Data and analyses from Andrew, and from Footballcharts.co.uk Commentary from Tony
We have been discovering huge variations in the number of fouls per card given by referees and how these might be explained by the severity of the fouls, or the leniency or otherwise of the referee. But also there is another possibility here – that referees might be influencing the flow of the game by penalising one team with fouls at every turn.
There are of course other possibilities: that managers are saying to players – this referee was giving fouls against us at every turn last time we had him, so cut down the tackling, go for more intercepts. That could be dangerous, but would certainly make sense since every second of every game is examined by Premier League clubs.
In the next table we can see that the average ratio for Arsenal this season is 4.5 fouls per card, and combining the games for referees we find that the variation is very large, from around half the average when Anthony Taylor is in charge to around double the average when Paul Tierney is blowing the whistle.
|Arsenal cards||Arsenal pens||Arsenal fouls||fouls / card||fouls / card + pen|
To get a deeper understanding of this we can look at individual games and see what happens to the home team and away team
|Home||Away||Yellow cards against home team||Fouls conceded by home team –||Fouls per card||Yellow cards against away team||Fouls conceded by away team||Fouls per card|
What does this tell us?
First the number of fouls that are committed for a yellow card to be given is very variable. But yellows are of course mostly given against single bad fouls, so that is not surprising.
Second the number of fouls given against home and away teams is virtually identical. But these fouls are slightly more likely to be given yellow cards when committed by the home teams which is perhaps counter intuitive.
Third, Arsenal committed 174 fouls in these games and got 38 cards – thus one card to every 4.6 fouls. This is below the norm so we should not be thinking that referees are overall biased against Arsenal in this way.
Fourth, the number of fouls committed by home teams ranges from six to 18 per game. Both figures come from Arsenal. The number committed by away teams ranges from four (Arsenal) to 19 (Southampton). So rather unexpectedly in this sample Arsenal committed the most and least fouls in individual matches at home and the least in an away match.
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So how do we know if there is an anti-Arsenal bias?
In the table below I have selected all the games where the difference in the number of fouls per card between the home and away club is more than four, and highlighted the club that committed most fouls per card.
The point here is that clearly one of the two clubs is very likely to have a higher number of fouls than the other, simply from the fluidity of the game. If Newcastle commit 3 fouls per card to Arsenal’s 2, that difference could easily be pure chance, or style of play. It is only when the difference between the two teams become bigger that we might start wondering why a referee will let (for example) Newcastle commit 12 fouls before giving out a card, while Arsenal committed on average just 2.3 fouls to get a card.
What’s more, this larger difference will clearly be signified to the players. They will see within a short space of time that they could be fouling and fouling and getting no card, while the other team is picking up cards very readily.
I have also removed the three games in which one team got no cards. In these cases the level of card giving was low for the other team, and so appear to be matches either devoid of fouls or with a balanced referee.
So, to be clear as to the meaning, in the first example Newcastle committed 12 fouls for each yellow card, but Arsenal only committed 2.3 fouls for each yellow card.
|Home||Away||Home team Fouls per card||Away team fouls per card||Difference (Arsenal suffering in bold)|
Now only once was Arsenal on the receipt of largesse from the referee in the sense of being allowed to commit more fouls before getting a card. In the Norwich away game Arsenal had to commit 10 fouls per card whereas Norwich were knocking up four fouls per card.
In all other games Arsenal were taking fewer fouls to get a card. To give the figures as a total, Arsenal commited 5.67 fouls per card across these seven games. The opposition had to commit 9.36 fouls to get a card. In short the opposition got away with 1.65 times as many fouls as Arsenal before the yellow was waved.
Now the question is, does this make any difference?
Well, yes, actually it does. A player on a yellow card knows that one more slip means that he will get a second, and be off. So he plays with more caution.
But there is more. As the game progresses and players see that this referee is handing cards at will to one side and not the other, only one team starts holding back. For example in the Arsenal v Southampton game, Arsenal got a yellow card on average for every 1.7 fouls. Southampton players got a yellow card after every 9.5 cards! The Southampton players could thus foul away to their hearts’ content, knowing that they would be able to do a lot of damage before the ref gave the first card to a player, and thus reduced his capacity to foul. What’s more, they would also know that they still had the chance to go on fouling and not get a second yellow, because so few cards were given per dozen fouls.
In short this bunch of games shows that there are seven games from the 17 we have looked at where there is a significant difference between the number of cards given to each of the two teams per foul. That is between one in every two or three games, has this oddity.
As we have seen, Arsenal are 13th in terms of the number of fouls committed by Premier League clubs with 211, compared to Leicester’s 198. But Arsenal have the most cards with 52 against Leicester’s 20.
But Arsenal have the most cards with 52 against Leicester’s 20.
Of course you might believe that Arsenal’s fouls are 2.5 times as bad as Leicester’s. I am not at all sure that is true.