By Tony Attwood
In essence there are two approaches that clubs can make when they find themselves in the sort of situation Arsenal currently are in.
One approach is to do what they have done before. For example in Arsenal’s situation this means getting rid of the manager, bringing in a completely new support team, and then signing lots of players.
The other is to replace players when a new talent becomes available at a good price and change the way the club is playing.
The first of these approaches is simple: we see it recommended day after day in the media and it failed after Mr Wenger was moved on, and after Mr Emery was moved on. The current squad of players are blamed for being useless, and the manager is blamed for having recruited them and he is removed. Just as before.
But endlessly changing the squad unsettles the team and leaves them unsure of what they should be doing. Plus it can lead to the ludicrous position this season of having two players who are not even listed in the 25 man squad.
Yes, occasionally it can work, as when Mr Wenger was brought in, but most of the time it doesn’t. Quite often clubs have to try it half a dozen times before they get it right, by which time they have often been relegated at least once.
On the other hand clubs can consider option b) and are looking beyond the symptoms to find the underlying problem. Clubs that do this are generally happy to let journalists chatter away about replacing the manager and the players, not because they want to make such a change, but because it acts as a cover while they get on with the real tactical work.
Indeed sometimes clubs welcome and even encourage the mindless blathering of journalists because it sends a focus to an issue that the club is not going to deal with, while leaving them to get on with the real issues it is seeking to address. Seen this way, the chatter of journalists and bloggers can actually be quite helpful as a smokescreen, stopping others in the game (especially referees) from seeing what the club really is up to.
The statistics that Untold is now presenting each week, covering tackles, fouls, yellow cards and penalties, represent the core of what clubs look at, and they reveal the tactics of the top teams.
As the table shows, clubs are trying to get that extra edge by using their knowledge of how referees react in order to get the advantage they need.
Just how this can be done was examined in July this year as we looked back at the strange story of Leicester during the 2019/20 season. In December 2019 they were second in the league, six points ahead of third place, nine ahead of fourth, 14 points ahead of fifth.
By the end of the season they were 19 points behind 2nd place, and four points behind 3rd and 4th, themselves lurking in fifth. From second place in December to 19 points behind second place by the end of the season is one hell of a collapse.
The standard answer from defenders of the club is that this was due to injuries but a look at results shows this is not so, the decline started far earlier.
What we see is that in the first part of the season they were tackling and rarely getting penalised. In the second half, they were still tackling more than others, but getting penalised the same as anyone else.
So what happened if it was nothing to do with a change of personnel?
First, we know that in the Premier League some referees get to oversee the same teams over and over again. So it is quite possible that quite innocently they get used to the high tackling level of certain teams, and just let it go. They know they will be criticised if they call every other tackle as a foul, and after every five or six fouls call a yellow. So they ease up. Then having done that for one player in the team, they are obliged to do it for the next.
In this scenario the referee ends up giving fouls and yellow as often for the team delivering large numbers of tackles as he does for the low tackling team. But as a result, the team tackling all the time gets away with far more. Taking 10 or 12 fouls to get a yellow, rather than five or six.
In short in this scenario there is no conspiracy by PGMO, it is merely the overwork of the referees doing too many games. They attempt to be even handed but it means that teams that tackle a lot get away with much more.
Second, let’s assume referees that until we pointed it out they didn’t realise that Leicester were picking up one penalty a game through one player adopting the tactic of suddenly running in the opposite direction from that expectedl, colliding with a player in the area, and so getting a penalty.
The solution for Arsenal is twofold.
First, study the referee stats and adopt the Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham approach and get in more fouls per yellow card. Plus do some rotational fouling, while instructing the players never to protest and in effect stay invisible in terms of the referee.
Second work for penalties in the Leicester style of last season and the first eight games of this season, but don’t make the Leicester mistake of doing it every game. Just when a single goal can deliver two points more.
It’s cynical, and it’s not fair play football, but the Premier League left fair play behind years ago when it signed its eternal agreement with PGMO, agreed to refs being immune from interviewing, and demanded referee non-disclosure clauses both while refereeing and for the rest of their lives.
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal
- How European football has taken up the fight against clubs breaking FFP