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June 2021

Tottenham v Arsenal preview: will it be a dirty game?

By Tony Attwood

I made mention in a little piece yesterday (Who are the most fouled players?) that fouls reported by referees are most likely not the total picture when it comes to behaviour on the pitch, because, for various reasons that I laid out in that article, referee engagement with fouls is not a particularly accurate way of measuring foul play.

But sadly it is the only complete measure we have, for although Untold did a detailed analysis of the first 160 PL games of the season, it is beyond our resources to analyse every game.

So if we want to go any further with the issue of foul play we have to come back to the official figures from referees – erratic though they might be.

Last season, Tottenham broke a Premier League record in their 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge by becoming the first team in Premier League history to pick up nine bookings in a single game.   Yet no one was sent off.  After the match the FA held an enquiry, and despite the fact that within the game there were three mass confrontations (according to the official FA report), Chelsea were ordered to pay a fine of £375,000, plus 50% of the Commission’s costs. In respect of Tottenham the Commission imposed a fine of £225,000, and an order to pay 50% of the Commission’s costs.  Both sides were warned as to their future conduct.

These fines, which within the context of the turnover of each club are trivial in the extreme, contrast considerably with the situation following the match on 20 October 1990 in which most of the players in the Man U v Arsenal match squared up to each other, and there was a lot of pushing and shoving.  In that game there was one significant incident, but as the official report into the Chelsea/Tottenham game shows, “There were three mass confrontations between the opposing teams”.

Despite two requests from Untold the FA would not explain the reason for the difference between the two points that were deducted from Arsenal in 1990, and the trivial fines given to each club in the Tottenham and Chelsea event.

Tottenham can of course point to the fact that in the whole of last season, they had no one sent off, despite getting 72 yellow cards – almost double Arsenal’s total for last season (we had 38 yellows in 2015/16).  A remarkable achievement and one itself that would be worthy of investigation if we had the resources.

Indeed that figure of 72 was exceeded in the year before when Tottenham reached Stoke’s yellow card level with 78 yellows.

Yet despite this propensity for picking up yellow cards in high numbers, both through the season and in individual games Tottenham did not get any players sent off.  None this season, none last season.  Mass brawl, fine, warning, but no sendings off.

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I’m not saying that the referee was wrong, as I only saw the Tottenham game on TV, (although I was at the Old Trafford game in 1990) and as we know, and as was first point out in the press in 1973, football in TV is often “amended”.

Overall Tottenham can be a difficult club – difficult even for their own fans.   According to the Independent, at the cup semi-final this season that Arsenal was not involved in, a Tottenham fan, Michael Voller, was left with a broken skull, cheekbone and eye socket after an attack on him, not by Chelsea fans but by Tottenham supporters.  Apparently they thought he might be Chelsea supporter.

Police are still looking into the incident.

But to be fair we must admit that even with their recent propensity for picking up yellow cards en masse Tottenham still lag behind the yellow card champions in the Premier League, with Chelsea having 1468 to Tottenham’s 1367 overall.

However clubs change over time.  Different players and different managers have different approaches.  So it is perhaps more apposite just to look at this season’s tables.

This season’s foul tables shows us the top ten players in the Tottenham squad most likely to commit fouls.

Rank Player Club Nationality No
1. Victor Wanyama Tottenham Hotspur
2. Dele Alli Tottenham Hotspur
3. Mousa Dembélé Tottenham Hotspur
4. Kyle Walker Tottenham Hotspur
5. Vincent Janssen Tottenham Hotspur
6. Danny Rose Tottenham Hotspur
7. Eric Dier Tottenham Hotspur
7. Jan Vertonghen Tottenham Hotspur
9. Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur
10. Christian Eriksen Tottenham Hotspur

The question then is, how does this compare with players from clubs across the Premier League, remembering once again that we are taking the fouls that were called by referees, not the fouls that actually happened.  Here is the wholse season list of foulers.

Rank Player Club
1. Christian Benteke Crystal Palace
2. Emre Can Liverpool
3. Paul Pogba Manchester United
4. Marten de Roon Middlesbrough
4. Erik Pieters Stoke City
4. Victor Wanyama Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham’s most active player in the card front is Wanyama who is fourth in the list of players who commit the most fouls.  It is interesting to compare this with Arsenal’s chart of players who commit fouls called by the referee.   And here you might expect Coquelin and Xhaka to be top.   They are in the top three,  but are beaten by, of all people, Alexis who endlessly has the desire to get the ball back when he’s lost it.

Rank Player Club Nationality Stat
1. Alexis Sánchez Arsenal
2. Francis Coquelin Arsenal
3. Shkodran Mustafi Arsenal
3. Granit Xhaka Arsenal
5. Nacho Monreal Arsenal
6. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal
7. Héctor Bellerín Arsenal
7. Gabriel Arsenal
7. Olivier Giroud Arsenal
10. Laurent Koscielny Arsenal
10. Theo Walcott Arsenal

Taking fouls a bit further the total number of fouls committed by each team compared with the number of fouls they commit reads like this.   The clubs are ranked by the number of fouls committed, with the previous column showing how often they are fouled.

Rank Team Fouled Fouls
1 Watford 370 461
2 Manchester United 384 434
3 Crystal Palace 411 428
4 Middlesbrough 352 425
5 Everton 375 411
6 Leicester 272 396
7 Tottenham 399 389
8 West Bromwich Albion 298 387
9 Burnley 364 386
10 Stoke 402 385
11 Sunderland 346 379
12 West Ham 415 378
13 Southampton 350 377
14 Swansea 375 369
15 Liverpool 351 356
16 Chelsea 396 353
17 Hull 346 351
18 Manchester City 369 344
19 Bournemouth 431 333
20 Arsenal 326 332

Now we must remember that this is not a record of actual fouls against the team, nor the number of fouls that a team commits – but those called by the referee which may be quite different.   Arsenal are not the least fouled team, for they are below West Brom and Leicester, but they are the team that commits the fewest number of fouls in the referees’ eyes.

I think for complete clarity I must add that this of course doesn’t take into account where the foul was committed – some fouls are trivial and some serious.  It has often been suggested that one of the major weapons in the armoury of Type III Match fixing (in which a referee affects the outcome of the result of a rival to the team ordering the fixing, not its own match) is to try and even up the number of fouls given against each side, by giving fouls against the team being helped, in positions that do not benefit the opposition – such as in their own penalty area.

To complete the picture here are the yellow and red cards this season…

Rank Team Yellow Red
1 Watford 73 4
2 Manchester United 71 2
3 West Ham 70 5
4 Crystal Palace 69 0
5 West Bromwich Albion 69 0
6 Sunderland 67 4
7 Middlesbrough 67 1
8 Chelsea 65 0
9 Everton 65 2
10 Stoke 64 2
11 Manchester City 62 4
12 Burnley 61 2
13 Leicester 60 1
14 Tottenham 57 0
15 Hull 56 5
16 Arsenal 54 2
17 Swansea 53 0
18 Liverpool 52 0
19 Southampton 51 2
20 Bournemouth 47 3

So while Tottenham have committed 73 more fouls noted by the referee than Arsenal they have only three more yellow cards and two fewer reds.  An interesting twist of the numbers.

You might also enjoy (although I can’t guarantee it).

Who are the most fouled players? A clever way of forcing you to believe that the referees are always right.

Ref Review: Liverpool – Arsenal: Are we really that biased in our reviews?

Exactly where do transfer rumours come from? Plus three players leaving, four new signings

20 comments to Tottenham v Arsenal preview: will it be a dirty game?

  • Micko

    Very interesting.
    It’s a shame we don’t have an unbiased press as they could no doubt make a great story out of these figures.

  • JimB

    Will it be a dirty game? Quite possibly. It is the north London derby, after all. The last ever at the Lane. And both clubs desperately need to win, for different reasons.

    But neither team, as far as I’m aware, routinely indulges in dangerous play. Spurs do foul a lot. A consequence of their intense pressing game. Yes, some of it is tactical. But not dirty. Nothing like Pulis’s Stoke, for example.

  • scott

    I think it be dirty as this Arsenal team cannot really take it when the game gets a bit rough.

  • Rich

    Think the last straight red card for an opposing player against us was Mitrovic at beginning of last year.

    Must be just shy of 70 games since then, taking in Costa’s wild antics last year, Carrol’s horrible lunge on Kos, Drinkwater on ramsey, Mclean on Sanchez, Bellerin knocked out with a leading elbow, Benaloune last time out on Giroud, Adams’ headlock on Sanchez, Adams’ stamp on Sanchez.

    It’s quite clearly the case that the only way you’re likely to get a straight red against us is if you actually break a limb.

    Meanwhile, we’ve had the four straight reds in that time, I think- Gabriel, Mert, Xhaka x 2- with virtually no opportunity for a red against us passed up.

    That’s part of the context the derby will take place in : we can’t give the ref any chance for a red, and we can’t expect anything they do bar breaking a limb to receive a red card.

    It’s not an isolated phenomenon, and a similar thing applies to all aspects of the game- pens, 1st yellows, 2nd yellows, fouls.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    In as much as Tottenham Hotspur are the most fouling team so far this season in the PL and couples with the fact that they could play dirty in the game against Arsenal. I believe the Gunners will be more than prepared to absorbed and endured whatever dirty fouls the Totts will commit against them in the game and deal with them in such a manner that will not allow the fouling to derailed their mission of collecting all the 3 points that will be at stake in the match.

    This PL match at the Lane on Sunday between them and us is a 2 dimensional game. One of the dimensions it has to it is, Arsenal MUST win this match to enhance our chance to pick up a UCL ticket for next season’s campaign.

    And two, to kickstart the Totts into a 5 PL game losing run in this run in games which will invariably makes them to finish behind Arsenal once again in the table as they have perennially been doing in the Arsene Wenger’s 21 years Arsenal management reign era, the Gunners MUST cast their voodoo spells on the Torts in this match which will turn them to zombies on the field of play and at their commandment, the Gunners will reduce them to mere passengers on the field of play sending them on errands.

  • Norman14

    The piss that Moaninho took last night was without rival.

    After half the world witnessed Fellani head-butt Aguero, The Moaning One said that he “saw Aguero in the tunnel, he was fine, he didn’t have a broken nose”.

    So, is that the standard now set? – (as Rich alludes to above). Some Managers think that unless a limb is broken, a red card is not warranted.

    I wait with bated breath, the length of Fellani’s ban. He was already on a yellow. He SHOULD have had a second yellow. Instead he got himself a straight red. He then decided NOT to leave the pitch when instructed by the referee. Instead, the referee allowed Fellani to get into further confrontation with his own players as well as those of the opposition. When he did eventually leave the pitch, he then confronted the 4th official, and quite clearly, abused him.

    Now, under normal circumstances, I’d expect a ten game ban, but hey, this is Moanchester United and Moaninho we are talking about – they’ll probably appeal the red card, and nothing else will happen.

    I suppose it all comes down to what the financial controllers of the FA/EPL/PGMOL (the media connected gambling companies) want to happen!

  • Chris


    the standard you are talking about stopped existing when Ramsey was assaulted at the Orks a few years ago, or before that Abou Diaby.

    So I do not expect any ban.

  • Hunter13

    can be bring tomas back for this? he knows what to do

  • Rich


    Agree with what you say above apart from one thing- you give Mourinho and co too much credit :

    He doesn’t really believe anything he says, or if his true beliefs match what he’s saying it is only something like coincidence

    Everything the man says publicly is a matter of pure self-interest, whatever he can get away with, basically. For instance, if someone did what Fellaini did to one of Mourinho’s players, and DIDN’T get a straight red for it, he would put on one hell of a show of complaint. Conspiracy! Proof! Proof!

    He will do and say anything which suits him on the night and which he believes is to his advantage and that he can get away with. For instance he increasingly loves to posture as an advocate of ‘real man’ football, but he has on many occasions done the exact opposite and ‘cried’ about fouls against his players, insufficient punishment and protection, etc. He even went on tv for an hour to make his case. Unprecedented in football.

    His hypocrisy knows no bounds and, with a half-decent press, simply wouldn’t be possible, as with any utterance he makes you could find him saying the exact opposite quite easily.

  • Alex

    We have Monreal…lol

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    @ JimB

    You say Tottenham don’t resort to dangerous play – maybe not but our analysis of the first 16 weeks showed that in that time they should have had 20 players sent off with either straight red or two yellow cards – more on this in the ref preview.

  • para

    Will be a tough game.

    Arsenal has to be well meditated on winning the game, and not fall foul 🙂 to the Spuds under the influence of Poch and his aggressive style.

    I still maintain that a good team hardly needs to make tackles in a game.
    This requires being aware, and making good movements to close down the opposing attackers well before they can leave their half.

    When they boot it up field then tackles will become necessary and here we have the point where the ref can make anti-Arsenal decisions, so care is needed. But even then good closing down can force the opposition back.

    Of course there is the fact that some individual skill of the opposition may break through.

    With our sharpness and quick passing( sadly just a little lacking at the moment ) we can prevail.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Here is the link to the Ref Review of the Chelsea Tottenham match from last year.

  • Hunter13

    Alex, theo walcott 200/1 for the hat trick…10grand and we make 2 million…i have abt 56 pounds to contribute, anyone else willing to cover the rest for me? a 10 grand bet is irresponsible i know but if we all chip in …. for the sake of barton , our dear friend.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Referee wise, think we know what is going to happen in this game.
    Tottenham will get away with a lot……if we take the lead and need pegging back, one of ours will see red, and they will get another dodgy penalty….believe they are top of the penalty charts this season?

  • para

    A little experiment:

    Everyone please watch an old game where Arsenal beat Spuds just before going to sleep tonight.
    This makes it easier to dream of Arsenal winning (don’t bother with the score, just winning) tomorrow, which you should do.
    Imagine so many dreaming(projecting, creating) this result and all that energy consolidating to “become” manifested.

  • Menace

    Yes. I cannot see the Spuds playing us without resorting to dirt. They cannot tolerate being dodged or nutmegged. The fans beat their own. I just hope our fans sing:
    you beat up your own,
    you beat up your own,
    you dirty blind bastards you beat up your own!

  • Mubi

    So pgmol figures agree with you Tony, not just as much as you would want, I’d say that’s fair. Tottenham dirty, high up on the fouling chart, arsenal clean, least fouls committed.

  • Mubi

    And remember more often than not physical play results in fouls, most of which are not necessarily yellows or reds. Case in point being arsenals physical play against man city in the FAC semis. It didn’t produce a red but arsenal did commit a lot of fouls

  • Nitram

    JimB seems to spend an inordinate amount of time defending Spurs and there players, especially Wanyama, and a similarly inordinate of time criticising Arsenal and there players, especially Xhaka.