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February 2021

The strange case of Leicester’s style – how conceding possession and penalties are linked.

By Tony Attwood

Of course in the end the main thing that counts is the result.  But sometimes results alone don’t give a full indication of where things are going.  They tell us the score, 0-0 yesterday, and no one can disagree with that, and one can look at the game and say “that was awful” or “spend some fucking money” or whatever, but with any stats that’s just an opinion.  To go beyond the score and gain something from a game we need the stats.

Statistics of course are decried by some with the “you can prove anything with…” stuff – but we’ve debated that many times before and to do so again would be rather dull, and so I’d rather refer you back to previous discussions.  My view is opinions are useful as a way to think up ideas, but to see whether the resultant ideas are useful, we need some statistics.

I was encouraged by last season, not just because we came second in the league, but because of what the statistics of the season beyond the final table showed us.  (And one more time: I am not trying to say the stats below are more important than the statistics of the league table, but rather that they help us see a little further as to where things are going and how the team is being built).

These figures come from – a site that one correspondent told us we should never rely on, but then wouldn’t tell us why – which made the original observation less than helpful – as always evidence is helpful.

Let’s take a look at the possession statistics for last season

R Team Possession% PassSuccess% Rating
1 Arsenal 56.9 84.2 7.08
2 Manchester United 55.9 82.3 6.83
3 Tottenham 55.3 80.5 7.01
4 Manchester City 55.2 83.1 7.01
5 Liverpool 55.0 80.2 6.91
6 Chelsea 54.4 82.5 6.87
7 Swansea 52.0 80.9 6.75
8 Everton 51.5 81.4 6.88
9 Bournemouth 51.0 79.8 6.71
10 Stoke 50.0 79.1 6.74
11 Southampton 49.3 77.7 6.91
12 West Ham 49.1 77.6 6.92
13 Newcastle United 47.4 76.6 6.73
14 Aston Villa 47.3 77.8 6.69
15 Crystal Palace 46.8 74.4 6.76
16 Norwich 46.5 73.6 6.61
17 Watford 46.3 72.6 6.80
18 Leicester 44.8 70.5 7.06
19 Sunderland 43.3 71.0 6.76
20 West Bromwich Albion 42.2 70.0 6.72

Arsenal were top of the league for possession, and Leicester were in 18th place.  I have also included pass success where again Arsenal were at the top.   Leicester were rather unusual, in that in occupying 18th in the possession ranking, and actually coming 19th in pass success (only WBA were lower), they were in the company of teams that were mostly from the lower parts of the final league table.

(WBA we might note were an oddity, in this, which may well explain the odd story of Serge Gnabry – but more on that in a later article.)

Leicester’s success last season, and looking at yesterday’s game, this season, is based on interceptions.

R Team Interceptions per game Rating
1 Leicester 21.6 7.06
2 Aston Villa 20.2 6.69
3 Watford 20.2 6.80
4 Arsenal 19.4 7.08
5 West Bromwich Albion 19 6.72

In other words they play a game in which they don’t have long periods of possession, but they rely on interceptions to get breakaways and goals.

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Arsenal play a completely different game involving having possession and having accurate passing to continue and make use of that possession.


But there is another point that is not revealed by these statistics – and that is that Leicester scored far more goals from penalties than any other team

R Team Open Play Penalty
1 Leicester 41 10
2 Watford 23 6
3 Tottenham 44 5
4 Swansea 25 5
5 Manchester City 47 5
6 Stoke 29 5
7 West Ham 42 4
8 Chelsea 39 4
9 Crystal Palace 19 4
10 Everton 41 4
11 Manchester United 34 3
12 Bournemouth 28 3
13 Southampton 38 3
14 Sunderland 24 3
15 Newcastle United 28 3
16 Liverpool 44 2
17 Aston Villa 14 2
18 West Bromwich Albion 19 1
19 Arsenal 45 1
20 Norwich 27 1

The point here is that if you play a fast counter attacking game, conceding possession much of the time, and then aiming to get up the field quickly, you can get the defenders to give away penalties, or you can convince the referee who is running hard to catch up with play that a penalty should be given, as the last man is left desperately trying to keep out a fast moving forward who suddenly goes down.

For final confirmation of this we can look at the types of balls passed against the number of long balls per game.

R Team Crosses per game Long Balls pg
1 Watford 19 80
2 Crystal Palace 26 74
3 Norwich 22 74
4 Everton 21 73
5 Leicester 20 72
6 Sunderland 16 71
7 West Bromwich Albion 22 71
8 Manchester United 21 71
9 West Ham 21 70
10 Newcastle United 21 69
11 Tottenham 20 68
12 Aston Villa 21 67
13 Southampton 25 67
14 Bournemouth 20 67
15 Swansea 19 65
16 Stoke 18 63
17 Liverpool 21 63
18 Chelsea 20 62
19 Manchester City 23 56
20 Arsenal 20 49

Leicester are fifth in the long ball league, doing 50% more long balls than Arsenal while providing the same number of crosses.  Crosses it seems, are not the dividing factor.  Long balls are what separates the whole style and approach of these two teams.

So if we look at yesterday’s possession statistics we can see that Leicester had 39% possession and Arsenal 61% – which is no real surprise.  But the number of shots each team got was something of a surprise
Leicester 8 (2015/16 average 13.7)
Arsenal 13  (2015/16 average 15.1)
Shots on Target
Leicester 1 (2015/16 average 4.7) 
Arsenal 4 (2015/16 average 5.6)
Both teams were down in terms of shots and shots on target when compared with last year’s average game, but Leicester were way down compared with Arsenal.  Their shot level this year compared with last year’s average was 58%, and the on target rate was 21% of last year’s average.

Arsenal were running at 86% of last year for shots, and 71% for on target.  I suspect this is primarily because we had Alexis standing in at centre forward instead of Giroud.  Giroud scores more than much publicity suggests, but he also drags defenders with him, allowing Alexis to shoot – hence the numbers were down.

So what Leicester didn’t get was the regular number of shots on target from their breakaway moves, but neither did they get the penalties that they clearly expected, based on last year’s figures.  I wonder if referees this year have been made more aware of the propensity of Leicester to make their rapid break aways having had little possession, and then go for the penalty.

Speaking of which – what was up for this game compared with last season’s average was Leicester’s fouling level.  They committed 11 fouls yesterday against an average of 10.7 per game last year.  Arsenal committed seven fouls against an average of 9.2 given last year.  I shall await the referee report to see if this was due to increased referee accuracy in not giving phantom fouls or seemingly a change in style.
You can of course prove anything with statistics, or you can try and use them properly to help understand exactly what was happening in a game.  I’m trying the latter, but of course I don’t know if this little exercise was of interest to anyone – if not, I’ll keep it to myself in future, but if so, maybe I’ll explore it a bit further after the next game.

If you have been thanks for reading.

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33 comments to The strange case of Leicester’s style – how conceding possession and penalties are linked.

  • Leon

    I think you’re right that referees have sussed Leicester’s trick of drawing penalties. This was a major part of their wins last season and it looks to have now been turned in on them in the form of good claims being ignored.

  • Temitope

    helpful article as usual

  • Zedsaunt

    Who needs an education when you’ve got an opinion?

    Like Michael Gove said, June 3, the British are rather fed up of experts, and stats belong to the realm of the experts. What yesterday confirmed, watching it, registering it, is the substance of the argument from last season, which did find itself into public domain here – Leicester move at speed always with a distance between the backview of the attackers and the refs a distance behind struggling to get a view of the penalty incident.

    Your stats confirm it, yet again. Thank you.

    What should be added here, since Mr Wenger is getting hammered for not spending £55 million on Harding – Leicester did not score. A twenty year old player from the Championship playing his second Premier game, costing £2 million, kept out the deadly Vardy – the Vardy we should have spent 30 million on, the Vardy who rejected us, the Vardy who was going to be the sting in the tale.

    Secondly, Mr Conte at Chelsea, with Abramovich behind him, is complaining about ‘crazy money.’ It’s not Mr Wenger alone.

    Throw out experts. Throw out stats. Throw out any form of measurements because stats are built on measurements then what do you have left, the only other value – money. You’ve thrown everything else out of your mind.

    Nothing else is left.

  • Leon

    I know this is off topic, but I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed the Rio Olympics & UK’s achievements.
    Team GB, that’s the way to do it!

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    This new marquee striker’s signing yet to be signed by Arsenal has once again resonated round the football world again after Arsenal had failed to beat Leicester City yesterday in a BPL match that ended goalless at the King Power Stadium.

    By the way, what is the state ofbTakuma Asano at Arsenal after the Boss has signed him for us? I think he is said to be a forward player who has played, shone and excelled in the Japanese J1 league and also in the Asian Champions League. If there isn’t any home office papers hindrance to his playing for Arsenal now, then let the Boss play him in our away game to Watford on Saturday so that we can see what quality he’s made-of.

    Perhaps, Asano could be the answer to the lack of a prolific specialist striker’s option and cover at Arsenal since the Boss has appeared to have jettisoned his earlier plans to have Akpom as one this season. I am suspecting he may be planning to send Akpom out on loan again or make him a part loan deal payment in a deal to have a new marquee striker or top class CB signed for Arsenal. Let the Boss please pardon me for this my unfounded speculations that I’ve made without any prove to back it up. Sorry! It’s my passion for Arsenal that has driven me this far.

  • Samuel re Asano I believe he has been playing in the Olympics. There has been a rumour that there was a work permit problem, but there was no substantiating evidence on that so it is probably someone just noticing he is not in the pre-season squad and drawing the wrong conclusion.

  • topanlesmana

    10 penalties compared to just 1 of ours last year. Wow.
    And they would’ve already had 2 penalties yesterday if the ref had given it to them.
    What a champ we got there.
    No wonder that PSG had a party on them.

  • Robert

    Samuel, Wenger has confirmed Asano did not get a work permit so he’ll be going out on loan.

  • Zuruvi

    Very interesting article Tony.

  • Zuruvi

    Also of interest is that our goals scored from open play is not very impressive if we compare it to West Ham, Everton, Liverpool etc.

    Even Chelsea who had a pathetic season scored a similar number of goals to Arsenal. Chelsea scored 39 goals versus Arsenal who scored 45.
    Even Liverpoo scored just one goal less than us.

    Arsenal plays a more creative type of football than other teams, we therefore should expect many more goals from open play. There are three possible solutions for Arsenal to remedy this problem of not scoring as many goals as expected:

    1). Our attacking players (such as Ozil, Sanchez, Iwobi, Walcott and the Ox) should not just create chances but instead start scoring more goals as Pires and Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu used to do in the good old days.

    2). Giroud as our main striker needs to be more clinical in front of goal. Last season and in other previous seasons he tended to miss too many good chances.

    3). Arsenal could benefit from buying a top quality striker. We need a specialist striker who knows how to find the back of the net.

    Ideally, all above 3 solutions should happen together. This I am sure will make all of us happy. We all love seeing Arsenal score more goals. I also think the above three solutions will improve our chances of winning both the league and the Champions League.

  • nicky

    An extremely penetrative post Tony.
    Last season, few would deny that Leicester City received much largesse from match officials.
    It could be that the Club’s ploy of fast counter attacking with penalties as the reward, has been sussed.
    Certainly there were two penalty denials yesterday that many thought would have been awarded last season.
    Time will tell whether you are right. 😉

  • Usama Zaka


    Wenger was asked about Asano in the post-match conference, this was what he said, “We got the work permit turned down, because he didn’t cost 50million, because that’s one of the rules that you have to know in England… and therefore he has to go and play somewhere else. He will play, I hope in France or Germany. He is a player that I believe highly in him. And I will take care of him that he gets to a right place”


  • Thanks Usama. I missed that.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Okay then Sir.

  • Pat

    Thanks for the close analysis, Tony. It will be interesting to see if Leicester’s penalty count continues to be down in last year’s.


    On the Olympics. Congratulations to everyone from every country. It is only possible to reach that level of performance with years of hard work.

    On the British gold medals – it is sad that these have been achieved by targeting a very small number of top class performers with loads of money and aiming to peak at the Olympics. And most of that money comes from working class people buying lottery tickets. But the sports and leisure facilities for working class adults and children have continued to be run down and closed because of lack of money. There is something unfair here.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Thanks for that piece of information Mr Robert. It’s then looking more likely the Boss will have to bring in that sought after new marquee striker before this transfer window is shut closed. Or he could decide to use Akpom for that role and subject him to a test in our away match to Watford game to see if there is any promise in his competitive game to make the Boss wait and not commit £40-60m at the market for a marquee striker. I think it’s that colossal amount of money that has been making the Boss to be hesitant in signing a marquee striker and not that he can’t find a marquee striker at the market who can improve the already on ground quality at Arsenal centre-forward striking position. There is still 1 said to be a marquee striker in Lacasette remaining at the market and a cf/striker Aubameyang who are all available for signing.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Did Kelechi Nwakali cost Arsenal £50m before the authorities issue work papers to him. Nwakali case dated back from last year and Arsenal have been pursuing papers for him and just got them this month or so I believe. But in Asano’s it’s just of recent he was signed. So it could take sometimes before he can be issued the necessary papers that will allow him to start playing for Arsenal in England. But Arsenal should continue to pursue his papers, maybe they’ll get them in December or January for him and thus could recall him back to Arsenal if necessary.

    These papers issue brings to mind, what if any of the Arsenal linked targets of, Gimenez, Mustafi and Lacasette is or are signed, with this Briexit that has come into force, would any of these 3 Arsenal targets required papers too if signed before he or they can start to play for Arsenal? But what am I saying? Man U, Man C and others who have signed players who are not UK citizens didn’t require any papers for their signings before they start to use them, did they? So on that front, Arsenal can sign any Europe based players or nationals and start playing them without asking for papers for them. Right?

  • Arvind

    @Samuel: I don’t know anything about the real reason. But I feel it comes down to how much money you pay. Meaning, if you buy Takuma Asano for 50 million pounds, the work permit will be easily obtained. But if you buy him for 1 million, it is not enough money coming in to the pockets of the FA or whoever looks at these things, and it is denied. That is all it is – a bribe in a legal form. I am however open to being corrected on this.

  • omgarsenal

    Thanks for the overview Tony…great stuff as always. Could this be the start of something new for AFC: referees who actually handle a game fairly well and in a fair manner? Way too soon to tell BUT we will see over the next few matches whether a pattern is emerging.

    It was an interesting game yesterday, with both teams having chances but a tiw seems to me to be fair, even fortunate. Last year Leicester would have had at least one penalty, and maybe two!

  • marcus

    Samuel…..I think the rule is that players have to be deemed valuable talents in order to get automatic work permits. Nwakali won player of the tournament at U17 olympics so I think that is why he did not need one, their could however be another rule for under 18’s i’m not aware of. Gimenez, mustafi and lacazette are all recognised players at international and club level so there should be no problem were we to sign them.

    In terms of the marquee striker signing I cannot see wenger buying lacazette, I don’t rate him that highly despite his decent goal record and feel welbeck could be a similarly effective centre forward. I have a feeling wenger doesn’t rate him either, we should all remember giroud scored more goals overall (and less penalties) in ligue 1 5 years ago and playing for montpellier rather than lyon. Girouds goals that season were a lot more spectacular than lacazettes as well and ligue 1 was arguably more competitive back then.

  • marcus

    I meant U17 World Cup

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    “Wenger hopes Mustafi deal will be done” according to Sky Sports news item I’ve just read.

    Talking of quality, Mustafi should be one who can improve the CB performance on ground at Arsenal. Otherwise, the Boss wouldn’t have gone for him. However, I would have preferred the Boss went for a superior quality in Gimenez. If the money to sign Gimenez will not pose a serious hindrance to Arsenal to get him signed, it will be better Arsenal eats the frog with higher quality eggs than to eat the one with medium quality. But if the money is not there to get Gimenez, we will make do with Mustafi.

  • Florian

    Great article Tony. We saw a clash of two different styles, and the stats all but confirm this.

    Re Leicester’s penalties, they had on average 1 every 4 matches, so there may still be time for them. Vardy’s contribution has certainly takes a nosedive though – he only managed 2 shots, none on target.

    We keep missing our chances though – 0 goals from 4 shots on target, while last season we had 1.7 goals/match from 5.55 shots on target, so an average of 3.4 shots on target for each goal. Might be the ripple effect from the Liverpool match, in which we had great accuracy, but it’s too early for me to draw any definite conclusion.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin


  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • Leon

    yes of course Lottery funding helps the athletes with their training and living expenses, but nobody forces the British public to buy the tickets, and I’m amused by the irony of losers supporting winners.

  • Menace

    Good work Tony.

  • Josif


    I am a bit confused. Arsenal scored 65 goals last season. 45 goals scored from an open play plus a single penalty (Giroud v Aston Villa, thanks for asking) equals 46 goals. What’s with the remaining 19 goals? It can’t be that we scored 19 goals after set-pieces. Mesut had quite a few corners and indirect free-kicks from which he provided an assist though, Nacho assisted to Alexis from a throw-in, Alexis scored from a direct free-kick against West Brom…

    Speaking of interceptions, Leicester City had N’Golo Kante last season who topped the league by far in that category. Kante would intercept the ball, pass it to Drinkwater who would launch a long ball forward to either Vardy or Mahrez who would then do something with it. I think I have seen a few of our goals scored back in 1997-98 – Vieira would break an attack, Petit would launch the long ball forward to either Overmars or Anelka and – GOAL FOR ARSENAL!

    Back to Leicester penalties.

    Leicester had two more penalties to those 10 they scored but both time Mahrez missed (0:0 v Bournemouth, 1:1 v Aston Villa and he bottled that one at 1:0 for Leicester). That’s 12 penalties in 38 games or roughly a penalty at every third game (comparing to our last season statistics of a penalty at every half-season). Given that they have played two league games this season and already have had one penalty (Mahrez converted it against Hull City), they’ve actually been above their average number of penalties from the last season.

    Oh, and Alexis has played his best football for Arsenal with Giroud used as a super-sub, benched or injured (first half-season in 2014-15, three games in which Alexis scored six goals in the first half of the last season, the last NLD, goals against Watford, West Ham and Crystal Palace). Rare exceptions of Alexis scoring with Giroud in the starting line-up were the league games against West Brom and Manchester City respectively. The goal that effectively moved us from fourth spot to third was the only one that was made in Giroud-Alexis co-operation.

    Basically, in order to get the best out of Alexis, we need a mobile center-forward in the mould of Walcott/Welbeck who would open the space for Alexis’ cut-ins from either flank.

  • Josif according to the database I am using we got

    45 open play goals
    3 from counter attacks
    13 from set pieces
    1 penalty
    3 own goals

    I think that is right – sorry I should have made it clearer. Also sorry your posts have been in moderation again – we have another person with an identical screen name and in an attempt to restrict his access we also hindered you. That should be changed now.

  • Pat


    That’s a pretty heartless response. Could it not be that people buy lottery tickets because in real life there’s not much chance of them earning enough money even to go on holiday let alone something more?

    In which case the lottery is just a cynical method of using society’s discrimination against a lot of people to squeeze yet more money out of them to fund things they won’t benefit from. And that the government is too stingy to spend money on.

    Yes, John Major knew what he was doing when he started the lottery.

  • Justin Chinedu

    Hello Tony, good work. sorry off point. campbell to Sporting Lisbon on loan?

  • Pat


    I feel that by debating which of two players Arsenal should sign when we have no idea whether Arsenal wants them or even has a chance of getting them, you are kind of playing the mass media’s game.

  • Leon

    You’re suggesting that if the lottery ticket buyers consider in advance how their losing money will be distributed they wouldn’t buy the tickets.
    I repeat, they are not forced to buy the tickets. I’ve purchaced lottery tickets and couldn’t care less what happens to my losings. And I’m not financially disadvantaged, but if I was I wouldn’t spend my income in such an irresponsible manner.