The curious case of the wrath of penalty Gods on Arsenal!
If you watch the Premier League, or any league for that matter, you might have at times been baffled by the refereeing decisions. Of course, Referees are human beings and deserve sympathy for not getting decisions right all the time. There is also this argument that “things even out” in the long term.
However, if you are an Arsenal fan and have witnessed Mike Dean refereeing Arsenal games, or Anthony Taylor applying his own interpretation of FIFA rules while officiating Arsenal, or indeed Martin Atkinson routinely being appointed for the away game at Chelsea and awarding his customary soft penalty against Arsenal whilst giving Chelsea players a free hand (or elbow or leg) on Arsenal players, chances are you aren’t entirely convinced by that argument that these are all human errors and will even out in the long run.
You may feel even more sick in your belly when you are reminded that these referees were recruited, trained and appointed by Mike Riley, he of that infamous 50th invincible game fame. But it is very difficult to prove your doubts conclusively without being labelled a conspiracy theorist by other fans, especially since you hear totally opposite perspectives from different people opining on the same incident – including the so-called football “pundits” on Television.
But I think that if you look at cold hard figures over the long term instead of subjective arguments on whether or not a particular incident was dealt with correctly or not, you can start drawing some more irrefutable trends or observations, if not outright conclusions.
One of the things I am still riled at is the way the title was gifted to Leicester last year largely by referees awarding Jamie Vardy a penalty every time he ran at speed and clashed into at an opposition player in the penalty area. At the same time I remember many instances where much more deliberate kicking, shoving, pulling against Arsenal players in the penalty areas went unpunished.
So I decided to look at some statistics and found penalty data from 2002-2003 up to 2016-17 (i.e. 14 full seasons and one in progress) on this website. However, I decided to analyse the data only for 14 complete seasons up to 2015-16. This is because Mike Riley became the head of PGMOL in June 2009 (i.e. from 2009-10 season) and doing so allows me to break up the data into two equal halves: 7 years between 2002-03 to 2008-09 (the pre Mike Riley era) and 2009-10 to 2015-16 (the Mike Riley era).
I also limited my analysis to seven teams since these were the only teams that had not been relegated in the 14 year period, so had a full data set with no missing years in the period being analysed.
A summary of the penalty statistics and my observations are below:
Table 1: Penalties awarded and conceded
|Teams||Pre Mike Riley era||Mike Riley era||Awarded %change||Conceded %change||Ratio % change|
Firstly you would notice that even the total amount of penalties awarded to these 7 teams increased from 217 to 284 penalties in the Mike Riley era (a 31% increase). But, the number of penalties conceded by the teams also increased by 29% in that period to give a near constant overall “penalty ratio” of 1.5 (i.e. the number of penalties awarded to a team for every penalty conceded by it).
However, you can see that generosity of the referees did not benefit Arsenal as it is the only team out of the 7 which was awarded fewer penalties in the Mike Riley era (a drop of 24% compared to pre-Mike Riley). All other teams saw an increase in the percentage of penalties awarded in favour with Chelsea and Man City being the largest beneficiaries who have almost doubled the penalties awarded to them. Overall, Arsenal was awarded the least number of penalties, along with Spurs, in the Mike Riley era.
When you see the change in percentage of penalties conceded by the teams, Arsenal is once again the biggest loser with the most number of penalties awarded against them amongst the 7 teams, which is almost double the amount compared to the pre-Mike Riley era (i.e. an 84% increase). Man City on the other hand have bucked the trend of the 29% overall increase in penalties conceded, with a 15% decrease in penalties awarded against them as compared to the pre Mike Riley era.
When you look at the overall effect of the penalties “awarded” and “conceded” figures on the penalty ratio, you find that Arsenal is the biggest loser in the Mike Riley era with the penalty ratio dropping by a massive 59% (from 2.2 to 0.9 penalties awarded for every penalty conceded). While Man city (130% increase), Everton (44% increase) and Chelsea (21% increase) have been the biggest beneficiaries.
Now you might point out that the favourable ratios for Man City and Chelsea are probably justified with their recent “successes” (oh let’s not talk about the financial doping lest someone gets offended). However, Manchester United (since Fergie left), Liverpool and Spurs have not been particularly spectacular compared to Arsenal, so why does Arsenal suffer the most on the penalty front?
Has Arsenal become much more impotent in terms of attacking threat compared to the other 6 teams in the Mike Riley era that a significant drop in penalties awarded is justified? Has Arsenal’s defence become so much more shambolic in the Mike Riley era compared to the other teams that the pig-mob (as I affectionately like to call Mike Riley’s esteemed organisation) are justified in punishing Arsenal by slapping the highest number of penalties against Arsenal?
I will mull over these questions in Part 2 of the article.
Footnote: Readers who do subscribe to the notion that anyone raising questions about refereeing in the Premier League are invited to read the data provided in the articles in the series 160 games analysed. These give the most in depth analysis, with video evidence of the first 160 games played this season in the Premier League.
The Arsenal History Society is publishing the most detailed account of Henry Norris’ time at Arsenal ever produced. Part 3 is available now: March and April 1910 – the crisis deepens with a link to earlier articles in the series on that page.
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal
- How European football has taken up the fight against clubs breaking FFP