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Stats show something very odd going on in the PL that the media won’t discuss.


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by Tony Attwood

I’m following up the recent debate about fouls, tackles and yellows with the table below which shows data across the PL after 24 games. The aim here is to look for statistics that look slightly odd or outside the norm.

In previous articles where I have raised these stats we’ve had a number of commentaries that question why we are looking at these statistics, comments which have no relation to the statistics, and instead throw abuse against Arsenal and Arsenal supporters.  Having published some of these comments to give a flavour of the replies, I’m now going to try and cut these down, so that those of us interested in what the statistics actually say can have a debate – if anyone wants to – rather than be subject to irrelevancies and abuse.

Here are the figures.  The order of the table is taken from the number of fouls committed.

Tackles Pos Fouls Tackles/foul Fouls/game Yellow Fouls/yellow
1 Southampton 490 2 294 1.67 12.25 38 7.73
2 Everton 463 4 288 1.60 12.00 44 6.55
3 Watford 441 5 286 1.54 11.92 54 5.30
4 Aston Villa 377 17 271 1.39 11.29 46 5.89
5 Burnley 349 19 270 1.29 11.25 44 6.14
6 Man United 388 15 267 1.45 11.13 47 5.68
7 Sheffield United 424 10 263 1.61 10.96 49 5.36
8 Crystal Palace 433 8 260 1.67 10.83 40 6.50
9 Wolverhampton 423 11 259 1.63 10.79 38 6.82
10 Arsenal 417 13 259 1.61 10.79 60 4.32
11 West Ham 486 3 258 1.88 10.75 46 5.61
12 Brighton 437 6 249 1.76 10.38 36 6.92
13 Man City 351 18 245 1.43 10.21 47 5.21
14 Tottenham 431 9 241 1.79 10.04 54 4.46
15 Chelsea 435 7 239 1.82 9.96 45 5.31
16 Leicester 494 1 237 2.08 9.88 25 9.48
17 Norwich 418 12 232 1.54 9.67 48 4.83
18 Bournemouth 343 20 222 1.55 9.25 48 4.62
19 Newcastle 400 14 220 1.81 9.17 39 5.64
20 Liverpool 379 16 200 1.90 8.33 24 8.33

We can see at once that the number of tackles committed doesn’t relate to the number of fouls given.  Of course fouls are given for reasons other than bad tackles, but as far as I can see something like 90% of fouls given are for bad tackles, so it is a fairly good figure to work on.

Yellow cards can be given for many different reasons, but again the dominant reason appears to be bad tackles.  We can of course only work on the data we have got, and there is no published list I can find of yellow given for bad fouls or tackles.

The number of tackles ranges from 494 for Leicester to 343 by Bournemouth.  Bournemouth has only committed 69% of the tackles that Leicester has.

The number of fouls ranges from 294 by Southampton to 200 by Liverpool.   Liverpool has only committed 68% of the fouls that Southampton has.

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Now these percentage figures are clearly close and suggest the link between tackles and fouls that we might expect.

The number of yellow cards ranges from 60 for Arsenal to 24 by Liverpool.  Liverpool has only 40% of the number of yellow cards that Arsenal has.

So while tackles and fouls cover a very similar range the range in number of yellow cards is much bigger.  But it can be argued Liverpool are at the very top of the game playing a type of football that invites the opposition to get yellows, not Liverpool, so maybe that is understandable too.

So we might ask, how many fouls does a team have to commit to get a yellow card (recognising of course that yellows can be given for other reasons than foul play).

Arsenal has to commit 4.32 fouls to get a yellow card while for Leicester the figure is 9.48.  Now while the other figures are understandable this is an extraordinary difference – noteworthy not least because the ranges elsewhere are so much smaller.  Arsenal are getting more than twice as many yellow cards from fouls as Leicester.

In fact the range revealed in the “fouls per yellow card” column is extraordinary.  Leicester have to commit 9.48 fouls to get a yellow, Arsenal 4.32.

  1. Leicester 9.48
  2. Liverpool 8.33
  3. Southampton 7.73
  4. Brighton 6.92
  5. Wolverhampton 6.82
  6. Everton 6.55
  7. Crystal Palace 6.50
  8. Burnley 6.14
  9. Aston Villa 5.89
  10. Manchester United 5.68
  11. Newcastle 5.64
  12. West Ham 5.61
  13. Sheffield United 5.36
  14. Chelsea 5.31
  15. Watford 5.30
  16. Manchester City 5.21
  17. Norwich 4.83
  18. Bournemouth 4.62
  19. Tottenham 4.46
  20. Arsenal 4.32

What we do notice here is the propensity for southern teams to be at the bottom of the chart – seven of the bottom ten are in the south half of England.  That might of course be a coincidence, but we have often noted the lack of southern referees in the Premier League – a feature of the League for many years now.

So let’s draw some conclusions:

1: Leicester makes more tackles than any other club, but also have to make more tackles to get a foul against them, than any other club.  They have to commit 9.48 fouls to get a yellow card.  That is more than twice as many fouls as either Arsenal or Tottenham for them to get a card.

2: The range of tackles per foul is fairly consistent throughout the league although Leicester, because so few fouls are given against them, are way out on their own.

3: It was suggested in an earlier discussion that Arsenal’s fouling record is because of the awful players that the club has but in fact the figures don’t show this.  The Premier League publish a list of fouls by players and show that Xhaka is equal fourth with Haller on 39 fouls.

Rank Player Club Stat
1. Wesley Aston Villa 43
2. Etienne Capoue Watford 42
3. James Ward-Prowse Southampton 40
4. Sébastien Haller West Ham United 39
4. Granit Xhaka Arsenal 39
6. Abdoulaye Doucouré Watford 38
6. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg 38
8. Jordan Ayew Crystal Palace 37
8. N’Golo Kanté Chelsea 37
8. Luka Milivojevic Crystal Palace 37
8. Callum Wilson AFC Bournemouth 37
12. Ricardo Pereira Leicester City 36
12. Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace 36
14. Ashley Barnes Burnley 35
14. Dominic Calvert-Lewin Everton 35
14. James McArthur Crystal Palace 35
17. Fred Manchester United 34
17. Dale Stephens Brighton and Hove Albion 34
19. Sadio Mané Liverpool 33
20. Moussa Sissoko Tottenham Hotspur 32

Xhaka is the only Arsenal player in the top 20 for fouls.  Palace have four players in the top 20, which one might in other times lead to referees warning the captain of the club against wilful and persistent fouling but it seems not any more.  Palace have collected 20 fewer yellow cards than Arsenal.

There is a lot here that looks odd – most obviously the Leicester figures with them being the highest tackling team but having to commit far more fouls to get a yellow than any other team.  In fact I am finding it harder to explain these figures from the point of view of being a natural spread of data, than I am to explain it as some referees being bent.

And perhaps this is because there is one other factor that is fascinating here.  These figures really are odd, and yet they are never mentioned by those organisations that pay vast sums to broadcast and analyse football matches.

We have hour after hour of debate and personal opinion – but this data has never, as far as I know, been used on TV, radio or in other media.

Why is that?  Even if my conclusions are off centre, surely it is interesting that Leicester commit the most tackles but get the lowest fouls per yellow ratio.  Given the number of hours of TV before and after every Sky and BT televised match, that looks like a perfect way to fill up time.

And yet, not once as far as I know, have we had such a debate.

Do Sky and the Sprout think we are too stupid to understand the figures?  Or that their panellists are too stupid to understand the figures?  Do they think that “you can prove anything with statistics?” (which would be odd given the amount they spend analysing their audience and the sums spent with Opta.)

Of course, it might not be a ruling from PGMO that the fouls to yellow card ratio is not to be discussed, but then if it is not, why does it never come up?

The figures are unexpectedly odd and this makes the lack of discussion odder.  Given the amount of time TV stations spend debating whether a player’s arm was in a natural position, or whether the player was too close to the ball to be able to get out of the way in time, surely there’s something here that would make even the most mathematically challenged commentator pause and wonder…

What on earth is going on?

31 comments to Stats show something very odd going on in the PL that the media won’t discuss.

  • Nitram

    Tony

    Brilliant work.

    It does, as you say, indicate that there is something very very odd going on.

    It must of took you hours to find and corelate all these statistics, but you know without a shadow of a doubt you will get the usual:

    You can make statistics say anything.

    And

    It’s because Arsenal players either cant tackle or are more cynical than everyone else.

    Could be fun to see who gets in first.

  • Laos Gooner

    There does not appear to be too much journalism going on. Most match reports contain the stats for possession, shots on target, fouls, etc. A simple scan of the team line ups presents a visual guide to cards issued to the players. Can we seriously expect that these people who accuse themselves of journalism would be able to see any correlation with data presented on the exact same page? Surely that requires the ability to scroll, nevermind the ability to think. I feel you have covered the why with a previous article pointing out that free entry and use of facilities would be withdrawn were anyone in the words of Monty Python “state the bleeding obvious”.

  • Flattop

    As a gooner I think these stats are interesting. I think though, watching games of other teams too, that we just aren’t as clever at fouling as some others. City, Leicester, Burnley etc know how to foul in areas where there is less risk so the card doesn’t come out. They are also better at sharing the load and take it in turns to foul opponents.

    We also pick up bookings for back chatting (abusing) the ref so this skews the stats a bit.

    Thanks for sharing this information though.

  • Flattop, way back in Jan 2008 we introduced the phrase “rotational fouling” to describe the approach of one player fouling and then the next and the next. Last December I noticed that the phrase had got into the mainstream – as was being quoted in newspapers. It took them a while to catch up, but yes, this is one process that is used to avoid getting the bookings.

  • Nitram

    Flattop

    “I think though, watching games of other teams too, that we just aren’t as clever at fouling as some others. City, Leicester, Burnley etc know how to foul in areas where there is less risk so the card doesn’t come out.”

    Please could you tell me which part of the pitch is it that a yellow card offence isn’t a yellow card offence?

    “They are also better at sharing the load and take it in turns to foul opponents.”

    The fact we are mid table in the amount of fouls committed and only have 1 player in the top 20 most fouling players, suggests to me that we share the fouls around, either by accident or design, as much as anybody, so I don’t see how that observation holds much credence either.

  • Nitram

    Flattop

    Sorry to be cynical but it really is frustrating that when people are presented with this kind of evidence all they can do is say:

    We are more cynical than anyone else.

    We foul in the wrong areas.

    We don’t spread the fouls around enough.

    Other teams have cleverer foulers.

    Really? I mean really ?

  • Noel Rogers

    Tony,
    I wonder if the number of fouls per player would give another perspective. Is it possible that Leicester commit fewer fouls per person, i.e. their fouls are spread over a greater number of players, and that accounts for the differential?
    NoelGR

  • Mark

    Can you send this info to PGMO or are they unreachable by email? Why not send this to The Athletic or a main stream paper or Sky Ports and ask for a comment and see if the debate can be had. After all they now have a section called The Debate??!!

  • Noel Unfortunately I can’t find a source for that data

  • David T

    Would a foray into previous seasons be able to substantiate a trend?
    A dogged push to explore who might want to make a documentary out of this would be interesting to say the least
    Finally even if there is anything deliberate in the trend we need to ascertain the motive. Could it be that with all the dosh going into the game in the last decade, that the ones left behind are the officiating quarters? That there is some unspoken kitty Arsenal stuck up their noses at and are now made to pay the price?

  • Nitram

    Noel Rogers

    Can I refer you to my post prior to yours.

    Those 4 and others are often put forward as a reasons for us getting such a high ratio of cards to fouls.

    As I said, the statistics Tony has produced suggest that is highly unlikely.

    I mean do you not recall Huth fouling at just about every corner and not even being called for that, let alone carded. I don’t think you could ever call Huth a ‘clever’ fouler.

    Sorry, I’m not having it that all those teams are just cleverer foulers than us.

    And aren’t we supposed to be a soft touch that gets bullied everywhere we go, then in the next breath we’re the dirtiest, cynicalist team in the PL.

    Surely we can’t be both?

  • In the Times yesterday, there was an interesting article by Matthew Syed about rotational fouling and in particular, that suffered by Zaha at the weekend.

    He was fouled 8 times, by 6 different players.

    It is not the first time with him.

    It seems there is al least on journalist brave enough to bring this up.

  • K

    The stats here are quite revealing. I want to believe there is an agenda against Arsenal by the PGMO. No wonder we get Mike Riley croons to take charge of Arsenal games. The likes of Dean, Atkinson, Kavanagh are at the beck and call of Riley. How often do we get penalties awarded for and against us. I am sure the stats are skewed to favour “against than for”

  • Mandy Dodd

    Leicester, an interesting case. When They won the league, they got every decision going, Vardys little “ tumbles” gave them an unusual 12-13 pens I believe that year, their pen count I believe is still relatively favourable. Perhaps the English striker getting away with diving effect…..has served Spurs Utd and Liverpool well down the years.
    But the fouls vs cards is a real mystery.
    The likes of Liverpool clearly get the “ rub of the green” these days, it’s rare any key decision goes against them, their players are protected as well. And they don’t get many cards. There may be a number of issues with the refs, one of them, they are conscious they will have the combined hoards of punditry and the media on their back with any decision against Liverpool, no ref wants to be publicly defrocked by a foaming at the mouth Danny Murphy or Carragher whose foaming at the mouth has been aimed at the general public as well. And let’s face it, Riley isn’t going to protect a ref who receives the wrath of Liverpool, same as he was with Fergie back in the day.
    That’s Liverpool. But Leicester, strange, a number of strange things about that club in recent years.

  • Mandy Dodd

    And as if by magic, LiVARPool get the rub of the green again

  • Nitram

    Mandy Dodd

    “There may be a number of issues with the refs, one of them, they are conscious they will have the combined hoards of punditry and the media on their back with any decision against Liverpool”

    “And let’s face it, Riley isn’t going to protect a ref who receives the wrath of Liverpool, same as he was with Fergie back in the day. That’s Liverpool.”

    Exactly.

    That’s been my view for years. I don’t think it’s anything to do with betting rings or bribes from clubs, it’s nothing more than Riley and the referees in their turn, following the path of least resistance.

    The media basically chose who they want to do well and the refs follow.

    The problem we have is that for some reason the media have never liked us.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the 70’s it was lucky Arsenal, under Graham it was ‘Boring Arsenal’.

    We are portrayed as ‘Soft’ ‘No leaders’ ‘Whingers’ ‘Same old Arsenal always cheating’ Danny Mills famously claimed Pires started the diving in this country, conveniently forgetting Francis Lee and Clinsmen to name but 2. ‘Highbury the library’.

    Whatever we do is wrong in the medias eyes.

    As such the PGMOL and the refs know that whatever they do against Arsenal will never be critisised no matter what. Conversely woe betide a ref gives us something and he and we will never hear the end of it.

    I think if say Harry Redknapp or his ilk took over, and we had a British Bulldog striker, then we could well see un upturn in our refereeing fortunes.

    Oh and moving our stadium North of Watford would help as well.

  • In the know

    Nitram for all the good you say I can tell you it is 100% about betting rings and who connected to them clubs profit from them pulling a fairy tale ending. If you look hard enough the answers are there just not many want to believe. F.I.F for the win on all accounts and the creators of this web site are familiar with their work they just have different views as to how to share the info. Not sure if it’s you Tony or Bulldog. Anyway we are all in this together in hope that the bs comes to light and arsenal can play on a relatively level playing field.

  • Menace

    There is a simple truth in why Arsenal get booked : The PGMOL don’t like us and haven’t done so since they were set up. The bastards were jealous of Wenger ball from a Capital city club and have never got over it.

    Wiley, Riley & Bennett were the first 3 I noticed and then the 50th brought it to the fore. The appointment of Riley to the top of the PGMOL has perpetuated the corrupt biased treatment of Arsenal.

    How other teams are treated is outside my thinking, as the minds of those that run the game need medical analysis with fraud squad involvement.

  • NM

    Fouls that earn cards are generally slide tackles or cynical fouls stopping an attack. We know that Mustafi and Sokratis like go to ground when they tackle. Are there any stats on the percentage of a team’s tackles that are slide tackles?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Certainly think what you say is very valid Nitram, and the refs are going along with something.
    That alone makes Riley corrupt, there won’t be any documents or phone calls to convict him, but his underling refs will be in no doubt what to do to please him and enhance their careers.
    But I also suspect that where someone is up to something so palpably wrong, there is also personal gain somewhere, we are greedy animals, some worse than others, especially when you consider the money to be made on illegal markets.
    Riley has messed up VAR, he is poor at recruiting refs, poor turnover of staff, some of the worst refs keep going long after they would be retired in Europe….ok age and experience isn’t always a bad thing but it is when our team get Mike Dean multiple times a year! Riley is secretive and a terrible communicator, there is geographical bias within his refs Selections, you have greater Manchester based refs doing United, and city games, and their derbies,, none in his organisation are accountable for anything, except Bobby Madley it seems, yet MR seems untouchable….very strange, and worrying If you love the game.
    But yes, the media are a big part of it in both their bias, and silence.

  • markyb

    NM are you suggesting we slide tackle more often than other teams. Compare foul with foul and punishment with punishment. It is real it is happening and has been going on for years. Certainly since 1998.

  • NM

    I’m looking for other variables that might affect the numbers. So I’m simply asking if there is any data on tackle vs slide tackle percentages. If Mustafi, for example, read the game better he wouldn’t have to attempt as many slide tackles and would presumably pick up fewer cards. The lack of defensive organization under Emery could also be a factor, placing defenders in more one v one situations where they are left with little alternative. It would be interesting to see if the stats change under Arteta, who has the defense better organized. These factors probably won’t explain away the difference between Leicester and Arsenal, but it would be interesting to see how big a role they might play.

  • Menace

    Why is it not clear and obvious that the most cynical foul is the presence of the PGMOL in English Football. They together with the FA are probably the most foul bunch of people in the game and it doesn’t need VAR to decide that.

  • GRANVII

    Another point of view I’ve seen I’m games us that black players get yellows very quickly … any1 else noticed?

  • Nitram

    NM

    “We know that Mustafi and Sokratis like go to ground when they tackle.”

    Well as you are about to read, when it comes to Burnley the sliding talking is a perfectly acceptable approach, an approach they are determined to continue to utilise, despite the serious injuries it has caused,

    Talksport from December 2018

    “Burnley’s Ben Mee has wished Joe Gomez well while defending his tackle on the Liverpool player – vowing that comments from Jurgen Klopp will not alter the Clarets’ style of play”.

    And what style of play would that be I wonder? The ‘causing players serious injury’ style of play? Well as you will see later, yes actually that’s exactly what he means.

    “Gomez, who has since penned a new five-and-a-half year deal at Anfield, was left with a leg fracture following Mee’s challenge on him during Burnley’s 3-1 loss to Liverpool at Turf Moor on Wednesday.

    Klopp acknowledged after the game that Mee’s tackle was “the cleanest” committed by Burnley during the game, but was unhappy with the standard of their challenges overall. He said: “With six or seven yards and then slide, these times are over. “We all want to win football games, and there are different ways of doing it. Somebody has to tell you to stop doing it, make two more steps and make a normal challenge.””

    So the ‘cleanest’ tackle broke a players leg ! What does that say about the rest of the tackles ?

    So it sounds as if the sliding tackle is okay, even though it breaks players legs, as long as it’s done by those toughies up North. Woe betide a Southern softy would dare to give a bit back

    And that’s not the last time Mee put a player on a stretcher.

    Talksport Jan 2020

    “Liverpool fans have condemned Burnley defender Ben Mee’s tackle on Wesley as ‘reckless’ after the Brazilian picked up what looked a serious injury on New Year’s Day”.

    So it seems that back in 2018 when Mee said that despite breaking Gomez’s leg “it will not alter the Clarets’ style of play” he meant it.

    At least we’re in no doubt as to what style of play he means, it’s the one that requires the opposition to leave the pitch on a stretcher.

    Still, as the Burnley fans have been keen to tell us, it’s the way WE tackle that gets us booked.

    As I said earlier, to find a bigger bunch of hypocrites than that lot would be hard to do.

  • \granvii it would be most interesting to know – if anyone has done that research.

  • Nitram

    Tony/Granvii

    On a similar note, how about ‘foreign’ in general.

    Are the Mee’s of this World cut a little, if not a lot more slack than the Xhakas of this World?

    The stats you have produced Tony show a clear discrepancy between the North and the South of the Country regarding how players are carded, so it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for there to be a discrepancy between how native and foreign players are carded would it ?

    I cant say it’s something I’ve ever noticed, but I think there is no denying that the underlying opinion in this Country of our continental friends being a bunch of foreign softies, remains.

    Not that we’re xenophobic or anything like that of course

    That should keep you busy Tony.

  • omgarsenal

    Speaking as a former professional referee who had a specific viewpoint about giving yellow or red cards out, here is what I see (and maybe Walter will add his 2 cents worth as well):

    1) Few referees relish the idea of giving a caution IF it is avoidable. The best referees will nip the problem in the bud with a little word to the offender. I would always point to my card pocket (back then in my jersey) andmake a no-no gesture to warn the player that he or she would be carded if they persisted in fouling or dissenting.

    2) A red card offense had to be egregious and clearly malicious or unarguably merited based on the laws (ie: stopping a goal scoring opportunity) so my reaction to a serious offense was always a slight hesitation to pull out the card UNLESS there was clear physical violence or obsenity/racism etc. or immediate risk to the players. The question I asked myself during that pause was whether the game would be better off without the offender….if yes, then he or she was ejected, if maybe or not sure then I’d pull them aside and warn them that I could expel them but was willing to give them another chance…it was risky and didn’t always work out but most of the time it did.

    3) I believe, based on what I’ve seen this season, Arsenal are no better or worse than most of their opponents when it come to fouling. They tend to be scrutinized more closely by the officials and certainly by VAR. There is a hidden agenda among the PGMOB to punish Arsenal more heavily and frequently than other teams because when AFC play in Europe, they are rarely carded, which is curious indeed.

    4) I also noticed that during the disharmony and uncertainty of the Emery era, frustrations and discouragement were setting in and AFC players took it out on their opponents on occasion. However there NEVER was any truly cynical, vicious or rotational fouling from AFC. Even Auba’s badly timed ankle-breaker was more out of impatience and bad timing than maliciousness. I hate to say it but he is definitely not a BRUTE like some of the hackers he faces.

    5) My predictions are that, as Arteta’s discipline and regime take hold, we will see less fouling from Arsenal (notice I didn’t say less cards) and a smoother, more measured style of play which will invite more fouls against us but will be a challenge for the PIGMOB to punish us for.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Thanks for your insights OMG, that’s a very interesting read

  • Menace

    @flattop – have you considered the facts here? Neither the area of the pitch nor the venue makes a difference to PGMOL it’s the club the player represents! Players that have moved to other premier league clubs don’t get cards anymore. I wonder why?

  • Thanks for that.
    I couldn’t agree more.
    I just think people in general don’t want to believe the game is as corrupt as it so obviously is.
    A previous comment about Leicester City merely confirms the point.
    Something rotten has taken hold of football in this country, not just Arsenal.
    Where there is huge money involved there will always be corruption.
    It’s probably always been there.