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July 2021

The 57 minute game: Arsenal vs Wigan

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By Walter Broeckx

As since the Wigan game we had a bit of a discussion on the time wasting I have tried to walk where no Untolder has gone before.  And believe me this is a one off. Unless someone wants to take this on. Be my guest. In fact come to think of it if there is someone out there who can get the numbers of when a ball is in play and when not you could check them with what you will find here. And if nobody has those numbers and does want to keep an eye on them you can always start a new series: Untold Time Review. Now doesn’t that sound nice? Your own series on Untold? Become famous overnight.

But back to the start: was there a lot of wasted time in the Wigan game or not. Some say yes, some say no. I have tried to find out.

First let me explain how I did this. I have reviewed the whole game and I have entered the time when the ball went out of play and then entered the time when the ball came back in play. With being in play I mean that all the players can freely attack the ball. So when a goalkeeper has the ball in his hands the ball is ‘in play’ but as you cannot attack the goalkeeper in such a moment I also considered it as being ‘not in play’.  When the ref has given a foul, a throw, a goal kick, a corner, name it I took the time.

Believe me it was a long job. Because it is amazing how many times the ball is actually unplayable.  I will first start with a few comparing statistics between both teams on the major incidents when the ball was out of play. First of all I got to say that the game was stopped at a certain moment for 1m14s for a clash of heads. I have divided this stoppage equally over both teams as this was a painful accident with nobody really to blame.

Now I am not claiming this is correct to the ultimate second. Believe me it is sometimes difficult to know the exact second because sometimes a replay is shown while the ball is brought back in to play. I then judged to my best ability and experience of how long the ball was back in play. So left and right it could be that a second could be wrong. But this isn’t a scientific project so no need to question it like that. I had to do it with the camera angle from what was shown on TV. A final remark I know that sometimes the ball can be further away from a player before he can restart the game. I went for the “it will even out” strategy thinking (and hoping) that this would be the same thing for both teams during the course of the game.

Seconds Number Average/event
Arsenal throw


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Wigan throw




Arsenal free kick




Wigan free kick




Arsenal goal celebration




Wigan goal celebrations




Arsenal goal kick




Wigan goal kick




Arsenal corner




Wigan corner




Arsenal keeper




Wigan keeper




Arsenal changes




Wigan changes




So what can we see? Well first of all that when Arsenal had to take a throw it took not even half the time that Wigan needed.

It took Wigan almost 10 seconds longer to take a free kick. And we got to take notice of the fact that it was only with Arsenal free kicks that a wall had to be built so it lead to a longer time for Arsenal to take a few free kicks. Also the ref calling Arsenal back a few times caused a higher score for Arsenal.

People estimate that a goal celebration takes 30 seconds. It took Arsenal 37 seconds and Wigan around 50 seconds each time. But given the way things went I think this could be understood.

Concerning the goal kicks we see a big difference. The average goal kick from took Wigan more than 30 seconds. So almost more than a goal celebration.  It took Arsenal 13 seconds and Wigan 33 seconds. More than the double.

Thank the gods Wigan had only 3 corners as they also took their time to take them. It took them more than 10 seconds longer than Arsenal.

If we see how long a keeper has the ball in his hands we see that Szczesny average 2,5 seconds. While Al Habsi managed an average of more than 11 seconds. And then the ref in me starts thinking: hey wasn’t there a 6 seconds rule installed for this? Well there is but nobody seems to care any more.

Arsenal took also a bit less time to make their changes. One could say the usual tricks in football. Some things can be understood. Wigan can try to bend the  rules. It is not their fault that the ref let it go and didn’t do anything about it. And when reviewing the game I also noticed that the ref and the Wigan players enjoyed their being together a times. Lots of smiles and eye winking at some moments in the game and at the interval.

Before I come to the final numbers I would ask you to try to imagine some different scenarios. Imagine going to a concert that is telling you: 2 hours of music by Band X for £100. And when you buy this ticket and you go to the concert they stop after 70 minutes and well that is it. I don’t think you will feel happy.

So let us move back to the Emirates. Because when I started making totals I found that in the game on Monday the ball was unplayable 121 times. I repeat 121 times that the ball was unplayable.

And when I counted the seconds that the ball was unplayable it was 2.495 seconds that the ball was not in play. I repeat 2.495 seconds. And if my calculator is still working this means that expressed in minutes the ball was unplayable for more than 41 minutes.

That is almost one complete half that well…. you don’t see football.  And then I ask myself is this still acceptable? Would you accept it from your favourite rock band that they stop halfway the show?  Well apparently it was acceptable in football. As nobody mentioned it. Until Untold came with these numbers.

Blimey I must say that I was shocked when I added all those numbers. Officially we played 98 minutes in total (48+50) but from those 98 minutes we only really played 57 minutes. Not even 60% of the promised 90 minutes.

Could we ask a refund to the EPL for this?

Arsenal v Wigan – the ref review, will follow shortly.


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31 comments to The 57 minute game: Arsenal vs Wigan

  • Walter – you won’t remember it, but there was a club in the first division called Wimbledon. They played exactly the game that Wigan played, and were universally hated for it. Their crowds, like Wigan’s, were the worst in the division. When Arsenal went to their ground, three sides of the ground was Arsenal fans, one side Wimbledon.

    Eventually they slipped down the league, and moved to Milton Keynes – with AFC Wimbledone starting up – they are now in the 4th division.

    What links these two clubs is the total lack of football and the low clubs. I suspect Wigan will follow Wimbledon

  • someguy12

    I don’t normally post comments but I’m an avid reader of your blog. I must commend you for making this move…I never would have thought that so much time is spent with the ball “unplayable”.

    The 11.33 seconds per hold from the Wigan keeper is seriously unacceptable! It’s a shame the refs don’t answer to a body that takes stats like these seriously!

    It would be amazing if more fans like you (from different teams) could do unbiased analyses like these and a movement could gain some traction…almost forcing the FA, FIFA, and the PGMOL to take notice and take some action.

    We should start an uprising! >:-D

  • Wooby

    Walter, amazing stuff. My father, for one, has always railed at the TV about the 6 second rule. For the love of the game, I’d like to an official call it once to remind everyone that the idea of the game is to have the ball in play, not in the hands of a keeper. (As an aside, I wonder what poor Dermot would say about the ref that makes such a call?)

    It’s quite criminal, isn’t it? Customers pay for what is supposed to be 90 minutes of entertainment and get less than 60% of what they paid for.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Just want to say that I could have given each incident in a tabel. But with 121 stops this was just impossible to do. You would run away from the article I think 😉
    Imagine the longest ref refiew and double it.

  • Anne


    This is very revealing. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

  • Jack Straw

    Great stuff, Walter. I’m sure there are quite a few Gooners out there wondering these exact questions, so thanks for doing the leg work!

    I once heard that someone had done exactly this for a much larger sample of games (can’t remember if it was a PL season or maybe a WC). The results were equally shocking. If I recall correctly the average minutes with ball in-play was around 65 per match.

    The time keeping system is so antiquated it’s insane. With technology there is literally no excuse not to have a clock that stops and starts for every dead ball. The claims that “it’s always been this way” and “it takes away from the drama” are pathetic. Like you said, fans pay for 90 minutes so they deserve 90 minutes worth of football.

    What’s truly amazing is that the refs continue to add anywhere from 1-5 minutes at the end of every half, when the ball is out of play for somewhere between 12-15 minutes per half. And those numbers are seemingly chosen randomly. Are they given special instructions on when they should and should not add “injury” time. Can those specifications be made clear to their paying cusomters?

  • Tristam

    Very interesting figures indeed. It almost seems as if all the rules that were introduced to speed up the game are slowly being forgotten. In addition to the six seconds rule, wasn’t there also a rule saying that injured players should be treated off the field? Has this rule been changed? Because it has been a very long time since I last saw a ref telling that to the players and medical staff.

  • Jbh

    Good analysis. There is an easy way to work out “a time wasting number” for each team and this can be easily added to your ref reviews.
    The BBC website quotes possession based on time of possession per team, whereas OPTA do the more appropriate possession based on number of passes each team makes. This is why you often see BBC saying 50/50 but OPTA 60/40 and everyone is confused.
    To work out the “time wasting factor” simply multiply the differential by match time for the avg mins wasted. Ideally you would take the time the ball is in play as your starting point but in the absence of that using 90 mins is reasonable.

  • WalterBroeckx

    so basically this means that the time Wigan was wasting by delaying to bring the ball back in to play is added by the BBC as ‘possession’?

  • Matt Clarke

    Nice job and very interesting conclusions.

    I agree that the worst part is the goalkeeper turning into a ball keeper. Thirty-two seconds of illegal holds. 🙁

    I hope that we do not behave like this when we are ahead. (I really cannot think of a time when we have…keeping possession with meaningless play is about the worst).

  • Laundryender

    As much as I love you Tony (sorry Anne) I have to disagree with your comments on Wimbledon and Wigan, I have nothing but admiration for both clubs, and how they manage to survive despite the odds. But that is for another day.

    To the Gooner Legend that is Walter, your dedication and application to this site and cause is hugely commendable, I applaud you sir!

  • Alex

    I love every bit of this analysis.Many thanks.
    While you there could you please -please include the theatrics of Chelsea v Barcelona of the pathetic Chelsea striker .I do not need to mention his name.

    To win a match against Barca or other in form team players they can do everything as it is a part and parcel of the game.But at a champion league semifinal the referees surely has to do more.
    Immagine when Van persie is given a yellow card and sent with red instantly just for kicking a ball out.Here we have this idiot is wasting hell a lot of time and goes unpunished.
    Lost of words

  • Gord

    I don’t think some of your accounting is accurate. For instance, while no player except the goaltender in possession of the ball is allowed to play the ball, game time is running. The old law (although it is still on the books as far as I can see) about taking 6 seconds to get the ball into play, still disregarded some time. If the goaltender had to dive to gather the ball, they were to be allowed a reasonable length of time to get themselves back on their feet again. Quite often, that “6 seconds” was more like 15-20. For the various kicks to bring the ball back into play (free kick, corner kick, goal kick), the time immediately prior to the kick being taken is usually filled with players trying to get into position, and should be part of game time. But, if some player of exceptional fitness started running in a random way as a means of getting an additional aerobic workout as prelude to a kick bringing the ball back into play, all of that time should probably be disregarded and the player cautioned for delay.

    But yes, I agree with you that the amount of time the ball is playable to the general group of players on the field is much less than 90 minutes.

    I got up to the end of October (more or less) on manually entering reviews, and I have started back at the beginning and I am adding in all the throwins, goal kicks, corner kicks and substitutions. So, your database will have somewhere to start on this. If someone was an aspiring “app writer”, they could probably write a tiemkeeping app for smartphones that people could use. Ideally, you would want many people “keeping time”, so that one could look at the distribution of times.

  • Gord

    I hate when I can’t find something. I think it was in the late 80’s or early 90’s, but some game between two towns in Greece had an extraordinary amount of extra time. I think the second half had 60 minutes of time added on for stoppages.

    There are a bunch of references to Bristol City vs Brentford in 2000/01 as a long game. One half had 23 minutes of stoppage time.

    In looking for that, Google found “Revealed: Manchester United get more injury time when they need it”.

    I’ll try a little longer to track down that Greek game.

  • Walter please this is clutching at straws, i was there we were
    at best poor, possibly badly set up they could have scored a third regardless of there tactics they deserved to win

  • They scored two we could not, end of. We must try harder

  • Gord

    Are there other sources of “live commentary” which have incident times to the second? Other than the Press Association ones at the BBC. The Guardian, Daily Mail and Sky Sports don’t have this. And The EPL sites doesn’t have anything (that I am aware of).


  • MK

    I guess the question is how much does this vary from a ‘normal’ game and if by a significant amount (as we would expect) should the referee have done a better job of policing it for the sake of the people paying to watch it?

    I wouldn’t really want it to be like American football with every second the ball is out of play counted and a 90 minute game taking a few hours, but the paying public deserves more than 57 minutes of action.

  • Sean

    You are a king among men for doing this. Really wanted to know how much time was played v wasted was trying to figure out how to go about totalling it up. I felt ball in play time was very little.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Basically Walter, this is another facet of the officially sanctioned referee incompetence and disdain they show for the impartial application of the Laws of the Game, which hurts all EPL clubs (with the exception of United). Here are a few more examples: The officials permitting free kicks to be taken while the ball is in motion or letting the player move the ball closer to their opponent’s goal, the officials turning a blind eye to players placing the ball almost outside the circle when taking a corner-kick, officials almost never awarding an indirect free kick for the attacking team in the opponent’s penalty area, the linesmen and referee allowing throw-ins to be taken incorrectly or not anyway near where the ball went out of play,often allowing the team in possession of the ball at the kick-off to be in their opponent’s half before the ball is played,and these are just small technical details being ignored. When it comes to penalty calls, serious foul play, tolerating verbal abuse directed at them or players, diving, offside calls,particularly when judging whether there was interference or attempts to gain advantage by the attacking player(s)in an offside position near the opponent’s goal,time-wasting as mentioned in your article, etc. their performance is unenviable and would never be tolerated in any other profession.
    Great review and my compliments….keep up the good work!

  • Tom

    It’s simply astonishing how Wenger’s complaining about Wigan’s time wasting tactics were almost universally proclaimed as sour grapes, especially when it’s still fresh in our memory the bust up between RVP and New Castle’s Tim Krul over the same issue .Time wasting is a commonly used tactic by coaches all over when facing superior footballing side,it’s called controlling tempo of the game and It’s up to referees and FA to deal with these sort of antics. Sadly the English FA is totally inept and only compound the problem by using only one match ball and instructing their match officials to verbally interact with players as if players didn’t know the rules of the game. Producing a yellow card to a goalkeeper for time wasting in 92 th minut , when he was doing it from the eight minute is insulting to every fan of free flowing game and wastes another 30 sec.

  • bob

    Thank you. The missing link.
    The EPL experience = playing time + non-playing time.
    And whoever said less is more? Maybe Micky R, the Killer Beekeeper in his interview for PGMOL chief (if there was an interview).

  • WalterBroeckx


    this isn’t about winning or losing. This just was a test and to fulfill my own curiosity about how much time actually was played in this game.

    I remember an international game between Italy and Holland long long long long time ago. Holland had enough with a draw to go to the finals of some (European?) competition and Italy had to win.

    Italy wanted to play their catenaccio and waited for Holland to attack so they could counter them to death. Holland however played it “smart”. From the first minute they started time wasting and refused to attack the Italian goal. So they wouldn’t be hit by a counter.

    As a result it was a real surrealistic game of football. Holland was making a joke of football and the rules. And I think they played some 300 backpasses to their keeper who in those days could take the ball in his hands and walk with it in his hands for a while. (Okay 300 is exaggerated a bit) Every throw in was a case of studying the ball to see if it was still in good shape. Going to the place where the ball was and then looking in the distance to look out for the ball that was 1 yard away from him. In short it was a travesty of football (and the Dutch way of playing football)

    If I remember right they calculated the time wasting to being around 30 minutes in that game.

    Since then the authorities have to their credit changed the rules and done all they could to prevent too much time wasting.

    The refs are the ones that are responsible for applying the rules and they have to keep their eyes open for such situations like time wasting. As Dom rightfully has told us in his comment it is their duty to act.

    The teams can try to bend the rules, it is up to the ref to act. And if the ref doesn’t act he is not fit to do that game.

    By the way I think that Italy-Holland game that I had watched and had been looking forward too with great anticipation but that was such a shame for football is the reason that I since then have hated time wasting.

  • Stuart

    You only have to remember back to mad Jens to see some Arsenal time wasting, he was the king of time wasting and quite amusing with it.

    His classic was to collect the ball when it was out of play and “accidentally” kick / throw it onto the back of the advertising hoardings so it bounced behind him and he had to go and get it again. Always made me laugh!! Two sides to every coin I suppose.

  • Stuart

    It would be great to have an adaptation of the six second rule introduced where by the clock will stop after six seconds of the ball being out of play and not start again until it is kicked or thrown.

  • WalterBroeckx

    he did this once (that I have seen on TV) and the ref immediately booked him for it. The ref was Dowd by the way.

    Dowd who had done nothing all game against the time wasting of the visiting team (and I do think it also was Wigan that day?)

    And that is the point: the ref has to act.

  • Stuart

    He did it more than once, he just got booked once. I thought it was great, part of the humour he brought to the game.

  • Stuart

    Bring back Jens…..again!!?? 😉

  • WalterBroeckx

    I only have seen him do it once. Or it was only once live shown I guess.
    As a ref I found it despicable. And the card was correct. 2/2 for the ref. 😉

    But I admit it looked funny.

  • Stuart

    Hmmmm, I’m sure it was an accident and not a deserved booking ha ha

  • Dan T

    Very good work. Really enjoyed this. It is always something I want to know after a team is visibly wasting a lot of time. This was done just for Rory Delap throw-ins against Newcastle in a game last season. I believe the time to take these throw-ins amounted to 24 minutes where the ball was out of play. I didn’t believe this when I first heard it but I was sat down and made to watch the 1st 15 minutes of the 2nd half and counted about 5 minutes in this period. I therefor took this to be correct as I had no desire to watch any more of that awful team.