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May 2021
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Tackles, fouls, yellows, goals… how Arsenal and Sheffield United match up

By Bulldog Drummond

Arsenal remain the lowest tackling club in the Premier League – Sheffield United have engaged in 35% more tackles than Arsenal during the course of this season.  Although not as many as Leicester City who have put in 46% more tackles than Arsenal.

Team Tackles Fouls Tackles/foul Yellows Fouls/Yellow
Sheffield United 490 372 1.32 57 6.53
Arsenal 363 278 1.31 41 6.78
Leicester 530 315 1.68 52 6.06
Liverpool 407 303 1.34 33 9.18

What is so interesting however is how the referees then treat the clubs.  Sheffield United, Arsenal and Liverpool all have fouls called in the same sort of order – between 1.31 and 1.34 tackles results in a foul.  But Leicester can get away with 27% more tackles than other teams before a foul is called – giving them a huge advantage in defence.

But then look at the yellow cards that result.   Arsenal have clearly learned their lesson and are slowly, through the season, tackling ever more carefully, and have 41 yellows.  But Liverpool who have committed 25 more fouls than Arsenal still have eight fewer yellow cards.

It is when we see the final column we can see the staggering benefit Liverpool have in every game – they can commit 9.18 fouls before getting a yellow card.  Mere mortals like Arsenal are on 6.78.

This is a staggering difference and one that the media utterly refuse to engage with, for the simple reason it casts serious doubt on what is going on between referees and Liverpool.  Remember this is fouls against yellow cards – so the referee has already called the fouls, and yet he persistently won’t give out yellows when the foul is committed by a Liverpool player.

Maybe Liverpool have developed the ultimate in rotational fouling – maybe Arsenal should look and see what else is to be learned.

But to return to the Arsenal match.   Both Sheffield United and Arsenal are penalised for tackles by fouls in the normal way, around the 1.32 level of tackles per fouls.  But Sheffield United either haven’t learned how  to play the referees or they really are a bunch of hearty roughs who deserve all those extra cards.

Sheffield United get more yellows than anyone else in fact…  Here is the top 12.

Pos Club Yellow cards
1. Sheffield United 57
2. Fulham 56
3. Newcastle United 53
4. Leicester City 52
5. Manchester United 50
6. Aston Villa 48
7. Everton 48
8. Leeds United 46
9. Southampton 43
10. Wolverhampton Wanderers 43
11. Tottenham Hotspur 42
12. Arsenal 41

For what it is worth, my view is that Arsenal have realised just how they can get themselves done over by the referees and so have amended their style of play, by cutting right back on the tackling.   We now tackle less than any other team, in order to keep the players on the pitch.  But this survival has come at a price in terms of how effective the defence can be.

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Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 31 23 5 3 66 21 45 74
5 Chelsea 30 14 9 7 46 30 16 51
9 Aston Villa 29 13 5 11 42 31 11 44
6 Tottenham Hotspur 30 14 7 9 51 32 19 49
2 Manchester United 30 17 9 4 58 33 25 60
3 Leicester City 30 17 5 8 53 34 19 56
10 Arsenal 30 12 6 12 40 35 5 42

I am still surprised at how much the “experts” ramble on about our defence, when across 30 games we have let in just five more than Chelsea, despite having the handicap of how refs treat us.  If one wants to start sorting out Arsenal then the way to do it is to amend the attack where we are 18 goals behind the second best attack in the league after 30 games.

And that is what we are doing with the use of Odegaard, Smith Rowe and Saka.  For me all this talk of changing the whole team round and needing “at least six” new players (a story that has been doing the rounds since 2017) is nonsense.  The defence is, even in a poor season such as this one, within a few goals of the second best team in the league.  If we need something new it is one new player in the attack.

But this should not worry us too much against Sheffield United – the goal difference between the two clubs is 17 goals across the season, which suggests maybe a 2-1 win.

The proof that something is seriously wrong with football refereeing and reporting

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