By Tony Attwood
In 2019/20 an Arsenal player was given a yellow card for every 4.9 fouls the team committed. In fact Arsenal had to commit fewer fouls than any other club for each yellow card they got. The size of the difference between Arsenal and other clubs can be seen by the fact that Leicester had to commit 10.2 fouls for each yellow card they got.
It clearly was an enormously debilitating factor for Arsenal during the season, hampering the defenders who knew that they the yellow cards were going to come in thick and fast.
And it was not that Arsenal committed more fouls than other clubs, so in the end the referees were giving them yellow cards to for repeated fouling. Seven clubs committed more fouls than Arsenal – but it was Arsenal that was getting the most yellow cards. Indeed as we noted above, Leicester had to commit more than twice as many fouls as Arsenal to get a yellow card.
This astonishing figure has come about through a decline in the number of fouls Arsenal have to commit each season in order to get a card. To show how far this has moved we can note that in 2015/16 Arsenal had to commit 8.97 fouls in order to get a yellow card – this season it was 4.9.
It is probably not a coincidence that when Arsenal could commit 8.97 fouls per yellow that the club came in 2nd in the league. By 2017/18 Arsenal got a yellow card after every 6.72 fouls and we had dropped to sixth in the league table. The following year we only had to commit 5.72 fouls to get a yellow, and this past season as noted above it was 4.9 fouls to get a yellow as we sank to 8th.
The cause of this can be debated. For example, have we started to employ players who are less able to manage their performance? Or is it that we are just employing players who are unused to the strange ways of referees in the Premier League? Or have the refs just decided to get Arsenal for some reason?
It is probably one of those reasons – unless you really believe that all these things happen by chance alone – in which case there is probably not much point watching football.
Certainly our sinking to 8th in the league while rising to being top of the table as measured by the number of fouls it takes to get a yellow card has coincided with a significant change over in the playing staff of the club. New players can take a while to adjust to the unique approach to refereeing of the PGMO.
Given that our long-running campaign to expose the strangeness of refereeing in the Premier League (same referees handling the matches of the same clubs over and over etc) is one that the media utterly refuses to consider, it is unlikely that these odd stats are going to become what the media loves to call “a talking point”.
Indeed looking through the statistics year by year I can’t find any case of a club having statistics like Leicester’s this season of being allowed to commit 10.2 fouls per card in the last ten years. When Arsenal were in the enviable position of being able to commit the most fouls before getting a yellow card (2015/16 when we also came second in the league) the figure was 8.97 fouls per card. The leap up to 10.2 fouls per card is utterly astonishing.
But leaving aside Leicester’s “good fortune” in being able to commit fouls but simply not get cards, it is clear that Arsenal have got to change their game to accommodate the activities of PGMO.
This past season Arsenal committed 11.08 fouls per game, virtually the same as the 11.0 fouls per game by Leicester. Yet Arsenal ended up with 86 yellow cards, more than any other club in the League. Leicester got 41 – under half Arsenal’s total.
Obviously getting a yellow card affects a player, in that having got the card he knows that a) the referee is watching him and that b) he cannot afford to make any mistakes of timing a tackle etc. That changes the player’s game and of course affects the defence.
Changing the approach of the defence can be done for as we have seen in 2015/16 Arsenal got fewer yellow cards than anyone else (39). It is not an issue at all as to whether the yellow cards are justified or not. Arsenal is being hampered by the fact that we get yellow cards far more readily than other clubs. Indeed as our earlier articles comparing yellow cards to tackles show, it doesn’t even have anything to do with the number of tackles either.
Giving Arsenal yellow cards is how PGMO is playing the game at the moment. Yet we were able to outsmart the referees in 2015/16 and we need to do it again next season. In fact we need to do it again this weekend too.
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