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How Arsenal became the cleanest club in Europe but still got the points.

By Bulldog Drummond

We’ve been talking about Arsenal, referees and fouls for years, and in the past two seasons we have added some new statistics to the analysis.

Among these we have shown that Arsenal get penalised far more per foul than any other club in the League.  We suggested that the only way out of this was for Arsenal to cut down on the tackling, since most fouls are given as a result of tackles.

Most likely it was just a coincidence (although in my dreams I get a call from Mr Arteta saying, “I must thank you guys for pointing out the ratio of tackles – fouls – yellow cards”) but after we started publishing the figures, Arsenal started to cut the number of tackles, until now, the club tackles fewer times than any other club in the League.

Which in turn means Arsenal now gets penalised in terms of fouls fewer times than any other club in the Premier League.  Success!!!

The number of fouls we have to commit before getting a yellow card is still smaller than other clubs, meaning the referees still find a way to penalise this, and we’ll come back to these stats at the end of the season, but cutting the tackles has meant cutting the fouls down to a level where we are not losing games simply because we tackle as much as other clubs.

So we’ve felt rather happy about that bit of research.   But now the situation has gone further.

For now Football Observatory  has published the figures for “Foul frequency across Europe” – a set of stats I didn’t have access to, until they published it.   And wouldn’t you know it, their headline is…

Foul frequency across Europe: Arsenal stands out

Let me quote the opening of the article…

“How frequently are teams fouling their opponents across Europe? Issue number 338 of the CIES Football Observatory Weekly Post answers this question using the data provided by InStat. At the level of the five major European leagues, the lowest foul frequency was measured for Arsenal (one foul every 10’44”)…”

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So our notion that the only way to deal with PGMO referees who like to penalise Arsenal more than other clubs when it comes to fouls was to cut down the tackles, has resulted in Arsenal committing fewer fouls than any other club in a major European league!

They continue,

“… apart from Arsenal, the following teams fouled the least frequently: FC Barcelona (10’27”), Bayern Munich (10’19”), SSC Napoli (9’37”) and Nîmes Olympique (8’41”)”.

In fact even if we look beyond the big five leagues, no one is committing fewer fouls than Arsenal.  The lowest numbers anywhere that they measured were for FC Zenit and AZ Alkmaar (one foul every 10’07”).

Of course this has not been a perfect solution to the problem we face because of PGMO referees, as the unwillingness of the media to touch this data shows just how embarrassing this is for PGMO.

For although we get fewer yellows than most, we find that Chelsea, Brighton, Manchester City and Liverpool all get fewer cards than Arsenal, despite fouling more.  You might be interested in our article on unconscious bias of referees if you want to follow  this further.

But let’s compare how Palace, who we play tomorrow, and Arsenal, have fared through the season by taking our two marker points that we have used before: the situation today, and the situation on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day the two clubs had both played 14 games.  So that we can compare that position with now, I’ve converted the number of wins, draws and defeats into percentages of the games played, but left the Goal Difference as it was

Here are the Christmas Day figures

Pos Club (Xmas Day) P W D L GD
13 Crystal Palace 14 36% 21% 43% -6
15 Arsenal 14 29% 14% 57% -6

And the figures today

Pos Club (18 May) P W D L GD
13 Crystal Palace 36 33% 22% 44% -21
9 Arsenal 36 44% 19% 36% 12

As we can see, on Christmas Day Arsenal were under-performing Palace on everything except the goal difference.  We had a lower win percentage and a lower draw percentage, and a much higher defeat percentage.

Now Arsenal has a much higher win percentage.  While Palace’s win percentage has stayed pretty much where it was (going down just 3%) Arsenal’s has moved up by a staggering 15%.   And if we counted only matches since Christmas Day it would be, of course much higher still.

So once again the message comes through.  Since Christmas Day we’ve managed to keep our tackling level low, but have still managed to keep the goals against number down.

And that really is the story of Arsenal this season.   The policy was – stop tackling because tackling just leads to the referees having a reason to give free kicks against the club and give the players yellow cards.

But the policy change caused problems – which we were trying to come to terms with in the first part of the season.  And by Christmas Day last year the policy was working.  We could defend without tackling, which meant (given the PGMO policy) we could hold the defence and not get yellow cards.  It has worked!

(Oh yes, and we spotted the situation, but no one else mentioned it.  Not that we want to crow about it.  Except we do).

Arsenal v Palace – the history in videos

How referees influence games 

12 comments to How Arsenal became the cleanest club in Europe but still got the points.

  • Roger That

    Absolutely fascinating, and lends another perspective to issues not really clear until this data was made available.

    On another matter, can you understand why referees are so ‘loose’ in allowing throw-ins to be taken up to 10 metres and more from where the ball went out of play?

    The contrast between the above and accepting VAR decisions ruling goals out for Ofside by a millimetre of toe nail is simply extraordinary.

  • Roger That… I think the issue with throw ins is that the PGMO do try to keep the game flowing, and have gradually tried to differentiate between a pedantic sticking to the exact wording of the rules, and having the game flow – which is what all players, managers and fans actually want.

    So there has been a move away from having the ball at a corner inside the corner quadrant, which the rules say, and now they allow the corner to be taken when the ball is outside the circle but just touching the line.

    But there is a danger is this attitude in that it gives ever more leeway to referees, and if they have an inbuilt vision that Arsenal tend to take advantage of this too much, they come down on Arsenal but not the opposition.

  • Malaysian gunner

    Wenger wanted to play the Barcelona way. He recruited ballerinas who could easily be brushed aside
    Hopefully Arteta will get a Veira clone in md

  • mick shelley

    Malaysian gunner
    It was Arsene Wenger who brought Vieira to the club so he did not only buy ‘ballerinas’ as you put it.
    As an Arsenal supporter you surely should have known that.

  • Roger That

    Thanks for that, Tony, I had not considered that, primarily because it means that there is an element of giving an unfair advantage to the ‘throwing’ side, especially the nearer the throw is to the opposition penalty area.
    I’ve no doubt that the refs would argue it keeps the game flowing, as you say, and that these things are subject to swings and roundabouts, and tend to level up over the game.

    I might be a pedant, but the VAR is flawed, and throw ins are not subject to the Laws of the Game, and despite the toothpaste being sprayed on the grass, the free kicks are inevitably taken from the wrong spot.

    And finally, the flow of the game is stunted anyway by free kicks having to be retaken, if they are swiftly taken, causing the offending team to be unprepared to defend — isn’t that why free kicks are awarded??

    Your answer was very sensible, but I think refs are there to adjudicate whether a foul has occurred, or not, and they should not be arbiters as to what leniency should be applied when a foul (including a throw-in) has been judged to have happened – although that opens up the question as to what degree of punishment is appropriate where yellow or red cards are involved.

  • Roger – the big problem is that the refs live in their own world, debate it among themselves and are answerable to no one – so no one is able to debate with their organisation, the PGMO. This is what happens when an independent organisation gets absolute power.

  • Menace

    Wenger’s ballet on the football pitch was becoming of the beautiful game. His teams were tough but still had broken legs by the cowards that couldn’t take being beaten by ballerinas. I am a total Wenger supporter and I miss his wisdom and beautiful football.

    Those who couldn’t survive the beautiful game and had him leave Arsenal are cursed with forever not knowing how beautiful fourth place was to the balance sheet.

    I miss Wenger in every way he made our club so much like ballet on grass.

  • Had some furniture delivered the guy who delivered it saw my arsenal photos told me the biggest regret he had was joining in the wenger out crowd how he miss the football play by his teams i asked him why he joined he said he was persuaded by the media but especially talksports attacks
    But had started to read your blog and had his eyes open
    So there hope yet keep it going lads

  • Nitram

    Pault

    When I look back at the old games, the breath-taking football we played, is just that, breath-taking.
    We scored some of the most amazing goals I have ever seen.

    It would be nice to think that at least some of the Wenger out antagonists at least now appreciate what we had even if they don’t regret invoking his departure. Unfortunately my experience is that they haven’t changed a jot.

  • Nitram
    I once met one of the main men for wenger out he was about 22yers old I thought at the time of meeting him you must have only known wenger arsenal if only you had watch some of the teams I had seen in my long years as a gunner he would change his mine
    I said this to him and he was adamant that he and his other out pals were right i wonder if he still thinks this
    Probably does

  • Nitram

    Pault

    Yep probably. I find it very sad.

    My love and admiration for him will never waiver and I have put up many long and detailed defences of him on this very blog many many times and I doubt I have changed a single mind. But I will do it again and again whenever I feel the need.

    But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, it is Arsenal I love most. They have been a massive part of my life since I can remember and that will never change. No matter who is in charge or who plays they will always have my undying support.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I still am of the opinion that most who wanted AW out were morons , or at the very least not in full control of their mental faculities ! Time has proved me right , but I take no pride in it .

    Sometimes like, Nitram , when I watch old clips of us doing the business , I can scarcely believe that many of us have lived it. It brings a tear to me eyes ; and bile to my throat for the stupidity of others.

    They last time I felt this rush of elation was when Aaron Ramsey scored that goal at Fulham.

    But the screaming of Martin Tyler at almost each and every of those great goals, will
    remain etched in my mind forever.

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