Is it really true that little players foul more? Or are journalists making it up?



A very interesting article by Amy Lawrence has appeared in The Athletic  which suggests a key difference between the approach of Arsenal today and the Arsenal of the Arsenal of 2019/20.  And obviously it is something that attracts the attention of Untold because we’ve written so often about the difference between Arsenal then and now.  

So we were wondering if Ms Lawrence would agree with, disagree with, or fail to notice, our research into the issue.

Her view is the fact that Arteta brought in a view that the “addition of Rice and Havertz and the recent promotion of Kiwior at left-back have brought more physical and aerial influence across the team — from defence, through midfield, to attack.”

And it seems from the figures quoted in the report that Arsenal have played eight matches with an average height over 184cm, but only had a team with such a height once in the last five seasons.

More technical info on how the data was gathered and who was excluded is not provided and apart from a suggestion that Arsenal’s team is of a similar size to the team in the Unbeaten season.  This, the article suggests, contrasts with the Wenger teams of previous years as Mr Wenger (known in the article as “The Frenchman”) preferred the signing of delicate playmakers.   

And I do find that interesting.  “The Frenchman” signed Patrick Vieira, Theirry Henry, Jens Lehmann, and the like and rebuilt the career of Dennis Bergkamp.  An odd collection for a man who preferred signing delicate playermakers.

But there is a bigger point here.   The article claims that the bringing of “more physical and aerial influence across the team” is a fundamental policy and is resulting in better results.   And yet there is not an ounce of proof offered in the article that increasing physical and aerial influence is at the heart of Arsenal’s improvement.  It is asserted and we have to accept it.   

But let’s consider if the stronger and bigger team that Arsenal now, has is in fact been doing better than the less strong and smaller team that Arsenal were alleged to have last year, or previously, actually done any better than last season.

Unai Emey was sacked by Arsenal on 29 November 2019.  Arteta joined as manager on 20 December.  Emery’s last league team was Leno, Bellerin, Sokratis, Chambers, Luiz, Tierney Guendouzi, Ozil, Torreira, Aubameyang :Lacazette.  Not a group of players that I would consider as lacking in strength or come to that height.

Aubameyang is 1.87 metres tall.  Lacazette 1.75m.   Today’s forwards are Havertz 1.93m.  Saka is 1.78m.  Martinelli also is 1.78m.

So the height of the two top forwards under Wenger and Emery was 3.62m.  Arteta taking Havertz and Saka it is 3.71.  Today’s forwards are taller than those under Wenger and Emery.

Thus the basic facts don’t add up.  But even if they did what would still be missing would be any sense of cause and effect – the notion that having taller players means the club scores more goals and wins more games.   It could be true, but so could the issue of skill or tactics or indeed to take Untold’s example: the attitude to referees.

Untold has argued that in 2019/20 Arsenal got 86 yellow cards – more than any other club and almost double the number of cards as Liverpool.  Since then the trend of the cards for Arsenal has been downward until last season Arsenal were 18th in the card league, and this season Arsenal are bottom.  

So this has been a step by step progress that we can see in terms of facts and figures, and indeed is accompanied by a rise up the table – in recent years being 8th, 8th, 5th, 2nd and currently top.

Now you might argue that this rise by Arsenal is nothing to do with those yellow cards but is due to something else – but in doing so it would be helpful if you then also showed what else.  And this is where, in my opinion, the Lawrence article in the Athletic falls down because it does not give us the facts about players’ heights season by season; it just asserts there is a link.

Untold, as you will know if you are a regular reader, has charted tackles, fouls and yellow cards across the seasons, and we can see the decline in all three at the time of the rise of Arsenal’s league position.

Now of course this does not prove that it is tackles, fouls and yellows that cause a club to go up the league, but as we have noted the two clubs at the bottom of the “yellow cards from fouls” table are currently first and third in the league.  Last season they were first and second.  That is suggestive of a link.

And this is a problem with a lot of football writing.  As with the article in the Athletic the writing contains simple assertions which in one sense sound reasonable but come with no evidence.

We’ve been pointing this out for years.  Sadly though with no effect.  Maybe I should write instead about the way the wind is blowing.



2 Replies to “Is it really true that little players foul more? Or are journalists making it up?”

  1. There is a size difference down the spine of this Arsenal team comparing to the teams before the Arteta era. Rice, Gabriel and Saliba are physical players. And any of White, Kiwior or Tomiyasu are more robust than their predecessors. This has certainly toughened up the defense. For me it’s Veiera to Rice, Adams to Saliba. It’s been that long since Arsenal have had this quality and toughness. Arsenal are top of the table. Conceded the fewest, best goal difference. They came second last year and have a very good chance at the title this season. Good to be a Gooner, lol.
    As for Mr. Wenger, he had no money while they were building the Emerates yet he kept them in the CL places almost every year. Revisit those squads and name a manager who could have done as well with that collection. Squillace anyone?

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