How Arsenal beat Leicester: tackles, fouls, yellows, and the referee

By Tony Attwood

There is a little piece about the weekend’s Arsenal match in the Guardian which reads…

“Brendan Rodgers looked glum at full time. He looked even glummer as the man from Radio Leicester informed him the airwaves were already alive with callers asking if Leicester City were about to repeat the collapsing act of last season.”

He would have looked even glummer had he seen the tackles, fouls and yellow cards statistics, because they showed a most amazing statistic.

Normally Arsenal get away with 1.25 tackles before a foul is called.  In this game Arsenal could commit three tackles before getting a single foul.

In other words at the very basic level fouls called for tackles, Arsenal were suddenly, out of the blue, getting penalised far less often, while Leicester were getting penalised far more.

This is the second major change that has happened to Leicester.  The other one was that earlier Leicester were getting so many penalties they were looking like they would double the all time record for the number of penalties awarded in a season.  No penalty in this game.

Of course their manager would have none of  this, he talked about injuries.  And yes they do have a fair number, and we don’t have many, but consider how often it has been other way round.  If Mr Wenger ever complained about injuries he was told to stop whinging, and blamed personally for causing the injuries through his training methods.  (Barney Ronay in the Guardian blamed Leicester for not buying enough players).

But actually it wasn’t about this at all.  It was a simple solution: Arsenal once again played to the referees whims, cutting the number of tackles dramatically, and so removing most of the chances for the ref to hand Arsenal yellow cards.

Leicester were still favoured in terms of yellow cards (committing 10.71 fouls per yellow, while for Arsenal it was 3.0) but they repeatedly gave Arsenal free kicks by committing 15 fouls in the game – one every six minutes.

Prior to the Leicester game the figures looked like this

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 291 233 1.25 36 6.47
Leicester City 439 257 1.70 45 5.71

This gave per game figures as below, each club having played 25 games

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 11.64 9.32 1.25 1.44 6.47
Leicester City 17.56 10.28 1.70 1.8 5.71

So those figures in the table immediately above are what we should expect from an average game.  They are what we would have seen if the game had been exactly as the figures over the first 25 games of the season predict.

Leicester are the club with the third highest number of tackles, and so we saw another big number – 21 in a game.  But their foul level shot up.

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 9 3 3.00 1 3.00
Leicester City 21 15 1.40 2 10.71

Arsenal, already tackling less than anyone else in the league because of the insane number of fouls give against them, cut the tackling further, putting in nine tackles as against the 12 expected.  As a result of this further retreat the referee responded as we have suggested they might, by noting so few tackles that they hardly got round to giving fouls.   Fouls as we have noted, are given for repeated tackles.  Arsenal only put in nine per game.  Thus only three fouls were given against us – a real bonus.

Leicester responded to what they probably perceived as a weak Arsenal team by tackling even more – ending up with three more tackles than the already high number expected.  15 fouls in a game is an extraordinary number considering that they normally only have around 10 in a game.

As we can see the referee duly responded to this quickly getting fed up with their insane level of tackling and so reducing the expected rate of tackling per foul down to 1.40. from the 1.70 we had seen before.

Let’s spell this out.  Arsenal knew that Leicester would tackle twice as much as they would, but only get about the same level of fouls given against them.  So, as we happened to suggest (although I am not going to say Arsenal read Untold) Arsenal are cutting their tackling and hence their fouling thus reducing yellow cards.

As a result, as the Leicester tackles continued to fly in, the contrast between the two clubs was glaringly obvious even for a PGMO official.  More and more Leicester tackles were given as fouls, thus helping Arsenal.

Is this playing to the referee cheating?  That isn’t the issue because playing to the referee is what Leicester have been doing for two seasons – two years back being able to put in double the number of tackles of other clubs with hardly a yellow card to show, this season getting more penalties than imaginable – at least until we pointed out what was happening.

Now, with us having highlighted the penalty fiasco and what Vardy is doing to get one, we are able to highlight this tactic, and again referees are rushing to remedy their earlier bias (thanks to some very sharp eyed observation from our pal Ian).

This seems to be the way forward for Arsenal.  We are being penalised by referees.  So we need to study the way the opposition are using tackles and fouls, and how referees are responding, and then do everything possible to ensure the referee is aware that we are watching, while adjusting our play.

We can’t do much more than this, but there is now more than a hint that when we do it, referees are going to reign in some of their successes.

How referees are being bribed to accept VAR decisions

2 Replies to “How Arsenal beat Leicester: tackles, fouls, yellows, and the referee”

  1. Vardy’s attempt to get a penalty by his usual trick of tripping himself up on an opponent’s legs, fortunately did not work when he tried it with Mari. Ref was OK on that occasion.

    Ref was more like the normal PGMOL performer in allowing LC left-back several deliberate bad fouls before issuing a yellow card, telling Xhaka off for being the victim of a bad foul, and booking Tierney.

    On a separate point, no notice taken of Evans fouls on Lacazette, including the bear-hug in the penalty area, nor of Smeichal’s bad behaviour.

  2. The cheating is the failure to apply the rules consistently and refereeing teams differently in order to promote different outcomes for different teams.

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