By Tony Attwood
Mikel Arteta tipped to “surprise a few people” with Arsenal in new Premier League season
So says, The Daily Mirror, in a radical change of heart and direction, although of course the Mirror is a little behind the times, given that the surprise came last season when he cut the tackles by 22%, cut the fouls given by referees against Arsenal by 18% and amazingly cut the yellow cards against Arsenal by a staggering 45%.
Another surprise then, and this one actually reported in the Mirror, rather that being utterly ignored? Wow!
But if Mr Arteta is going to go further he’s going to do something dramatic about our red card problem. Here is the red card listing season by season for the clubs with the most cards in the Premier League across the last ten years
|West Ham U||1||5||2||5||5||2||1||2||3||26|
If we look at these numbers we can see Arsenal are getting double the number of reds on average that Liverpool and Manchester United get. Which, irrespective of whether this is caused by referee bias or poor tackling, or saying the wrong thing, or anything else, is a very good reason to do something about it. Here are the average figures over the last ten years taking into account the fact that most clubs have not played ten consecutive years in the PL.
|Season….||Average red cards per season in PL|
|West Ham U||2.9|
When it comes to yellow cards we see a similar picture. Here we are not the highest but we are up there with clubs that perhaps we would not normally associate ourselves with. This is one of the tables that alerted us to the fact something odd was happening.
To reduce the size of the chart I’m only including clubs that were in the PL in 2020/21 – it is in the order of the average number of yellow cards each season.
Compare Arsenal’s yellow total in 2020/21 with the season before…..
The average number of yellow cards across all clubs in the PL in the last 10 seasons, whether they played in the PL last season or not, is 61.3, so Arsenal are just a little below average. But we can see that in the two seasons before that our yellows were out of control: 72 in 2018/19 and 86 in 2019/20. That had to be sorted.
And it was: with 47 yellow cards last season we still were not the lowest number of yellows: Liverpool, Brighton and Manchester City still beat us, but at last we had cut the number down to manageable proportions. Unfortunately the red cards went up, but I am fairly sure we are getting both under control with the no-tackling process at the same time. If reds go up again, I think some further analyses of which referees are handing them out is going to be in order.
Four views have emerged as to why Arsenal get as many yellows as they do:
1: Arsenal do genuinely commit more fouls – normally through undertaking more tackles.
2: Arsenal get the referees who hand out lots of yellow cards. (See “Shocking new referee statistics”). If the PL were a league in which each referee got each club twice, once home, once away, this would not matter so much, but Arsenal can get the same ref up to five times a season, and the refs we get multiple times tend to be the heavy handed ones when it comes to cards.
3: There is a view among referees going back to the George Graham days that Arsenal is a dirty team and thus need to be watched. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – Arsenal are watched, so any 50/50 case which might or might not be a yellow, gets a yellow. Liverpool are seen as clean, and so any 50/50 is seen as not yellow because “Liverpool are not a dirty team.”
4: The reinforcement of the media who note the number of yellows and never question whether all of them are justifiable. How many pundits would guess that over the last 10 years the only “big six” teams to have had fewer yellows than Arsenal are Liverpool and Chelsea? Certainly not the Daily Star.
If Arsenal are going to surprise a few people next season, then it will be by a combination of effects:
- Reducing the number of tackles
- Watching carefully who the referee is and adjusting accordingly (which I feel started last season)
- Creating a psychological view that Arsenal are not a dirty team.
That last point is difficult as clubs are forbidden from discussing referees, or the actions of referees suchy Arsenal are not allowed to discuss their reduction in yellow cards!
What we might get (although I hope not now I have pointed it out) is that after the third yellow card of the season, an anti-Arsenal newspaper or website or broadcaster will say “Arsenal make it 600 yellow cards in the last 10 years” and tell us how shocking that is, forgetting to say that Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham reached that figures last season.
Last point: yellow cards dropped by 15% last season, as some other clubs started to follow Arsenal’s “no tackle” tactics. It could go even lower this season. I wonder when the media will realise?
Thanks to James Curtis of Curtis Associates Research Ltd for preparing this data.
The statistical enquiry of 2021
- How tackling is changing in the PL and how it is affecting clubs’ position in the league
- Making up statistics about Arsenal is ok… until someone bothers to check.
- New fouls and yellow card data suggest refs are reacting to club ploys.
- Arsenal keeper to be replaced by 8 year old who’s never played football
- Everton v Arsenal: a happy video, line-up and what the league table will look like after
- Everton v Arsenal: Injuries, points needed for 4th, and Arsenal the first to 100?
- Everton v Arsenal: extraordinary figures seen in the last 6 games table
- Everton v Arsenal: how this referee treats the home and away team
- Everton v Arsenal and the oddity of referee behaviour