Use more players, get fewer cards: the tactic that separates two clubs from the rest



by Bulldog Drummond

In 2003/4 Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup by Middlesbrough.  It was significant because Middlesbrough went on to win the League Cup that season.  It was in fact the last trophy they won.   Arsenal achieved something special that season too, although for the moment it slips my mind quite what it was, but I know it was important. Perhaps you can remember.

In 2023/4, so 20 years later, Arsenal were knocked out of the league cup by West Ham.  What will happen to them next we don’t know but it wouldn’t be too surprising if West Ham went out of the league cup in the next round (they are away to Liverpool).

But there was good news: Odegaaard was back, and that will make an enormous difference for the next game – away to Newcastle tomorrow which we will now consider…

They came back up to the top table for 2017/18, and after five seasons in which their best position was mid-way, last season with all the new investment they came fourth – which sounds ok but was actually 15 points behind Arsenal.


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 28 5 5 94 33 61 89
2 Arsenal 38 26 6 6 88 43 45 84
3 Manchester United 38 23 6 9 58 43 15 75
4 Newcastle United 38 19 14 5 68 33 35 71
5 Liverpool 38 19 10 9 75 47 28 67
6 Brighton and Hove Albion 38 18 8 12 72 53 19 62


Now it is not widely commented upon but we live in an era where the distance between the top few and the rest seems to be increasing.  Last season the distance from first to fifth was 22 points.  The season before it was 24 points.  In 2021 it was 20 points.   In 2020 it was 37 points.  And on and on back through the previous decade.

This is why the pundits with their fantasy super computers tend to recite each year that it will be the same four teams getting into the top four positions as last year.

So the question arises, are we seeing the same thing this season?

At the moment we have a top five, just four points apart with Newcastle slipping outside that group.  Now if we take these positions and assume that the clubs will continue to perform at the same rate through the season we will have a final table in which the champions get 99 points and the fourth club will get 87.


Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts Projected
1 Tottenham Hotspur 10 8 2 0 22 9 13 26 99 pts
2 Arsenal 10 7 3 0 23 8 15 24 91 pts
3 Manchester City 10 8 0 2 22 7 15 24 91 pts
4 Liverpool 10 7 2 1 23 9 14 23 87 pts
5 Aston Villa 10 7 1 2 26 14 12 22 83 pts
6 Newcastle United 10 5 2 3 26 11 15 17 64 pts


So by the end of the season we could have a top five out on their own.   But it might not end that way as Tottenham, as I have already suggested could come a cropper because of their insistence of using the same players all the time and their yellow card situation.  

Ten of the Tottenham squad have played nine or more games this season and already accumulated 18 yellow cards and one red.   Compare this with Arsenal where just five players have played in the 10 league games and where the club has accumulated just four yellow cards.

Tottenham are thus facing three dangers here: one from burn out, one from injury to the top ten players and then not having experienced players ready to take over, and the other from yellow cards.

Looking at this difference of style and approach between Tottenham and Arsenal suggestss it might be worth looking at a table across the top six (thus including Newcastle) on this basis of players used in PL games and the number of yellows in PL games.  To be clear the yellows and reds totals are only for the players who have played 9 or 10 games, not for the whole sqaud.  Thus the yellow + red number indicates how likely it is that any of the prime squad will be lost due to cardings.

In all cases we are only looking at Premier League games.

As we can see Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa are using the same players over and over, and are also letting them pick up huge numbers of cards which must mean suspensions soon, and the bringing in of players who have not had much PL experience this season.  And that’s before some are lost to injury.


Pos Team Players 9/10 games Yellows + Red F A GD Pts
1 Tottenham Hotspur 10 18 + 1 22 9 13 26
2 Arsenal 5 4 23 8 15 24
3 Manchester City 5 6 22 7 15 24
4 Liverpool 7 11 + 2 23 9 14 23
5 Aston Villa 10 19 26 14 12 22
6 Newcastle United 5 10 26 11 15 17


You’ll also notice that Newcastle are rotating as often as Arsenal and Manchester City, but are picking up more cards and fewer points, suggesting that their squad in depth does not have the quality throughout.  Arsenal are also once more spreading the goals around more than most teams, but we’ll come back to that in another article.

But for looking ahead through this season using a rotating players system by having only a few fixed positions where it is the same player every match is a good policy against injury, and keeping the card numbers is a good insurance against suspension, obviously.

The difference between the Tottenham and Arsenal approach is plain to see in terms of player numbers and cards, and both could work in Arsenal’s favour in the months to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *