by Tony Attwood
It started on 19 December when Nitram’s article on this site noted that “Three sources suggested in the post-match comments after the Man C game that Arsenal could learn a lot from how the opposition approached the game with their approach to fouling.”
“We might perhaps remember,” Nitram continued, Man C staff, “making reference to how the high-press intensity of Southampton was such a big part of their draw without ever mentioning the fact they got away with just 2 cards for 19 fouls and we received 6 cards for just 13 fouls of a similar level and type.”
Now we can at least understand why he/they don’t want to be ‘controversial’, and to a degree we get it. We don’t agree with it, but we get it. If I were running Man C I wouldn’t want to say “we committed many more fouls than the opposition and got away with just a third of the yellow card total Arsenal got, and that of course is an important part of our strategy. We know what the refs give cards for and we play to that.”
So where are Arsenal in this? In the issue of cards and fouls, we do have an absolute measure of what is going on? Are for example Arsenal lacking in the Man City grasp of the subtleties of ref behaviour?
Certainly it seems either that senior members of Arsenal can’t even see what’s going on under their very noses, or that they can, but there are agreements between the club, the PL and PGMO on what can and can’t be said, in relation to referee performances. And our managers over time, don’t seem to be able to take advantage of such knowledge.
But really, given the huge level of data provided by Opta and the club’s own analyses they must know exactly what is going on.
Certainly that would seem likely, since with the present way we are being refereed, to suggest we should be more ‘cynical’ is unbelievably naïve to the point of stupidity. Without a deal with the PGMO we’d be crucified on the pitch by the refs, and in the media after the game.
These are the statistics from our 3 home matches in sequence collated by Nitram for his article (see here for the full article).
- Fouls = 32
- Yellows = 10
That’s a card every 3.2 fouls.
- Fouls = 54
- Yellows = 7
That’s a card every 7.7 fouls.
The only possible explanation away from corruption there could be for figures such as this would be that the intensity and seriousness of the Arsenal fouls was 2.5 times more serious than those of the opposition. I haven’t seen it, but more to the point I’ve not seen any suggestion of this in the media – and I find that quite indicative because the media do look to make suggestions like this especially when Arsenal are involved. They don’t always use statistics but they do pick up on the meaning of such stats on occasion.
Of course we don’t have the smoking gun – the tape recording of people discussing match fixing or a note from one person to another setting out arrangements, but we do have statistics that make very strange reading.
Now the clubs and PGMO will of course be completely aware of this, just as they have been aware of the very strange figures from Leicester which we highlighted earlier (21 yellow cards against them with 44 cards against their opponents – a figure way out of line with almost every other team in the league), and this is where the total silence of PGMO is very frustrating. If they were even half as open as the referee organisations in some other countries they would put up a rebuttal on their website showing where we have gone wrong with our analysis, and giving their counter explanation of these figures)
Let us imagine that these figures that we are seeing can be explained perhaps through the style of play of the clubs – that is to say that because of their style when Arsenal commit fouls they are much more likely to be cardable fouls than when other clubs commit fouls. They might put up some example videos so that we can all learn. And indeed it could argued that helping fans learn is surely part of the remit as that could reduce fans’ anger. At least that is how it seems in other countries.
But as it stands we were left without the explanations as to why referees are tending to give two and a half times more cards to Arsenal for each bunch of fouls, than they do to Leicester. Explanations such as…
- Arsenal’s fouls are of a more serious kind (no evidence that I can observe or find on any website of that but it could be an argument)
- Arsenal are repeat offenders (a hard one to argue given the number of fouls called)
- It’s just a quirk of the numbers, as is the very low number of Leicester cards per foul.
There might be other explanations too. But whatever they are I am left with one question.
What on earth is the benefit to football in general, football fans, players, managers and the PGMO in keeping the statistics hidden away so we have to go searching, and the explanation of these strange stats, a secret?
And to be clear the Leicester yellow card stat is just one of the more obvious of many odd stats that come from this analysis. That’s the problem.
I’d really like to thank Nitram for putting me on this track – in terms of understanding PGMO and referees it is one of the most interesting approaches that we have followed across the years.
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