Arsenal are currently the dirtiest team in the League. Does it matter?

By Tony Attwood

Leicester have now been awarded over twice as many penalties as Arsenal this season, a factor that has clearly helped them cling on to a position in the upper part of the league.

Mind you, they are not the most extraordinary team in this regard.  Manchester United have been awarded four times as many penalties as Arsenal have this season.  Their only problem is that they have missed a third of them!

But Arsenal’s problem is not just that they don’t get awarded many penalties.  It is that they have on their own received more yellow cards (72) than Liverpool (31) and Leicester City (36) put together.

And since a yellow card always affects a player’s subsequent performance (since he inevitably is more cautious from there on – or else likely to get a second yellow), it’s not a bad idea to try and think how to reduce the number of yellows and reds.

For Arsenal have also received more red cards than Liverpool, Leicester, Chelsea, Wolverhampton, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Manchester United and West Ham all put together!   In fact, Arsenal have more red cards and more yellow cards than any other team in the league.

Of course those who are critical of Arsenal will say they deserve it, and that isn’t really an argument that can be won, but it is a worry.  With this sort of disciplinary record it is going to be impossible for Arsenal to win the league any time soon.

Indeed the situation seems to be getting worse, for with four players shown a straight red this season Arsenal have already reached double the sendings off of last season.

But it has not always been like this.  In 2015/16 when Arsenal came second in the league – the last time we were in the top four we had the lowest number of yellow cards in the league (38) and just two straight reds.  That was the sort of figure that Leicester and Liverpool are achieving now.

So what has gone wrong?  Why is Arsenal picking up more yellow cards than other teams?

One simple reason that could be stated is because the managers tell the players to “get stuck in” and “let them know you’re there” etc etc.  Indeed last season under Emery Arsenal, although not the worst offenders in the league, were certainly in the bottom five, again receiving twice as many yellow cards as Liverpool.

We have to go back to Mr Wenger’s last season to see a situation where we were not among the most penalised clubs – with 57 yellows and two straight reds.  Chelsea were the club with the fewest cards that season with 40 yellows and two straight reds.

However if we go back to 2015/16 when we came second in the league we also were the cleanest team in the league with just 38 yellows and two reds.

The simple explanation is that Arsenal have since then become a dirty team as their position in the league has declined.  Another is that Arsenal are being particularly penalised, and another is that referees have become are biased.

Of late, Liverpool have taken over as the team getting the fewest cards.    In 2016/17 they had 54 yellows and no reds – a lot more than Arsenal the year before, but still the fewest in the league that year.

In 2017/18 they were again top of the card table with just 44 yellows and one red.  They stayed there for 2018/19 with an astoundingly low 35 yellows and no reds.  And thus far this season they are top again with 31 yellows and 1 red.  Here’s the full table for this season so far…

All the figures here come from Transfer Market

# Club
2nd yellow
Average 55.3 0.95 1.05
1 31 0 1
2 36 1 0
3 56 0 0
4 50 2 0
5 49 1 1
6 52 0 1
7 59 0 0
8 57 1 0
9 43 1 3
10 53 1 1
11 61 0 0
12 59 1 0
13 56 3 0
14 64 0 1
15 56 0 3
16 56 2 2
17 63 2 1
18 66 2 1
19 67 1 2
20 72 1 4

This position for Arsenal cannot be helping the cause.  But why is it happening?  Certainly this season it might be due to the number of youngsters playing in the team, plus a desire to get stuck in and show the new manager one is not afraid.  But the figures were also bad during Mr Wenger’s last season.

The fact is that over a period of five seasons we have moved from being the cleanest team in the league to the dirtiest team in the league as we have slipped from being runners’ up to our current position of seventh.

There is not an automatic link between being a team that does not get yellow cards and the club’s position in the league, but there is certainly a relationship between the two.

Maybe we need to ensure that the younger players learn as quickly as possible about the unusual applications of the laws that we sometimes see in the Premier League, and work around that.  That indeed might help.  And maybe the club needs to see exactly how Liverpool and Leicester are achieving their extraordinary low rates while (in Leicester’s case at least) creating an extraordinary number of tackles.

27 Replies to “Arsenal are currently the dirtiest team in the League. Does it matter?”

  1. nothing to do with being indisciplined on this case. We generally get softer yellow cards than other teams. Take brighton number 8 a few games back, he committed 9 cynical fouls and did not get a yellow card. I belive an Arsenal play came from the bench and committed his first offence and got booked.

    Eddie Nkethia was sent off under the apparent guidelines of “serious foul play”. Ive watched it over and over and I cant see where there was any serious foul play under the laws of the game. It was a 50/50 challenge the ball was there to be won, the defender backed out of the challenge at the last second turning his body to protect himself. Now this was nothing more than an accident so toable it serious foul play is extremely biased.

    Especially from what we all saw vardy do in the first half. Which under guidelines was in fact serious foul play. There was nothing accidental about what he did, it wasn’t 50/50 situation his the was nothing natural about his foot movement. What if he caught Mustafi in the eye he may have caused serious injury.

  2. I suspect as mentioned, the cards we get are softer. I also suspect Riley has to tilt a lot of teams into the top places. UTD and Liverpool, goes without saying, City are generally good enough to finish top two , tilting or not. Then, there is the strange case of Leicester, as well as media faves, Tottenham and Chelsea, not to mention plucky teams from footballs perceived heartlands. Could be Newcastle next season as well.
    I suspect that though he is inept, Riley needs the brain of a super computer these days to keep up with all the agendas he is under pressure to look after. Perhaps ensuring Arsenal are out of the equation is just the easiest starting point, I also suspect our owners offer less resistance to this treatment than some, and things might not change until the team gets good enough to combat this, we send the lawyers in or Wenger In his new role takes on aspects of the English game

  3. Almost every decision regarding a card is subjective.

    That means hey range in ‘obviousness’, if that’s even a word, ranges from 10% in your favour through 50-50 to 90% against.

    The problem is that a very large proportion of 50-50’s go against us, way more than 50%. In fact way more than 50% of decisions that are 60 70% in our favour go against us.

    The problem is because of the subjectivity of so many of these decisions it’s almost impossible to argue our case on an incident by incident basis. Take last nights 2 cards.

    Personally I think the Red was 50/50.

    It was a little late and a little high and just caught the player.

    I don’t believe it was reckless (as it was definitely an attempt to play the ball) or out of control (He was on his feet and at the last moment attempted to withdraw from the challenge) so not the worst foul I have ever seen.

    It was a Yellow/Red challange that if it had been left as a Yellow I think most people would of been ok about it, but I can see why he gave the red. But this is the thing, we KNEW as soon as the ref went to the monitor he would give a red. We knew we would be given no mercy.

    And that’s the point. We are so often held to much higher account than everybody else.

    Last night was a perfect example of how this works, and this refs history with us is a perfect example of how the long term statistics, rather than individual incidents, indicate how there is something very suspicious going on.

    Last nights stats:

    Arsenal 9 Fouls 1 Red 1 Yellow

    Liecster 13 fouls ZERO cards.

    Every one of those decisions were subjective, all across the range from 10% chance of a card, through 50/50’s, to 90% chance of a card.

    I would say Evens committed at least 3 fouls that were at least in the 70% to 80% chance of a card category. Some 50/50’s and some 10% chance of a card, and one was even a candidate for a red, YET the referee decided not a single foul was deemed worthy of a card of any colour. Not one.

    So last nights bias is clear enough, but when you look at his statistics over the 3 matches in which he has refereed us, his performance is quite honestly astonishing, if not disgraceful.

    This is how he has refereed us: We have been fouled 39 times over 3 matches and not one, not a single solitary one has he deemed worthy of a card. Not a single card for 39 fouls.

    Now given this referees average card distribution against EVERY other team he has refereed, over the ENTIRE season, is a card every 6 fouls (Thanks Mikey) that statistic against us is absolutely ridiculous.

    Anyone who wants to claim that is not cheating better have a damn good explanation for that absolutely extraordinary anomaly.

  4. When we had nothing to play for we had a few matches with decent refereeing. But since we won at Wolves we suddenly looked like having a chance to go in to Europe again and hey suddenly the PGMO accolites gives us the usual hard times again. The red card was ridiculous. No outstretched leg from Eddie who in fact retracted his leg in to a bend position and thus couldn’t be accused of going in hard. This was a desperate ref who was trying to find a way to help Leicester to at least a point.
    Strange also that the last weeks Leicester seemingly had been found out and got yellow cards at a common level compared to the rest one could say. But yesterday it was back to their good old days… just when they played Arsenal. Must be a coincidence….

  5. The blatant bias was clearly evident in last night’s match. Leicester committed foul after foul, including a number of quite dangerous fouls by Evans in particular, many of which should have been enough for a yellow card and one or two which could have been red. No cards were awarded. Plus the fairly blatant deliberate Vardy kick into Mustafi’s face! – no action taken.

    Then Arsenal sub comes on and commits what looks like an accidental and possible reckless foul and gets a yellow, which I felt was harsh. Then, to make sure that Arsenal are penalised further, there followed the VAR episode. My guess is that the VAR ref could not conclude that a red was justified, so match ref took matter back into his own hands and barely glanced at the screen before issuing the red. Why was VAR even consulted? If it took so long to sort out, how could there have been a clear and obvious mistake in the first place. As for the rest, if Vardy’s goal was not off-side, neither was Lacazette’s. – we were not shown the VAR check on that one, most likely because it showed that he was not off-side. Mustafi’s subsequent yellow was just a continuation of the message that different rules apply to Arsenal

  6. Mandy Dodd

    “I also suspect our owners offer less resistance to this treatment than some…”

    Spot on.

    But not only them, on last night, they bent over backwards to justify the referees actions.

    Don’t get me wrong I like the guys on there, especially Adrian Clarke who I believe to be a brilliant analyst, but he and the rest of them are utterly complicit in the way they are allowing us to be constantly screwed by referees without a word.

    On the back of this complicity our players are not only being harshly treated but seriously injured as opposition players continue to scythe us down with impunity.

    They must know these Kavanaugh statistics as much as we do, it’s their job for pities sake.

    So okay, let’s say they are restricted in the level of critisism than can voice but come on don’t defend the indefensible.

    Come on lads you have a duty to these players. Grow some cajones, say it like it is, and help our boys get a fairer crack of the whip.

  7. You hit the nail on the head in your final paragraph Tony when you refer to, “the unusual applications of the laws that we sometimes see in the Premier League”. How does a team that tackles less and fouls less end up with the most cards. In one or two games possibly but (as we are constantly told) it should even out over a season!

    If you check out the ‘whoscored’ website there are some tell tale signs for me. They show cards for ‘fouls’, ‘unprofessional’ and ‘other’ although they don’t define what other means.

    The average number of cards given for fouls is 44.9 and we have received 51 so about 14% above average. Not great given we commit a little over 1% more than the average number of fouls.

    The average for ‘unprofessional’ are quite small and average 2.9, we have received 4; 38% above average but one less takes as to average so, like I say, too small to be significant.

    But when we get to other it becomes more interesting. The average is 11.6 and here we find Liverpool and Leicester with just 11 between them. That may seem reasonable as winning teams will have less reason to complain, cheat, etc etc. You’d think! But the bottom four teams for receiving cards of this type are Liverpool, Leicester, Southampton and West Ham. So no correlation at all between success and cards for ‘other’ offences.

    So how well did we do for ‘other’ cards. Well there’s the rub. The second highest were Tottenham and Brighton with 15 each some 29% above average. And let’s put that in perspective, Leicester (5) and Liverpool (6) received about half the average.

    So what about Arsenal I hear you ask well received 24. YES 24! Nine more than any other club, almost five times Leicester, four times Liverpool and 107% above the average.

    What I have yet to find out is what ‘other’ means. But whatever it is are really twice as bad as the average and five times worse than Leicester. I very much doubt it. And this is where the key difference is. Yes we are treated more harshly in terms of fouls per card but ‘other’ is the problem.

    Perhaps one of the referees among us can tell me what offences there are apart from fouls and ‘unprofessional’. In any event, it suggest to me that this is an area where it is likely to be one of complete ‘discretion’. Hence easier to give without applying the rules even evenhandedly. Stuff like, delaying the start of play, unsporting behaviour, time wasting, kicking the ball away, dissent. All utterly arbitrary where the ref makes a deliberate choice and cannot be criticised. The one thing that is certain is that it certainly does not all even out in the end!

    The interesting thing is, we got the highest last year too, five times that of the lowest who were…….Liverpool….who also got the lowest the year before that too.

    It’s a funny old game!

  8. Naturally its all unfair, those nasty refs biased against Arsenal. In reality tackling is a skill like any other. Generally players don’t tackle correctly as often as they used to, so they are more likely to get booked. Arsenal are particularly poor in that regard so they pick up a lot of bookings for sheer clumsiness. Maybe Arteta just needs to spend some time on the training pitch getting his players to understand when and how to make a tackle.

  9. @ jod

    I take it you are not a statistician. neither did you read my last post. Please do so. You will then realise that what you have said has very little to do with the facts.

  10. jod

    Even if you are correct about the ‘clumsy’ way we tackle, which is stretching things beyond breaking point at the very least, how do you explain Kavanaugh’s wildly anomalous take on tackles AGAINST us ?

    -He gives a card on average every 6 fouls across the premiership.

    -We have been fouled 39 times on his watch and he has not issued a single solitary card.

    He goes from an average 1 card for every 6 fouls against every other team, to ZERO cards for 39 fouls against us.

    Are you saying as well as being poor at tackling we are poor at being tackled?

    Or that teams tackle other teams in a much worse fashion than they tackle us ?

    Or that EVERY tackle out of those 39 was not a foul ?

    These stats have been poor for us for years, as many articles on UA have shown.

    Are actually saying all our different players over 15 plus years, under different coaches and different managers have all been ‘clumsy’? Really?

    Explain please.

  11. Football – God vs Devil
    God and the Devil were having an argument and Devil proposed a football game between heaven and hell to resolve the dispute.

    God, in his eternal goodness, pointed out that it would not be a fair match because all the ‘good’ players go to heaven.

    The Devil smiled, replying: “Yes, but we have got all the referees!”. (;-), but for AFC => (:-(( ,

  12. Sorry small correctio:

    “Or that EVERY tackle out of those 39 was not a foul” ?

    Should of read:

    “Or that EVERY foul out of those 39 was not a card” ?

  13. i agree with every word nitram has written
    most of all, i rue the sheepishness of the club. i like adrian clarke a lot as well myself, but we all know that his soon-to-come “breakdown”, and the “stats” part in particular, won’t even allude to the numbers you and mikey have mentioned. and what’s arsène doing?? can’t he just speak up and help out mikel a little, now that he himself is out of harm’s way. our (the fans) voices are blowin’ in the wind; HIS voice, if only he chose to relentlessly harass the pgmol con men, every time they tricked us (ok, that could turn into a fulltime job), would echo, loud and clear (and would enrage the petty columnists who turned up with such a title as “arteta bemoans …”).

  14. @LeGall,

    I believe the issue with Adrian Clarke, and anything published under an Arsenal FC responsibility cannot criticize referees…. it would be like the coach saying after last night’s game : clearly the referee is a total incompetent and unable to understand the concept of fair officiating, of neutral attitude.

    That would lead to immediate ban by the PL for a few games and some money fine as if I am not wrong happened to Mr Wenger once in the last years.

    Then, all those supposed fans and supporters writing on their blogs, if instead on taking out their ire on young footballers who do their best would really start using their platform to talk about that problem – the refereeing – maybe it would start something. Because what Tony describes happens not only to Arsenal, but to other clubs as well. But then, if they were supporters and fans, they’d be defending their club instead of trying to destroy it.

  15. Wengers actions currently, an interesting one. Who knows? Not exactly sure of his remit, but i have read he has had meetings with Riley (would pay to see Rileys face there) and has put pressure on IFAB to tighten up VAR and ensure refs are allowed to use monitors next season (not that it helped us this week) , this would be directly against Riley, or those who pull his strings wishes.
    To quote Richard Keys from his blog “I’m keeping some gun powder dry because I’m assured change to VAR is coming – it will have to or the PL are going to lose their IFAB licence to operate it – but it will count for nothing if Riley isn’t removed from his post”
    If Wenger is acting he will be subtle, patient, and pressure might be indirect, he wouldnt want to compromise himself or Arsenal.
    But look out for no English refs in the Euros and World Cup, if that happens again, a damning statement from above on the state of english refereeing. if riley survives that, it is because Utd, Liverpool the new FA exec, perhaps still Scudamore, or the even more unpleasant want him there,
    I also wonder if it is possible if the powers that be in our game know exactly what wenger is capable of, or even now up to up to and how he will change things, and Arsenal are paying the price with increasingly awful refereeing decisions as the cosy privileged, PGMOL protected English clubs lash out
    Pure speculation of course, but I would be amazed if wenger is able, he didnt create a whole world of trouble for riley and his masters anywhere dishonesty rears its head, he owes them

  16. Unlike the media, politicians and Mike Riley, the numbers don’t lie.

  17. you’re right chris, but how long has it been since we’ve been raging against the pgmo?? to what avail?
    now, we’ve got the var, and it’s worse than ever.
    what an adrian/arsenal fc action would do, would be to publicize our anger, to give a powerful echo to it, to bring the vampire into the light the fa and the media have shielded it from so far
    these are tactics activists know well, of course – and it would be a fight indeed, maybe with bans, fines, as you’ve just said, but then we should not abide by the bans and/or not pay the fines, we should … fight!! until the problem’s properly tackled, on the basis of facts (the numbers nitram and mikey have mentioned, the very facts tony has been compiling for years)
    otherwise, this passion for the game, for the club, ends up being pointless. it’s exhausting actually, our first half yesterday was exhilarating, i was so proud of mikel and his boys, but today only the bitterness remains: you wake up with a bad taste in your mouth, as would people after having faked enthusiasm for an election under a dictatorship
    as for the fans, you’re right again, I often wonder how we could organize – there are sometimes rivalries between fans’ blogs I can’t put my head around – well, put up some kind of class action joining together ”real” fans , the “club defenders” as you’ve just named them … but, the fact remains, chris, to actually change things, we would need the club’s and /or a powerful figure like arsène’s support, imo.

  18. Unfortunately, I did not see the first half, so missed the better part of the game. I also just switched on when Mustafi was being treated, so did nto see that incident either.

    The ref bias is so obvious, and hits you in the face, and yet there appears to be nothing done about it.

    They showed the Vardi goal a number of times in slow motion and each time it was clear that the ball moved downwards as it passed Perez, which must mean that he touched it.

    However, was he not in an offside position when the ball was kicked and he went for the ball, and so was offside? Then when Perez touched it, Vardi was in an offside position.

    Did we not have a game earlier on this season when the scum scored even though Kane went for a ball when he was in an offside position, but it was not given because he did not touch it?

    Surely, if you move towards the ball when you are in an offside position, you are offside?

    AS to the suggestion that our large number of yellows is because we have so many young players, can that not be checked, ie, can someone provide a list of the players who have had yellows and how many and we can see whether that is correct?

    Finally, what about the number of times our players have been fouled? Is that number known?

    If it is, how does it relate to other teams?

  19. When Mustafi was fouled by Vardi, there seemed to be two parts to Vardy’s movement. The second part involved Vardy accelerating the lower part of his leg to strike out at Mustafi. It is strange that VAR didn’t look at that a second time.

  20. Going Going Gooner.

    You are correct that the boot in Mustafi’s face was not the accidental outcome from the momentum of Vardy’s fall

    It was caused by a separate movement, initiated when he was already on the ground. Therefore should have been red for violent and dangerous conduct. Then he would not have been on the pitch to score his offside “goal”

  21. @ mick shelley

    Just watched the link. Thanks for that.

    As I have commented on that page. There are only two possible explanations for this. Corruption or incompetence. The inconsistency (incompetence at best) was pointed out by the commentator and on the website. But where’s the outcry in the media?

    Surely this has to be grounds for an appeal against Nketiah’s red at the very least. I’d love to think that it would form part of the evidence in a court case against the PGMO but I’m certainly not holding my breath.

  22. Mikey
    It is good to find a site willing to highlight the Tarkowski assault in relation to Nketiah’s but I completely disagree with their description where they say the fouls are similar. They clearly are not, Tarkowskis raised boot was nowhere near the ball and was deliberate, dangerous, delivered with force and designed to hurt the unfortunate recipient. By contrast Nketiahs contact was plainly accidental whilst attempting to play the ball and mild by comparison with the Burnley thugs actions.
    I hope like you that these anomalies can be presented to the tribunal as evidence at appeal but if they can I suspect they will not affect the outcome which is almost certainly going to be a guilty verdict. Arsenal can be shown no mercy.
    Wouldn’t it be great if Riley and his referees had to face the press after a game and try to justify how some of these appalling decisions are arrived at.

  23. I am still amazed at how corrupt PIGMOB and other organisations are.

    I cant watch the EPL because the refereeing is so bad. Having watched the video of Tarkowskis foul I am not surprised he only got a yellow card. After all it was a northern team and they “only foul accidentally”. It also helps that all of the PIGMOB refs are from the north of the country. BTW I agree it was a straight red – he knew what he was doing.

    I watch La Liga, I will add it is not perfectly refereed, but they appear to be more consistent with their decisions regarding cards. VAR also appears to be taken mush more seriously excepting the furore at present regarding Real Madrid.

    Another league that appears to going the way of EPL is the Bundesliga – did anyone see Jerome Boateng against Dortmund not give away a penalty for a blatant handball! I noticed BT Sprout pundits blamed the Dortmund team for not protesting. Why have VAR when you don’t use it all the time. In a delicious twist of irony Dortmund gave away a penalty in their next game for, you couldn’t make this up, for handball!!! To add to this they also had a goal disallowed for for a ball hitting the shoulder of a player. This was, ironically, courtesy of VAR.

    I have a belief that when officiating is biased the players know it. They realise that complaining will do no good and if they do they will be carded and or banned “for bringing the game into disrepute” – so they just accept things.

    Even in Germany it is very, very rare for their refs to be criticised. I don’t remember much made of Felix Brych being sent home after having a shocker in the last world Cup when reffing Switzerland – Serbia. Apparently he ignored VAR when a Serbian player was wrestled to the ground. He was sent home the next day.

    It really is becoming obvious that independent referees are required at the top level of the game – I don’t hold out much hope when gambling companies appear to be the biggest sponsors of the sport.

  24. @Mickey – it is not incompetence or anything other than corrupt. The PGMOL are totally corrupt in their officiating, and it all starts with Riley.

    The media do not respond until there are several voices raised as in the penalties on the 9th July. Man U’s Fernandes should have been red carded for dangerous play rather than given a penalty for his foul on Konsa.

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