Is a penalty a penalty? Not always with Arsenal

Arsenal on Twitter @UntoldArsenal

Untold Arsenal on Facebook here

By Walter Broeckx

A legendary manager in Belgium used to say in his Brussels tongue “pinanty is pinanty” which means in English: “a penalty is a penalty”. For those interested in who said this it was Raymond Goethals, former manager of the Belgium national team and many other top teams in Belgium and even in Europe. He won the CL with Marseille a long time ago.

But is a penalty really a penalty? Can any difference be found between let us say a penalty in the EPL and let us say in the CL? I tried to find out.

So let me start with the CL. We played 6 games in the groups and I only took those as this is also a league form, be it a short version. Because I have noticed that there is a big difference between league and knock out competitions.  And in total we got 4 penalties in our favour and we got 1 against us.

So this means that we get a penalty in almost every second game we played and every 6th game we get a penalty against us.

And then I looked at the numbers of the EPL. And in the 29 games we played we have got 5 penalties. Of which we missed 2 it seems. But that is only an average of 1 penalty in each 6th game.  On the other hand we got 5 penalties given against us and this gives the same average as in the penalties given to us.

GAMES 29 6

So when you look at those numbers it is clear to see that there is a big difference between a penalty in the CL and one in the EPL. One could say that penalties in the CL are easily given by the refs. In total 5 penalties and  4 of those 5 was in Arsenals favour.

And in the EPL we only got 5 penalties (that is one more than in the CL) but this was in 29 games compared to just 6 games in the CL!

If we had had the same standard in refereeing between the refs in the EPL and in the CL this would mean that we should have had around 14 or 15 penalties.

And if we take the penalties against us this would mean that we would have got around 7 penalties against us.

For those who can see it is clear that there is not much difference when it comes to conceding penalties against us between the EPL and the CL. We got 5 against us and that is not that far away from the 5 we got against us.

But the gap between the penalties in our favour between the EPL and the CL …well is…rather big. So can there be found a logical explanation for this difference?

When people say that MU get more penalties than other teams at OT then the defence of the MU supporters is: as we play an attacking game we get more in the penalty area and as a result more fouls are made and we get more penalties. I think this could be a plausible bit of reasoning. And if we look at our stats in the CL this could work out. As we play an attacking game we got more in the other penalty area and got more penalties.

But then again the same goes for the EPL. We always attack and so we should get the same result as in the CL. Meaning for every penalty we get against us we should get four in our favour. But this clearly isn’t the case as we get the same amount of penalties against us as in our favour in the EPL.

And if we take this reasoning in the penalties against us we also find a strange thing as in the EPL we get as many penalties against us as in our favour. And in the CL we only get one fourth of the penalties against us. So there is something strange in those numbers.

So we play the same game every time (one of the things that some of our own fans criticise us for) and yet for some reason we don’t get the same average penalties in our favour. Not if we compare the EPL with the CL. And as a result of our style  we stay in their penalty area and yet we get very few penalties compared to the games in the CL.

When it comes to penalties against us the numbers are equal which shows that the refs are up to their task when it comes to giving a penalty against us. But when it comes to penalties in our favour the numbers show a big difference. A difference that is too big for me and one that I cannot explain at first sight.

This difference could mean two things: the refs in the EPL run their games according to different rules compared to the ones that are used by Uefa (and the rules that are written by Fifa). But if this is  the case this would mean that England had placed itself outside international football and outside the rules that are agreed in agreement with the FAs of the home countries.

And the other thing option is…er …. Or…well…no…. it couldn’t, could it? But let me point out that since we have been considered contenders for the EPL we only got one penalty since then. But this will be a coincidence I think. Is it?

So let me again quote my famous (well in my country) manager but this time change his famous quote a bit: “A pinanty for Arsenal is not always a pinanty” (A penalty for Arsenal is not always a penalty).


Beyond the shame; Calciopoli hits as Arsenal’s next home match is fixed.

Are the Premier League Matches Fixed?  A review of the evidence – part 1

Are Premier League Matches Fixed – part 2 of the article, concluding the review of the evidence

The complete match fixing index

A simpler time when all Arsenal did was go bust

26 Replies to “Is a penalty a penalty? Not always with Arsenal”

  1. I guess we could go back through your ref reports and get an idea of the numbers of justifiable penalties not given (in your opinion) both for and against. This could help to clarify whether refs are doing their job properly or not.

  2. Just a note to anyone who finds that their comment is not appearing here. There is a house rule – you have to comment on the subject that the writer has written about. Writing about something quite different generally means that your comment just doesn’t appear. Tony

  3. “We got 5 against us and that is not that far away from the 5 we got against us.” Quite right Walter!! :o)

  4. Walter, some times you forget! I think you will accept that ManU are a big part of English football. Now, if they were to go five seasons without having a gong, do you know what that means to the FA and English league as a whole? First the team would find it a little bit hard to attract big sponsors and stars, as a result the FA and league itself would lose out on some sponsorship and glamour money. Now, if Arsenal ( a team full of foreigners) went that far without a trophy, no one will shed a tear, because after all its for foreigners! It’s only when we have atlast 4 or 5 English internationals starting that we will win a trophy again, you will see.
    That’s why I’ve always said that Arsene must do whatever it takes to have Lansbury, Kyle Bartley and JET in the first team next season, then we can start to dream.

  5. To be fair, 4 penalties in 6 games is a bit freaky anyway… though I definitely think many EPL refs don’t want to give us penalties

  6. It’s simple really, English refs know Nasri & Co are serial divers. Foreign refs get fooled.

  7. @ Walter

    My instinct is to agree with you.

    However, the statistical power of your analysis is extemely weak (just 6 CL games). You cannot draw a meaningful conclusion from this unless you work for the Daily Mail! Also, why have you left out the Barca games? This would have decreased the average penalty per game ratio to 0.5 in the CL, suggestion of cherry picking there! To increase the power of your analysis you could perhaps look at the last 10 years and compare.

    Secondly, the goals per game ratio suggests Arsenal are more potent in the CL, 3 goals per game as opposed to ~ 2 per game in EPL. This would suggest Arsenal have more play in the penalty area in the CL than EPL although I concede that if you translate the penalties per game for CL into the EPL it does boost the goals per game to ~ 3.

    Also, at the stage of the season when CL group games are played, Arsenal are generally fresher and have less injuries. Notice I say generally, i’m sure Tony’s injury index could enlighten. There are a whole bunch of other factors not taken into consideration, are the defenders of Braga, Shaktar & Partizan of Premiership quality?

    “As we play an attacking game we got more in the other penalty area and got more penalties. But then again the same goes for the EPL”

    Really? You need to support this statement! Quantify it, what are the possession percentages in the penalty areas for EPL & CL?

    I agree with Mick about looking at the number of justifiable penalties not given, this could be more statistically meaningful although by how much I don’t know.

    I personally think you may be onto something but you need far more detailed analysis, greater statistical power and less reliance on subjective unquantified observations to support what you say, although it is a hard job because there are so many factors which you cannot compare like for like. Mike

  8. Did Raymond Goethals really win the Champions league Walter??? was it not stripped from him due to match fixing!!!!!!

    And was our Arsene Wenger not the main victim of Marseille,s match winning methods at the time?

    A bit off subject but i thought i would raise the point anyway.

  9. Mike J,
    I left out the CL games against Barcelona as they are not a league form.

    During my research this year I noticed a very strange thing. Refs in knock out games (cup competitions) are doing very different compared to league games.
    For some strange reason the refs in the cup competitions got higher scores than in the league games most of the time.

    I cannot explain this so I decided to focus on the league games. After all a cup game has a different intensity than a league game and according to my observations this also is the same for the refs.

  10. Laundryender,

    I don’t think they took the CL away from Marseille. But I will look it up.

    Let me say that Goethals was er… apart from being a good manager most and fore all also a good clown. You could hate him or love him but he sure could make you laugh when he talked about football.

  11. What Mike J said. That.
    And also, the implication is that it is only Arsenal who receives worse refereeing in the EPL than in the CL. Perhaps Chelsea and Man U might say the same. I think it is accepted by players, managers, commentators and all that English football is different – faster, more direct, more physical, more contact. By whatever phrase, that can only happen if EPL refs are using a different style than CL refs in Europe. That is not to say (as Walter suggests) different rules. Just a different approach.
    Oh how I’d love to see a report from a European match refereed by an EPL ref, to see whether our style ever gets used in the CL, and with what kind of reception, but I’m not even sure if any of ours are good enough. But, we all saw the English ‘ref’ in the world cup final. Nuff said?

  12. Mike J,

    I calculated the possession we had in both competitions.

    In the EPL we had 55,83% possession of the ball
    In the CL we had 55,17% possession of the ball

    So those numbers are almost identical. So it shouldn’t make any difference I think and my initial sentence based on my gut feeling was backed by the statistical numbers provided by the BBC. I used their statistical numbers for both competitions.

  13. And a final remark so far:

    I wrote this article on a different computer from where I keep my ref review numbers. One of the numbers I keep track on is the not given penalties (for and against). So tonight I will try to see what I have noted over each game and see if there are some penalties missing in our favour… and against of course

  14. Sample size, Walter. Sample size.

    The first rule of statistics is use comparable sample sizes when trying to compare.

    The second is to make sure that the sample size is large enough so that ‘freaks of nature’ are eliminated as much as possible.

    The third rule is to quote your margins of error.

    Six games is nothing. Take 5 years of group games, take ten if you like. 30 or 60 games.

    But six games isn’t an adequate sample size. And it’s not comparable with 29 games in the EPL.

    Take a piece of advice: unless you understand about statistics, don’t try and prove things like this.

    You’re rapidly turning yourself into a fool.

  15. Rhys,


    I don’t know how you can explain this based on the same sample size:

    AVERAGE/GAME AGAINST 0.17(epl) 0.16 (cl)

    and then

    AVERAGE/GAME FOR 0.17(epl) 0.66 (cl)

    Now even if my sample is small then it should show the same deviation in both numbers I would think. Or both numbers are meaningless (fair enough) or could point at something.

    But don’t worry, if you are still hanging around in 10 years time I will present you the sample of 10 years.

  16. We got 2 penalties against us in Belgrade, one Partizan scored, and the other Fabianski saved, so it was 2 against us in the CL

  17. Rhys Jaggar
    ‘The first rule of statistics is use comparable sample sizes when trying to compare.’
    In that case we can never statistically compare any two events that occur at different frequencies. EG The number of road accidents in dry conditions with the number of accidents in snow conditions. I think you will agree that we get far less snow than dry but that doesn’t make the statistical result any less accurate. It is what it is. And are you suggesting that we compare the Champions League results from the last few years against the Premier results from the one year in order to even up the sample numbers? Then we could argue that over the different years refereeing standards in terms of tolerance to certain types of challenges for example have changed so rendering any result meaningless. Walter is highlighting a trend which many of us have a sneaky feeling is occuring and I think he is on the right track. Walter, I for one do not think you a fool.

  18. Okay serbian goon thanks for pointing this out. I had to make a double check on this, which I didn’t.

    Back to the drawing board for Walter….

    EPL CL
    GAMES 29 6
    AVERAGE/GAME TOTAL 0.34 1.00
    AVERAGE/GAME FOR 0.17 0.67

    So a conclusion could be that in the CL refs are easier to give penalties for both teams. One could say double as easy but this still doesn’t explain why the difference between the CL and the EPL is around 4 times. I could accept it also being 2 but not really 4.

  19. Question for the board. Has any team ever had a better front two than Bergkamp and Henry. Seriously No wonder we had such success probably the best two forwards ever to grace the league. (shearer the only man i think could fight for a place) Thats what our team needs not another defender

  20. I think Rhys is off on rule #1, but spot on with rule #2 and rule #3. A sample size of six is way too small. For that matter a sample size of 29 is too small as well.

    I would think that if you looked at the last ten years you could see if there was a statistical difference between epl/cl penalties. If you use just the cl group stage you’re at 60 games, which is a small but reasonable sample size.

    Then you could begin to compare year on year differences as well. For example Untold continues to theorize that the epl is bent, so how do the penalty %’s stack up for years when Arsenal is in title contention vs. ones when we’re not? What about in years Arsenal won the title?

    BTW- A little off topic, but if you haven’t read Freakonomics(or seen the movie), there is a section relating to match fixing in Sumo wrestling. Worth reading/watching just to get an idea of how to investigate the match fixing potential and motivators.

  21. Walter,
    How many times in both europe and the Epl have we not been awarded penalties that we should have been awarded ?

    Also how many times have penalties been given against us in both that should never have been given ? example Newcastle ?

    That info might show a clearer picture in the difference …..

  22. Walter, Thanks …Cant wait to see how bad it really is. Sounds kinda sadistic I know.

  23. man u sold arguably their best player in ronaldo, but still continue to get results. I attribute this to more winners and a master tactician in fergie who can marshall his troops and prepare a proper defense

Comments are closed.