- The one thing that Arsenal so clearly need this season
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By Tony Attwood
Criticism of referees is not everywhere. It is to be heard in the grounds, and read about in blogs, but in comparison there is very little criticism of PL referees in the newspapers, through their websites, on radio or on TV.
It is in fact as if the people who watch football in the grounds and the people who commentate or comment on it for money, are seeing something completely different.
So how could that be?
2009/10 was the first year for which referees figures were collected – which itself seems rather strange – figures in depth for players and clubs go back much further – but that is how it is and we can only work with what we have got.
So let’s now look at last year 2022/23 again just selecting the four referees who gave the most yellow cards per game 13 years later.
What is interesting is that the number of fouls per game has significantly declined, but the number of fouls per tackle has stayed the same. In fact that shows that the number of tackles has declined – a feature we noticed in Arsenal’s performance immediately Mikel Arteta took over.nine times as many incidents that were worthy of a penalty in a match involved Robert Jones as there were in a match involving Peter Bankes? Or go back 13 years to 2009/10 – Mike Dean was giving out three times as many penalties as Stuart Atwell.
The number of penalties per game is seen to be immensely variable per referee – which itself is worrying. Are we really to accept that it just happened that some referees were always involved in games with a lot of rough stuff in the area while others were not?
That’s a thought, but now let us return to what first brought us here: yellow cards. In 2009/10 our top four referees handed out 3.775 yellow cards a match. This season our top four referees handed out 4.277 yellow cards a match – that is an increase of 13% per game.
So through this simple bit of research, we are discovering two things. One is that referees are seeing far fewer fouls per game – down from 26.49 fouls per game in 2009/10 to 22.82 last season. That’s a 16% decline.
So fouls – the main cause of yellow cards – are down by 16% but yellow cards are up by 13%. That seems an extraordinary pair of changes. The obvious conclusion is that players are doing their bit to get their tackles into what is acceptable in the laws of the game, but in return, referees are handing out more and more yellow cards for other things.
Now in many ways these situation needs explaining – these are significant numbers and on the surface they look very odd.
But what is the response of PGMO and their lapdogs in the media? Absolutely nothing. The drawbridge is drawn up, and silence ensues. PGMO as we have noted so often don’t even have a website, and it is left to people like us to take a look.
We might now ask, is the game better for such changes in refereeing style? In one sense yes – the number of fouls is down. We noticed this when Mikel Arteta came to Arsenal and it is clear that his approach was part of a general trend by clubs to cut out fouling. But still yellow cards are going up and up. And it is reasonable to ask: why?
The big change is that some clubs that have seen what is going on have their players putting in fewer tackles across the board. Last season the number of tackles per game ranged from 22.1 in the most tackling team to 12.4 in the least tackling team. Go back to 2009/10 and the range was from 25.2 down to 18.1 tackles per game.
The easiest and most straightforward conclusion is that lots of clubs have reduced their tackling to stop referees handing out free kicks to the opposition. That has worked. But at the same time the number of yellow cards per game is going up and up and up.
That makes no sense – and what we need is for PGMO to explain. But as ever PGMO say…. nothing.
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