t a popular view.

  5. Nitram – your system for calculating the difficulty of opposition merely by current position in the league table is inherently flawed. By definition, each of those teams that have played and lost to Tottenham will have fewer points than they might have earned had they, in turn, played easier opposition than Tottenham.

  6. What Spurs have done following the sale of their top scorer is not unique.

    We got a lot of stick for selling RVP to United back in 2012, but the reality is it made very little difference to either Man Utd or Arsenal. In fact, as I will show bellow, Arsenal actually improved slightly, attaining more points and a better goal difference. Without RVP Arsenal scored just 2 goals fewer, but improved their GD by 10 and their points tally by 3

    Man Utd were slightly worse in some respects as with RVP they scored 3 fewer goals and their GD dropped by 13 goals. They scored exactly the same amount of goals with RVP as they did without and achieved 3 pts LESS than with him.

    RVP personal stats also fell very slightly. He scored 30 with 10 assists for Arsenal in his last season versus scoring 26 with 9 assists in his first season for United.

    I know this all sounds very odd because Arsenal dropped a place finishing fourth, and United climbed a place, winning the PL. But if you are talking about performance alone, goals scored, GD and points gained, Arsenal got closer to United in all parameters.

    We closed the points gap by 3.

    Goals scored gap fell from 15 to 14.

    GD from fell from a massive gap of 31 to 8.

    What happened in the league was more to do with Man City and Chelsea. Man City dropped from 89pts in 11/12 to 78 in 12/13 and Chelsea improved from 64pts to 75.

    So despite a very slight improvement without RVP we were gazumped by a much more significant improvement from Chelsea pushing us down to 4th. Similarly, despite United being slightly worse with RVP than without Man City deteriorated by a lot more, allowing United to win the title.

    In season 2011/12

    ARSENAL 3rd on 70pts scoring 74 with a GD of +25 RVP Scored 30 Assisted 10

    MAN UTD 2nd on 89pts scoring 89 with a GD of +56

    In season 2012/13

    ARSENAL 4th on 73pts scoring 72 with a GD of +35

    MAN UTD 1st on 89pts scoring 86 with a GD 0f +43 RVP Scored 26 Assisted 9

    And this is the crux of the comparison with Spurs, and backs up completely the point made by Tony above regarding how it is totally unnecessary to have an out and out striker. The following was our goal scoring distribution for those in double figures over all competitions in the two seasons I have highlighted


    RVP 37 goals
    Walcott 11 goals


    Walcott 21
    Giroud 17
    Podalski 16
    Cazorla 12

    Losing your top scorer need not be a disaster. In fact you may even score more without him, and get more points. We did. Spurs still might.

  7. Mike & Nitram, I’m looking at the ‘usual’ top 6 as opposition when I say Spurs had a fairly difficult time as they played the 3 teams mentioned, while we played 3 as well, Manure played 2, Pool played 2, City played us & Newcastle while Chelski played Pool only. I think ours was more difficult as we played Everton away which we’ve had no joy since 2017(remember all the reminders in the press??) but relatively speaking, City & Chelski had the easy ride in that way, though City beat Castle at home.
    I think Brighton had a worse set of fixtures as they played Pool (2-2), Castle(3-1), Manure(3-1) & Villa so we’ll see what happens in the rest of the season with them and Castle. Hope I’ve made my reasoning clear, but I agree with what Nitram suggests for the next lot of fixtures. Chelski may have more trouble & PGMOL may not be able to aid & abet Pochie as they did when he was at Spurs. Let’s wait in anticipation….

  8. DawieC T and JimB

    I’m not trying to pretend my ‘system’, whatever you would call it, is scientific, or indeed perfect, but what I do think is that it’s a pretty fair evaluation on ‘current form’.

    If Luton find their Premier League feet and start to get some results, it may transpire that a win at their place with 10 men was a fantastic result. Similarly an admirable late rally against bottom of the table Sheff Utd, or 2 – 0 at 2nd from bottom Bournemouth or stuffing 3rd from bottom Burnley. But as things stand they are all matches Spurs should of won comfortably. They won one comfortably.

    Even Man Utd, who history would say are ‘tough’ opposition, are not. I believe it was JimB who said ‘we comfortably beat United’ which is palpably not true. All stats say a close game. Dangerous attacks, xG shots, shots OT, possession, all very close. Spurs took their chances United didn’t. We had over 50% more xG, shots, and attacks. 3 times as many dangerous attacks. Point is, CURRENTLY, Man Utd are NOT a tough fixture.

    So that leaves Liverpool, who you played a majority of the match against 10 men and over 20 minutes against 9, and as we all know they had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed. To draw any conclusions from that match is impossible.

    So that leaves a great result at the Emirates. And that’s it.

    You can try and convince yourself that Spurs have had a tough start to the season. That’s up to you. But it’s not just my ‘system’ that suggests otherwise, it’s every other matrix that has been produced regarding the opening games as well.

    Back to you Dawie, I agree re Brighton have had a reasonably tricky start but no harder than ours. And yep, Chelsea are up against it. They have had a very easy start yet languish in the bottom half, and have a really tough run coming up. They have showed signs that they are improving, but they need to.

  9. Nitram, the way the league table works it doesn’t matter how you win your matches. Whether you win comfortably or by the skin of your teeth it’s still three points. At the end of the season all that matters is how many you won compared to everyone else, how you won them is irrelevant.

  10. As far as I can see, Bissouma had 4 yellows before the Spurs/Luton game. He picked up 2 more yellows in that game and will be suspended this week

  11. The PL website has Bissouma on 4 YCs for purposes of calculating suspensions, but he picked up two more YCs against Luton, resulting in a Red, so he actually has 6 YCs this season. The PL website explains this in their notes.

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