Three of the 15 most fouled players in the League are Arsenal men. Why?

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal are the most fouled team in the Premier League – by quite  a way.  At least that is “most fouled” when the count is taken of fouls awarded by the referees.

The table that shows this is provided by  I’ll comment a little on the sources of the data in this article below, but let’s start with their figures.

Teams ranked by fouls against them awarded by referees
Position Team Played Fouls committed by Opposition
Total Per Game
1 Arsenal 31 387 12.48
2 Everton 32 388 12.13
3 Chelsea 32 385 12.03
4 Bournemouth 32 380 11.88
5 Cardiff City 32 362 11.31
6 Manchester Utd 32 353 11.03
7 West Ham Utd 32 346 10.81
8 Watford 32 339 10.59
9 Leicester City 32 337 10.53
10 Crystal Palace 32 333 10.41
11 Huddersfield 32 331 10.34
12 Burnley 32 327 10.22
13 Tottenham Hots 32 318 9.94
14 Southampton 31 304 9.81
15 Liverpool 32 308 9.63
16 Newcastle Utd 32 302 9.44
17 Fulham 33 307 9.30
18 Brighton & HA 31 269 8.68
19 Wolverhampton 32 276 8.63
20 Manchester City 32 272 8.50

So what is the cause of Arsenal being at the top being fouled the most while Manchester City get fouled the least?  After all, for people who like to believe that Untold deals in conspiracy theories in which we suggest that the referees are all bent and are out to do Arsenal down, this is surely a bit of a puzzler.  For as noted, this is not an exact measure of fouls against Arsenal, but rather fouls against Arsenal awarded as such by referees.

Of course how many of these fouls were correctly given, and how many more were missed for each club, we really can’t say as we are no longer running the analysis of fouls per game with video evidence – although all the data from when we did that is still on line on this site.

But there is more to be found here, because the Telegraph has published a list of fouls against individual players, rather than teams, again as awarded by the referee.    Here is their list of the 15 most fouled players in the PL this season.  And here you might notice something curious.   Three of those players are Arsenal men.  No other club has more than one player in the list.

Rank Player Club Fouls against
1 Hazard Chelsea 89
2 Zaha Crystal Palace 82
3 Richarlison Everton 66
4 Torreira Arsenal 63
5 Maddison Leicester City 62
6 Fraser Bournemouth 56
6 Pogba Manchester Utd 56
8 Kane Tottenham Hotspur 52
9 Mane Liverpool 52
10 Barnes Burnley 51
11 Hughes Watford 50
11 Murphy Cardiff City 50
13 Guendouzi Arsenal 49
13 Xhaka Arsenal 49
13 Mitrovic Fulham 49

Just to give a comparison, the next most fouled Arsenal players are Ozil (fouled 22 times), Aubameyang (18), Monreal (17) Ramsey (15).

Now the Telegraph article makes a very curious comment on this saying, “Those prone to conspiracy might say Arsenal have been unfairly targeted,” but I don’t get that.  Targeted by whom?  If by the players playing against Arsenal, and Arsenal get the fouls awarded against those players then how is that unfair or a conspiracy?   Or is the author suggesting that these were not fouls and the referees were conned?  Or that referees are now awarding phantom fouls in Arsenal’s favour?  It is not clear and all seems most curious – as does so much football coverage in the media these days.

But moving away from whatever that odd statement might be intended to mean, it seems that the opposition foul these Arsenal men and the Arsenal men are awarded free kicks by the referees.

Now we know certain players are always targeted – after all why is Hazard so far ahead of the rest of the top players in terms of being fouled?  But three players from one team?  That is unusual.   And what makes this even more interesting however is that all three Arsenal men are midfielders, not attacking runners like Hazard.  So why are these players being fouled so much?

In fact it turns out that the Telegraph has its own conspiracy theory, and in that cynical approach that journalists are increasingly using these days, the writer of this piece claims that Arsenal players are “Drawing fouls to relieve pressure and manage the game”.

The argument is that “Torreira and Guendouzi are comfortable receiving the ball under pressure and taking it into contact. Even the slightly flat-footed Xhaka has followed their example, dribbling past Paul Pogba and drawing a yellow card in the recent league meeting with Man Utd.”

So it seems they are suggesting that Arsenal’s midfield plays in a way that invites silly opposition players to foul them in such a manner that referees will generally award a free kick, and Arsenal get a chance to move forward.  It is, they suggest, a way of dealing with pressure.

In effect they argue that it is all part of the “more methodical and structured build-up play that starts with Leno,” and that “Drawing fouls also slows the game down, and Emery’s Arsenal have proved quite canny at managing games when they get their nose in front.”

But what about turning this round and looking at Arsenal as a team that fouls the opposition?  Here’s the chart for that.

Lge Pos Club Games Fouls committed Fouls per game
1 Man City 32 269 8.41
12 Bournemouth 32 282 8.81
5 Chelsea 32 285 8.91
2 Liverpool 32 286 8.94
11 West Ham 32 291 9.09
9 Leicester 32 298 9.31
17 Burnley 32 307 9.59
3 Tottenham Hots 32 322 10.06
13 Crystal Palace 32 325 10.16
18 Cardiff 32 327 10.22
20 Huddersfield 32 350 10.94
19 Fulham 33 366 11.09
4 Arsenal 31 346 11.16
7 Wolverhampton 32 357 11.16
16 Southampton 31 347 11.19
10 Everton 32 367 11.47
14 Newcastle 32 367 11.47
8 Watford 32 370 11.56
6 Man United 32 374 11.69
15 Brighton 31 388 12.52

So when it comes to fouls awarded against Arsenal we are pretty much middle of the road – but it is interesting that Manchester United stand out as the top six in the league team with the most fouls given against them.  Man City are clearly being helped either by not committing fouls or by committing them and the referee not giving them.

And there we are.   Arsenal are the team that get the most free kicks from referees, and have three players who stand out as men who get fouled.  What on earth does it all mean?


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11 Replies to “Three of the 15 most fouled players in the League are Arsenal men. Why?”

  1. free kicks in midfield could give the opposition the opportunity to get back in their positions and stop counters.
    try looking at most penalties for and against teams and players. at least that directly leads to game changing goals.

  2. The shattered GameDays of late, and impending spring, have gotten in the way of data collection here.

    My collection, as of the end of GameDay 30 (except I believe for the Chelsea v Brighton game) is the basis of what I write here.

    My definition of “caution” is more complex than fouls or cards. The four lowest caution teams are Top-6: Liverpool (1093), Chelsea (1174), Man$ity (1562) and Spuds (1598). The 3 next lowest teams are ROTP: Bournemouth (1745), Newcastle (1749) and CPalace (1872). The median of all the data is 2029 with a MAD of 212. The median of just the ROTP data is 2059, with a MAD of 142.5. At the high end of caution are Arsenal (2229 in 6th) and ManU (2262 and 3rd).

    The two teams requiring the most treatment of their players are Cardiff at 45 treatments for 100 minutes of short-handed play and 11 forced substitutions; and Arsenal at 47 treatments and 74 minutes of short-handed play for 9 forced substitutions. Cardiff was highest for short-handed minutes. The spuds were highest for forced substitutions (but I don’t think it is for the same reason as Cardiff or us). The rest of the Top-6 are all sort of in the middle of the pack.

    The 2 teams inflicting the most treatments on opposition are the spuds at 35 treatments for 46 minutes of short-handed play by opposition and 10 forced substitutions and ManU at 39 inflicted treatments for 63 minutes of short-handed play by opposition and 9 forced substitutions. StateAid has benefited the most from opposition playing short-handed at 82 minutes, Newcastle also high at 67 minutes. CPalace, Newcastle and Huddersfield high on the forced substitutions at 10 each.

    I think the large number of substitutions that the spuds have required, is due to the large number of inflictions they have; they are getting hurt in the process of kicking the opposition.

    By and large, the referees are ignoring the treatments. They are not showing any teams or players feigning injury (no cards seem to have been issued for simulation as a result of a treatment); very few cards have been issued to opposition as a result of a treatment and often it is hard to even associate a foul/free kick with the need for treatment.

    Some of the treatments are for situations where a player has become injured not as a result of a collision immediately before the injury (such as Cech with his hamstring injury early in the season). They still could be the result of a collision. For instance, if a goalkeeper was to get kicked in the back of the leg and then take control of the ball; it is easily possible to injure the hamstring on kicking the ball from the hands a few seconds later (not saying this was what happened with Cech). There are a few instances where a player has gotten injured in the attempt to “foul” an opposition player; and hence the need for treatment is in a sense self-inflicted. This happened at least twice with Arsenal opposition.

  3. OT: Women’s Internationals – England 0 – 1 Canada

    I glanced at the Guardian coverage, and the picture at the top of the page says it all. Christine Sinclair is still playing, and still scoring goals.

    2000– Canada 279 (180)

    Only Abby Wambach ahead of her on the all-time list, at 184.

    Keep going Christine!

  4. It is quite usual for skillful players to get fouled more than the quick passers. Ozil gets kicked regularly but rarely gets protection in the form of free kicks or bookings of his protagonists. The PGMOL have their systems of arm waving and claiming to have seen incidents so that there is no further action.

    The Arsenal midfield are consistently fouled in order to goad them into reaction. Thankfully they haven’t reacted thus far. Lacazette is fouled just as badly and eventually cracked to get his red card. The grabbing, pulling & pushing of Arsenal players seems to be an accepted part of the EPL officiating blindness. It is mainly this type of foul that gets called eventually by the officials.

    Come on you Gunners, quick passing will win against PGMOL.

  5. My impression of Arsenal’s play does resemble some of what The Telegraph says but, of course, I do draw a different conclusion. To me, it seems that Arsenal plays the ball back freely, often back to Leno, in order to relieve pressure and to stretch the field. Teams that press will follow the ball, and if their back line doesn’t move quickly, we have a lot of space in the midfield to work the ball back up.

    In addition, it would seem to me that our back 5 purposely draw players up to them before playing the ball away. A basketball analogy might be apt. An effective shot fake is always, slow-fast – slow up and fast down. If the fake shot is too fast going up the defender will not have time to react and then your pull down and drive will not have been effective.

    Both Torreira and Guendouzi have the on ball skills to take the ball forward quickly in order to transition from defense to offense when the field opens up. And although they are sometimes dispossessed this threat to do so is a real asset. Xhaka, I believe doesn’t have that skill, though, he makes up for that with superior long ball passing skills.

    So, they all get fouled. Well, The Telegraph article is saying our players dive in a very unsubtle way. It ignores what I have already mentioned and some other possibilities:

    a) It is natural, they play in the centre of the park and Arsenal play it out of the back through these skilled players so they are going to be involved in much the play hence drawing more fouls

    b) They are targeted. They are younger and smaller or in the case of Xhaka, prone to periods of red mist and therefore ‘fair game’

    The article ignores the context and in my mind, then, makes these libelous accusations. To some degree, I agree that Guendouzi does go to ground often. But, from the matches, I have seen, it would seem that our very young midfielders are getting targeted because of b) and c). They are protecting themselves but it would be incredibly naive for Unai Emery to tell the players to use this strategy often given the capricious nature of the PGMO. And, players must know that a diving label is not desired.

    We are certainly not the only team that plays out from the back, so one can ask why are we the only team that have three players so highly placed? Which leaves being targeted as another reason for those numbers. To ignore this is to not understand the nature of sport at a high level. Going after a player perceived as a soft touch is what you do. This isn’t ballet; it is men playing football for a living.

    In summary, these numbers do not indicate that our players dive as a strategy. I believe their skill, position and youth make them targets of other players.

  6. Fouls awarded by referees are, of course, only a part of the story. Arsenal suffer from fouls which referees fail to recognise and conversely are often wrongly penalised. The published figure in the article therefore do not provide the full account

  7. It seems strange that the most fouled team gets awarded the fewest penalties . I am sure there must be a reasonable explanation .

  8. I’ve no issues with players going down to draw a foul when under pressure (Arteta was a master at it), but I’ve yet to see a player booked for it, which suggests that the referees are on board with it as a tactic.

  9. Andy L
    The simple explanation is that our boys do not, generally speaking, go in for the diving and simulation tactics to con the refs into awarding fake penalties that most other teams get up to.

  10. Straight forward. The opposition know they are are far less likely to get booked for fouling our players so why not. Rocket science it ain’t.

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