The fouls analysis: how Liverpool and Arsenal are treated by referees

Commentary by Tony Attwood, analysis by Nitram

I mentioned in a recent article that PL statistics include virtually everything you can imagine except fouls.  Which is rather odd given the importance of the award of fouls by referees can be in a match.

Which made me wonder why this is the case.  Why, when the Premier League’s own site gives analysis of virtually every other aspect of the game, does it not give data on fouls awarded by referees.

Did they just forget and not notice when we have pointed this out before?  Did they think that while we are interested in yellow cards, passes, and everything else we are not interested in fouls?  Or did they feel that the information was simply too sensitive?

Certainly with no other explanation, that last point would appear to be the most likely reason.

Now fortunately Nitram, who as you may have seen, is a regular correspondent on Untold, has been doing a cards to fouls analysis for years.  And he wrote very fulsomely about it in a recent comment.   I felt that this work of Nitram’s should be given more prominence, so with his permission I’m re-running it here with the tables set out clearly (something that is impossible when presenting a comment).

Nitram provides us with the stats for tackles going back five years, and for fouls given by referees going back 15 years.  The source of much of the data is

I’ve had a look for the stats and all I could find that included the amount of fouls was on but unfortunately the statistic for fouls only start in season 2014-2015.  Here it is…


Season Fair play position Points Fouls Ratio League average
2014-15 8th 75 353 4.70 5.00
2015-16 1st 54 349 6.40 5.70
2016-17 14th 83 391 4.70 5.40
2017-18 12th 67 380 5.60 5.60
2018-19 16th 79 404 5.11 7.10



Season Fair play position Points Fouls Ratio League average
2014-15 9th 75 357 4.70 5.00
2015-16 7th 67 420 6.20 5.70
2016-17 1st 54 388 7.10 5.40
2017-18 1st 49 332 6.70 5.60
2018-19 1st 41 313 7.60 7.10

Points are awarded as follows:

  • 1 x Yellow card = 1 Point
  • 2 x Yellow cards = 2 Points
  • 1 x Red card = 2 Points
  • 1 x Yellow card + 1 x Red card = 3 Points

The foul ratio

  • Over the five seasons Liverpool’s foul ratio was a point/card every 6.3 fouls.
  • Over the five seasons Arsenal’s foul ratio was a point/card every 5.2 fouls
  • The average for the league was a point/card every 5.3 fouls.

So what conclusions can we draw from this?

First it seems overall referees are more strict these days, with an average card per foul ratio of 5.3 whereas back when Nitram used to collect these numbers regularly it was around 7.7.

Secondly it seems our ratio of 5.2 is even worse than it used to be at around 5.5.   But at least we are now nearer the average which is something, and I must say a bit of a surprise.

But being average, considering how weak and feeble, with no fight or aggression, we are supposed to be, is still not great. Yet it could be worse.

However as I thought, Liverpool are treated quite leniently, there average being a card every 6.3 fouls.   That might not seem much but that is around 15% more lenient than us, or put another way, 15 metres in a 100 metre sprint. That’s a long way.

Thus Liverpool in the last four seasons have been treated better than average.   Arsenal have been treated worse than average in four of the last five seasons.


We are still treated harshly by the referees, being worse than average, but I have to admit it’s not as bad as I thought or indeed it used to be.

However we are missing one vital piece of evidence – the timing as to when cards are issued.  Clearly a card given in the fifth minute has a much greater impact on a player and the team than a card given in the 90th minute.  This is a vital piece of evidence for anyone investigating this issue, and it is one that of course anyone with time could produce.  But it really would take hours to analyse.

Of course the Premier League has this information, but they won’t release any of it.  Which is in itself interesting, given the level of other information that they do produce.

These figures suggest (nothing more) that there is something a little odd going on.   But when combined with the cards to tackles ratio, which show that Arsenal are getting more yellow cards for fewer tackles then the suspicion that there really is a difference between the way different clubs are treated becomes a lot more real.

Indeed the cards to tackles ratio exposes even more vividly just how harshly our tackling is treated, which might explain why our players are often reluctant to ‘get stuck in’ because, even being the bunch of wimps we are, doesn’t seem to stop the refs awarding fouls and cards against us.

Just imagine what would happen if at Anfield this weekend we decided to ‘get in their faces’.

We’d be lucky to end up with half a team on the pitch.

7 Replies to “The fouls analysis: how Liverpool and Arsenal are treated by referees”

  1. The appointed referee for the next match is a fine man, I hope that we dont go into that trouble. Liverpool is physically aggressive team, many of their foul tackles and challenges are not even flagged foul. Arsenal is the exact opposite. The stats doesn’t show this. Instincts are important. Against Newcastle for example, there were at least two yellow card offense by Newcastle but they get away with it.

  2. And that fine man is “Mike Dean”!

    Oops, sorry. Anthony Taylor is going to be in the middle. Jon Moss is the 4th official and Stuart Attwell is the VAR. Beswick and Nunn are the assistants.

    Next week, maybe we’ll get Mike Dean again? PGMO wants to see what happens when a single team gets a given referee 19 times in a season.

  3. Tony and Nitram
    It does seem that AFC are treated only a bit harsher than league average on basis of ratio. But, of course, as you mention, timing is everything. How often have we seen an Arsenal player receive a yellow on first contact and play the rest of the match waiting for the 2nd yellow to drop? How often has a ref given a yellow to the opposition late on just for the appearance of fairness? Too often for me. Did Barnes get a late yellow for just that reason? Maybe I’m mistaken. The EPL and PGMO won’t release any information that may put them in a bad light or shed any light at all on their machinations. No oversight, no transparency, no fairness.

  4. As I keep saying there only has to be a slight bias to make a big difference.
    That’s why I like the term ‘tilting’ that gets regularly used to describe the machinations of pigmobs men in black. A ref doesn’t even have to cheat to cheat.

    For example the other night I saw John Moss have a word in a players ear following an of the ball shirt tug. Now as far as I’m aware a shirt pull is a card. But honestly have I got a problem with what Moss did? Not really, as long as he’s consistent.

    Is what Moss did cheating? No, not on the face of it. Whether he booked the player or not hardly warrants the accusation of ‘cheat’.

    But what if every time he refereed Liverpool he had a quiet word and every time he refereed Arsenal he booked the player ?

    And what if he always lets Man Utd get away with their first bookable but always books ours ?

    What if he gives 90% of the 50/50’s to our opponent?

    Taking each decision in isolation I agree you could not accuse the ref of cheating. But when you look at the bigger picture that’s different, I would say it definitely is cheating.

    100% it’s cheating, but in effect it’s cheating without cheating. Or ‘tilting ‘ as some of us like to call it.

  5. So, is Anthony Taylor that will be at the centre to referee in Arsenal away match to Liverpool on Saturday in the PL. But not Michael Oliver, the chronic anti-Arsenal match referee refereeing in the PL whom I was thinking the Pgmol kingpin Mike Riley will put in charge of the match.

    Last season against Tottenham Hotspur at the Wembley Stadium, it looked as if the Pgmol’s senior referee, Anthony Taylor has soft pedal a bit in his anti-Arsenal match refereeing in the PL when he awarded a penalty at the death of playing time to Arsenal. But Auba’ missed converting the spot kick for Arsenal to beat Tottenham. But if it was when referee Anthony Taylor was at his height of his doing anti-Arsenal match referring in the PL, he would not have awarded the penalty to Arsenal. More so, as it wasn’t VAR given. So, I think if Arsenal play their cards very well in the game away to Liverpool on Saturday like I am envisioning for them to do, the Gunners will nullify Liverpool in the game and beat them to all points collection in the match. And at the same time in th game negate what might remain the anti-Arsenal match referring in the PL that could be remaining in referee Anthony Taylor.

  6. Harvard Sports Analysis Collective looked at EPL referee bias (sort of) about 1.5 years ago.

    They specifically looked at Mike Dean and Arsenal. Their conclusion, no bias.

    They were specifically looking at single game bias. In other words, the purpose of the bias was to tilt results so that Arsenal lost the game; regardless of who was playing Arsenal.

    They were using tools I had never heard of; hopefully they know what they were doing.

    This kind of bias, is the bias that is supposedly revealed by asking a referee if they support Lower Tallywaddle upon Thames (or whatever). That is not the game that 😈 Mike Riley is playing. Tony has called it Type 3 match fixing (I believe).

    The bias is to reduce the chance of Arsenal being (at least) in the Top-4. This includes winning the league.

    Handing out yellows to Arsenal early and to Arsenal opposition out late; will tilt the game to enhance the chance of Arsenal not winning. But the other thing it does, is to get demerits on Arsenal players; which at some point lead to suspension.

    Letting the opposition kick Arsenal, can help in providing situations where referees can yellow card Arsenal early (or late, doesn’t matter with respect to demerit points). But another thing it does, is injure Arsenal players. Well, an Arsenal player who misses games due to injury is just as useful to Arsenal not being in the Top-4; as are Arsenal players suspended due to demerits.

    The bias is not simple, it is multi-factor. And these people from Harvard considered what they did; because “results” are not subjective. That came up in the comments to the above listed article.

    Their (Harvard) imagination is not sufficient.

  7. OT: VAR

    Apparently, the IFAB told 😈 Mike Riley’s PGMO to use VAR the way they wree instructed to do (and I gather, the Bundesleague was told something similar).

    The google news search, showed The Daily Star as the only UK site (in the first page) mentioning this; and they don’t show an article unless your browser has javascript turned on.

    This is searching for IFAB EPL. Just a single UK news website in the last 3 days has mentioned that the EPL/PGMO have been told by the iFAB they are doing things wrong. Lots of websites in the far east mentioning this. That’s probably where all the betting is; and so they need to know this stuff.


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