Man U v Arsenal and what Tottenham, Man U and Chelsea haven’t quite realised.



By Bulldog Drummond

Untold Arsenal has focussed on tackles as an issue for a number years for the simple reason that clubs that tackle less tend to do better.  

Tackles are dangerous – the percentage of tackles that result in a foul and thus a free kick to the opposition is very high and tackles are also a major source of yellow cards.   

So some teams have over recent years started to move away from tackles leaving others behind: the most tackling teams commit 50% more tackles than the least tackling teams.  This directly leads to more free kicks against the tackling teams and ultimately more yellow cards.   Here we can see the range of levels for tackles fouls and cards among four teams.  All figures are per game and from WhoScored.  Tottenham are now running at over 50% more yellows per game than Arsenal!


Tackles Fouls Cards for fouls All yellows
Arsenal 16.0 10.5 1.03 1.56
Manchester U 17.7 10.6 1.31 2.14
Manchester C 13.5 7.7 0.86 1.40
Tottenham H 19.3 11.2 1.54 2.37


At the top of the yellow card table is Chelsea with 98 cards, followed by Wolverhampton, Sheffield United and Aston Villa.

Now I mention Villa here because they are currently on 89 yellow cards from all causes, as opposed to Arsenal on 56.  And that is interesting because when Emery was sacked as Arsenal manager, Arsenal were top of the yellow card table, and Villa seventh.

Under Arteta’s management, Arsenal then sank down to the foot of the yellow card table (and they are now 19th, only Manchester City having fewer).   

Getting rid of the cards that Arsenal got under Emery’s leadership was a central part of Arteta’s early plan and a major explanation of why Arsenal came eighth for his first two seasons.  Now has players who tackle less, but Emery has failed to learn about PGMO and Villa are now the fourth-most-carded team in the league.

Of course the difference in the number of cards that each referee gives out is ludicrously large.  But this shows that if the manager wants to wrest away control from the PGMO men, the first thing to do is to cut the tackling.

However Manchester United keep changing managers and so it is impossible for them, and indeed for many other clubs, to develop such a specific style of play, that meets the demands of PGMO.

However because this is a PGMO issue, the media in general will not touch it.  They might mention the high number of cards that teams such as Chelsea, Wolverhampton, Aston Villa and Brighton get, but don’t go further.

However, in the case of Manchester United and Arsenal, there is something else going on.  Manchester United get 27% more yellow cards from fouls than Arsenal.  From this there can only be three explanations.

1: Manchester United fouls are considerably more dangerous and nastier than Arsenal fouls.

2: Manchester United are doing all sorts of other naughty things on the pitch which brings yellow cards for other events.  This gives referees the feeling that they need to “watch Man U players carefully,” because they are a team that gets yellow cards.

Thus in part, the yellow cards for Manchester United become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Clubs that get more yellow cards do so because they commit more fouls AND because the referees’ judgement is that the fouls are nastier.   But this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, jus as the Manchester City does not get cards because “Manchester City is not a dirty team”.

It is also the obvious fact that the more a club has possession, the fewer yellow cards they are going to get. That correlation doesn’t work perfectly but it is a factor.

High possession and low card rates is exactly what Manchester City have achieved and which Arsenal are edging toward.    Tottenham on the other hand have the possession but keep getting insane numbers of yellow cards (69% more than Manchester City, 48% more than Arsenal).

Chelsea are even worse.  They still have 59.1% possession but their yellow cards are off the chart. (Do refs just assume that a Chelsea tackle is a foul?)  Manchester United do manage to have possession half the time in a game but at the cost of multiple yellow cards.

To succeed at the moment in the PL clubs need high possession and low card numbers.   Only three teams are getting anywhere near that.  Here’s a selection – and they happen to be at the top of the table.


Team Yellows Possession%
Manchester City 49 65.9%
Tottenham 83 61.9%
Liverpool 63 61.2%
Chelsea 98 59.1%
Arsenal 56 58.4%
Manchester United 75 50.6%
 West Ham 74 40.4%
 Everton 76 39.9%


This sort of mess (too many cards, not enough possession) is often the result of regular managerial changes.  One manager brings in the fierce tacklers who ratchet up the cards, another brings in the players who can hold possession.  Together they do not make a team.

This disparity between having possession and picking up a disproportionate number of cards applies to six clubs in the Premier League.   All of them could have done better this season by cutting down the yellow cards while keeping the current level of possession.  Arsenal’s position is shown in the final row for comparison.

The aim of course must be a low number of cards and a high percentage of possession.  One of the biggest barriers to that is… regularly changing managers.   We can only be grateful to Tottenham, Chelsea, and Man U that they haven’t quite realised.

3 Replies to “Man U v Arsenal and what Tottenham, Man U and Chelsea haven’t quite realised.”

  1. Hey Bulldog,
    I agree with your analysis. And there might be psychological reasons as well. Playing on a yellow card means a player needs to be more careful marking and tackling and therefore less effective. The defense won’t be as tight and goals will be scored. I’ll back that up with the current table as Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool are 1, 2, 3 and have the fewest yellows. This has been pointed out many times in several threads here on UA. I also think that the refs treat the top teams differently and give talented players the benefit of the doubt when blowing the whistle. Last season and this, I’ve seen Arsenal players getting away with more than they have in years. Of course a couple of cock-ups by the refs already will probably see City win by 2 points. Newcastle anyone?

  2. Jurriën Timber made a two footed tackle in his first PL game, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury and has missed the whole season after Arsenal paid £34M for him.
    Whether he was trying too hard to impress I don’t know but I thought it was reckless at the time & has proved costly both to the player & Arsenal.

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