Tackles, fouls and yellow cards. Arsenal, Palace, Chelsea and Tottenham compared



By Bulldog Drummond

In the last article, we looked at how Arsenal and Crystal Palace have been doing this season in terms of home and away performances, and on that basis we can see that Arsenal are obviously the clear favourites for this game, despite their recent run of form.   So now we come to look at the issue of tackles, fouls and yellow cards.

All figures are per league game:


Club Tackles Fouls Yellows from fouls Total yellows
Arsenal 16.5 9.7 1.20 1.20
Crystal Palace 20.3 11.8 1.25 1.85
Chelsea 17.7 12.6 1.71 3.14
Tottenham Hotspur 20.4 10.6 1.62 1.50


What we can see is that Palace undertake almost 25% more tackles than Arsenal, and they are operating at the same level as Tottenham Hotspur in this regard.  As the team with the smallest number of tackles per game, we would expect Arsenal to have achieved the lowest number of fouls per game, and that is indeed exactly what we see.  Palace are fouling 13% more than Arsenal.  Chelsea, we might notice are still fouling 30% more than Arsenal.

Given their low number of tackles and low number of fouls, Arsenal have (again as we would expect) the lowest number of yellow cards given for fouls, and Chelsea, again as we would anticipate, have a much higher percentage of yellow cards given for fouls.   Chelsea are running at around 43% more yellow cards from fouls than Arsenal.

However, as we know this season PGMO has decided to impose yellow cards for a range of other offences at a much higher rate than before, and when we look at the total figures we can see that once again Arsenal are running at the lowest level.  Chelsea in fact are running at two and a half times the number of yellow cards Arsenal get.  Palace get 50% more yellow cards than Arsenal, when cards from all causes are taken into effect.

But as ever the key measurement comes from the relation between these factors.  In the figures below the yellow card total is in each case taken from the number of yellow cards given for fouls, not the total number of yellow cards.


Club Tackles per foul Tackles per yellow Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 1.70 13.75 8.08
Crystal Palace 1.72 16.24 9.44
Chelsea 1.40 10.35 7.37
Tottenham Hotspur 1.92 12.59 6.54


What we find here is that Tottenham Hotspur are allowed to get away with more tackles without a foul being called than any of the other three teams in our list.  

But when we consider how many tackles can be put in before a yellow is waved, Palace are the champions in this selection knocking up 16.24 tackles per yellow card is given for a tackle.  The implication is clearly that referees simply think Palace players are clean and honest in a way that those of other clubs are not.

So looking at the final column, the number of fouls that clubs can get away with before a yellow card is waved Crystal Palace are the outright winners.  They can commit 9.44 fouls before a yellow card is waved.  Arsenal are behind them being allowed only 8.08 fouls before a yellow card comes out.

And this is where Tottenham have been failing all season, and seemingly are still failing.   For them a yellow card comes out after 6.54 fouls.

These differences are enormous and effectively mean that Tottenham Hotspur fouls are seen by referees as 44% worse than Crystal Palace fouls.   Much as I dislike Tottenham, watching the two teams I am not at all sure that difference is valid, although it is never a factor that I see or hear commented upon in the media.   It leads to two questions, either…

a) Why do referees have it in for Tottenham Hotspur?


b) Why can’t Tottenham Hotspur get their players to tackle in a way that is not considered a yellow card offence, as other clubs have done?

These figures also lead to the question, why are Chelsea getting so many yellow cards for non-fouling offences and why is the club taking no steps to overcome this?  Again a reasonable question and not one that I have seen answered.

The Guardian has picked up on Chelsea’s yellow card problem and asked why this was so.  In reply they published this: “Pochettino does not believe this is representative of a lack of discipline. ‘No – it’s representative of the fact that we play for Chelsea, we are a big club and you feel the pressure,’ he said. ‘When you are frustrated and lack a bit of experience, it’s [something on] we can improve’.”

So just a lack of experience.   This should mean that the level of yellows is declining as their players get more experience.   I’m not sure that is happening.


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