The statistics that prove referees have been unfairly targeting Arsenal

By Tony Attwood

Perhaps because they were too busy talking Liverpool and Manchester United, perhaps because they didn’t know, or perhaps because PGMO told them not to mention it, but Sky Sports yesterday failed to discuss something rather curious and very concerning about Arsenal v Newcastle United last night.

And that is that this was a match between the two clubs that have to commit fewer tackles than any other clubs, before they get a yellow card.  In charge was David Coote (pictured)

Now before the game the Daily Telegraph took its typical pro-referee view saying “Ill-discipline has been a major issue for Arsenal and Newcastle in 2020-21, with Monday’s hosts picking up 27 yellow cards and the visitors receiving 32. Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin and Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden lead the way on the individual front, picking up six yellow cards each.”

But what they refused to note (exactly as Sky did) was that the difference in the number of tackles Arsenal and Newcastle put in before they pick up a yellow, when compared to the rest of the league, is really significant and clearly must be affecting their playing style.

So far this season Arsenal pick up a yellow card after every 8.33 tackles. Newcastle get cards even more often – they get a yellow after every 7.50 tackles.   Here is the table for the league – a table which as far as I know, no one else has ever published.

Club Tackles Yellow cards Tackles per yellow
Arsenal 225 27 8.33
Aston Villa 292 27 10.81
Brighton and H 310 27 11.48
Burnley 224 23 9.73
Chelsea 266 27 9.85
Crystal Palace 309 25 12.36
Everton 295 30 9.83
Fulham 262 35 7.49
Leeds United 344 25 13.76
Leicester City 310 37 8.38
Liverpool 238 18 13.22
Manchester City 218 22 9.91
Manchester U 276 29 9.51
Newcastle U 240 32 7.50
Sheffield United 313 37 8.46
Southampton 346 27 12.81
Tottenham Hots 296 22 13.45
West Bromwich 278 23 12.80
West Ham Uni 258 21 12.28
Wolverhampton 287 29 9.86

Compare Arsenal’s figures with the clubs in red – Leeds, Liverpool and Tottenham.  They are getting away with nearly twice as many tackles as Arsenal before they get a yellow card.

As a result they can take more risks, and put in more dodgy tackles and they can do so knowing that if clubs like Arsenal and Newcastle retaliate with more tackles, they will quickly pick up a yellow card – which will be even more to the advantage of teams that can tackle with impunity.

In short many other clubs know they can tackle, tackle and tackle, with the worst that happens is they get a foul against them, while if clubs like Arsenal try the same tactic of persistent tackling, they will start picking up yellow cards all over the park, and soon have a player sent off.

Thus Arsenal and Newcastle are having to play ever more cautiously, and this is in part what is causing them to struggle.  And is also probably why neither side got a single yellow card last night, despite the Telegraph’s dire warnings.  (Either that or the PGMO have realised we have tumbled what is going on, and they knew we were going to comment on it).

Of course you could argue that Arsenal and Newcastle players simply don’t know how to tackle, but as a person who watches a lot of football, I would have to disagree.

Instead we must remember Arsenal are not tackling all the time – as the chart shows only one team has put in fewer tackles than Arsenal (undoubtedly because Arsenal players know they are going to get carded more often than the opposition.)

The explanation is probably that referees consciously or sub-consciously see clubs in different ways, taking the view that, for example “Liverpool are not a dirty team” or “Sheffield United are kicking opponents”.  Such views circulate among referees, and because the Premier League has so few referees (compared to all the other major leagues) and thus the same referees tend to oversee matches with the same clubs, so these views influences their management of games.

Also, because clubs now have more data than ever before, and most employ a team of statisticians to watch what is happening, they each see how the opposition are being treated and they adjust their style accordingly.

These ideas emerged from the very strange figures we observed last season, with the way Leicester were tackling without getting fouls or yellow cards against them.  After we reported this in depth, the situation rapidly changed, and the cards started to roll in.

What we can see is that there is a huge range in the number of tackles club put in (Leeds have executed 119 more tackles than Arsenal so far this season), and although there is a big variance in the number of fouls each club commits (77 between the worst offender and the club with the least fouls), there is not a direct link.

So what can Arsenal do?

Whether you accept the theory that referees in the PGMO are taking a view on how clubs behave and therefore entering matches with a biased perspective, or not, the fact remains that Arsenal’s tackles result in them being penalised for a foul with yellow cards more often than every other club, other than Fulham.

Exposing PGMO tactics in having so very few referees available doesn’t help Arsenal, since other blogs and the mainstream media won’t touch the story.  Indeed as we saw above with the Telegraph, they turn the statistics upside in order to excuse the referees and knock Arsenal.

So we can expect no change from referees – unless…

After we made a big fuss about Leicester’s tackling, the refereeing of their games changed.  Likewise this season, after we pointed out how Leicester were getting so many penalties the number of penalties they have got has reduced significantly.

The only thing we can do, is point out the figures, and keep pointing them out.  Arsenal are committing far fewer tackles before they get a yellow card, than anyone else and as a result are making fewer and fewer tackles, which is hampering their play.

And remember, that observation comes from the official statistics.

8 Replies to “The statistics that prove referees have been unfairly targeting Arsenal”

  1. I actually thought Newcastle got away with 2 Yellow card offences last night towards the end of the match when they seemed to of just got really frustrated. Up until then they were decidedly reticent in their approach as you suggest.

    Considering how difficult things are for Newcastle at the moment, allied to how they must know what you can usually get away with against us, I thought they conducted themselves very well, at least as I say up until a couple of dodgy fouls at the end.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Newcastle, and I’ve always liked Bruce so I wish them well.

  2. I understand the point you’re making, but I’m confused by terms used. You shouldn’t get any yellow cards if all your tackles are good,so surely it’s FOULS per yellow that are the relevant statistic, not tackles.

  3. I read with interested, and no surprise what Bruce said about himself following Newcastle’s performance against Sheff Utd, that you reproduced yesterday. What resonated particularly with me was this:

    “The wonderful thing about Steve Bruce is his honesty as when he said, “I was never blessed with wonderful ability, same as management, but the one thing I expect is a reaction, show some pride in yourself, and never be afraid of hard work. At the minute, it is hard work, but you try not to get too down.”

    I am not academic. I have no ‘gifts’. But what I have is a decent work ethic instilled in me from a very young age by my wonderful father. The things I value most in life, in no particular order, are honesty, integrity, loyalty and hard work. Given my limitations I have done pretty well for myself and it is entirely on the back of those values my Father taught me, and it’s amazing how far those simple values can take you.

    I bet Bruce is a wonderful father, adored by his kids, which is way way more important than the sycophantic platitudes of a few moronic reporters who would not be fit to tie his bootlaces.

  4. …and we were also penalised for another foul throw yesterday. Cedric was the recipient this time. I have seen plenty of foul throws from other teams go unpunished this season.

  5. A few flying elbows aside, I thought the Ref was OK. I didn’t scream at him once, lol. As for the play, I thought they were calm and decisive, with pace. When they play on the front foot as they did in the second half they are a handful in attack. Anyone want a go at Tierney right now? Didn’t think so.
    Arsenal were moving the ball crisply as Smith Rowe and Partey knew where the ball was going before they received it. Out from the back, send the fullbacks on the flanks, cross. Simple and effective.

  6. Yes, I agree that if the PGMO are going to stop been unfair to Arsenal in their match officiating in the Premier League in Arsenal matches, but be just and fair to Arsenal. They will have to abandon their reigning anti-Arsenal match officiating stance that they have continue to visit terribly on Arsenal. And embrace justice and fairness as the norms in their officiating of Arsenal matches instead. And seen applying them for Arsenal in the PL.

    On another different topic that is unrelated to the article posting but still relevant to Arsenal Football Club. It is that since the Gunners have now recovered from the slum in form that they fell in into in their Premier League matches some past few weeks ago. But are now looking to be on the progress projetory as they’ve won 4 and drew 1 to garner 13 points out of the maximum 15 on offer for collection in their last 5 PL matches. Which is a very good outings in the PL that the Gunners have had.

    Nevertheless, having now seen that the PL season campaign has now reached the half-way mark and with Arsenal having already played 19 games out of the 38 that they will have to play in the campaign. However, the Gunners must have to step it up considerably in their 2nd half of the season campaign in their next 19 PL matches to garner almost the 57 points at stake for collection during this Period if not all to enabled Arsenal get the the PL table top-four spot that they are seriously desiring to attain this season after they have been unsuccessful at re-attaning the spot for the past five season campaigns.

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