The incredible hidden change Mikel Arteta has brought about at Arsenal

by Tony Attwood

OK I won’t keep you waiting, in case you don’t want to read my article.  The change is we are tackling far less and thus getting a much lower number of yellow cards.

Arsenal last season were hampered by one very significant factor that bloggers, journalists and broadcasters simply would not touch with a barge pole (or another other implement).

Arsenal got yellow cards.  More than anyone else in fact.   And worse than that, more than double the number of yellow cards that Leicester City and Liverpool each got.

Leicester City for example got 41.  Arsenal got 86.

But really, were we twice as dirty as Leicester City?  You’ll have to make up your own mind, but that is what the referees said.  We were the dirtiest team in the League.

But now this season, Arsenal’s number of yellow cards per game has dropped dramatically from 2.26 per game to 1.57 per game.  A drop of over 30%.

However one other team has been affected the other way.   Leicester’s yellow cards has more than doubled – they are now running at the rate that we were running at last season!

Obviously such figures are extraordinary, and I wanted to know why so I started to compare tackles – since tackles although not the only way to get a yellow card, are seemingly the most common way.

Leicester’s number of tackles per game was way above everyone else’s; now it has dropped to Arsenal’s level last season.  Arsenal’s tackles however have gone down much further.

However this is not a general trend, as we might find if PGMO offered a new diktat concerning fouling.  If for example, we look at Manchester City’s figures, they are very similar both in yellow cards and tackles for last season and this.

But it is Leicester’s numbers that are weird (just as they were last season).  Their number of tackles has gone down but their yellow cards have more than doubled.  That is odd.

Leicester per game Arsenal per game Everton per game Man City per game
Tackles this season 15.33 12.42 19.00 13.00
Tackles last season 19.52 15.36 17.65 13.53
Yellows this season 2.67 1.57 1.57 1.5
Yellow last season 1.08 2.26 1.84 1.58

As noted above, we already knew that Leicester last season were the big tacklers, tackling far more than anyone else – at least until just over half way through the season when in fact they suddenly changed their tactics and then went sliding down the league table as their results fell apart.   But even allowing for that change of direction (which as we showed last year had nothing to do with injuries), their tackling level was the highest I can find in the stats.  This season they are down by about a quarter.

But the number of yellow cards for Leicester has shot up dramatically – it is running at more than double last season.  On that basis Leicester are now two and a half times dirtier (judged by yellows) than they were last year.  And that is weird.  Tackle less, get more cards!  That is strange.

Arsenal’s tackling is down to around 80% of last season’s level, and this is having a real effect that we would expect – our yellow card rate thus far is running at under 69% of last season.

Everton’s tackling rate has gone up by about 7.5% but the yellow card rate is running at around 84% of last season.  Another oddity.  Maybe their new manager has taught them how to tackle better.

As for Manchester City, as you can see their tackle rate and their yellow card rate is much the same.

Now looking across the figures, Arsenal have managed to pull their yellow card rate away from the top zone and placed it alongside Everton and Manchester City.   Leicester’s yellow card rate however is running as wild as a virus that isn’t listening to the telling off the Prime Minister appears to want to give it.

Of course at this stage of the season, accumulating yellows doesn’t matter that much, but if Leicester carry on like this they are going to lose half their team to suspension.   So what is going on?

I would guess Arsenal have learned from last season’s lesson, and have reduced the number of tackles considerably and now work much harder to anticipate and intercept – something that doesn’t get yellow cards.

Of course we know that Arsenal’s results are not showing a vast improvement as yet, as a result of this change, and our league position could get worse if Manchester City and Leeds win their games in hand.  But this sort of tactical re-arrangement does take time, and we may not see the new arrangements really winning us games for another month or so.  But overall this should be rather beneficial.


2 Replies to “The incredible hidden change Mikel Arteta has brought about at Arsenal”

  1. The PGMOL do not just issue yellow cards for bad tackles. They issue yellow cards for being on the pitch and for being off the pitch!! Auba got booked for leaving the pitch and being assaulted by Matic in direct view of the Referee. Strange that Auba got booked off the pitch but Matic was probably given a bonus.

    The Yellow Card is not a true measure of fouling. It is a measure of bias the official has against a team in this league.

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