By Tony Attwood
In general terms the teams that commit the most fouls in the PL are those seeking to avoid relegation, which is not surprising. The teams that commit the fewest fouls are generally the teams that are pushing towards winning the league.
The league winner isn’t always the team with the lowest foul rate, but 40% of the time in the last ten years it has been the lowest fouling team. Only once in the last ten years has a team committing over 400 fouls in a season, won the league (Leicester with 405 fouls).
In the table below the top ten PL fouling teams in the last ten years are shown. Nine are the teams that of course have played in the PL for the last ten years – they have played more teams so they have committed more fouls. The tenth is Southampton who are the seventh most fouling team in the PL in the last ten years, despite only playing nine of those ten seasons in the PL!
Finally, Leicester has been added as we are also looking at teams that have won the title in the last ten years.
Each club’s most fouling season is marked in red, and the least fouling in bold black. These figures show the extraordinary change that we have been discussing in Arsenal’s tactics all summer. Arsenal moved from their highest number of fouls of the last 10 seasons (2019/20) to their lowest (2020/21) in just one season. A drop of 76 fouls from one season to the next!!! That’s how you turn a team around.
As you can see, of the seven teams that have played all the last ten seasons Liverpool have committed the least fouls, and Arsenal the second least (with just 29 more, which can be accounted for entirely by the season and a half Mr Emery was in charge – no one told him about PGMO).
But then we moved from our worst fouling season (2019/20) to our best (2020/21) in which we had fewer fouls called against us than any of the other major teams. This table shows clubs listed in the order of the number of fouls committed across the ten years. *indicates the champions.
Man U committed the most fouls last season – 107 fouls more than Arsenal!
Manchester United are also the top fouling PL team of the past ten years. Liverpool have been called out for the least number of fouls and Arsenal are second being called out for 29 more fouls (fractionally under 3 per season) than Liverpool.
The gap between most fouling Manchester United and least fouling Liverpool is 533 fouls, or a whopping 53 fouls per season.
So let’s look at the league winners and the number of fouls each season with a comparison of Arsenal at the foot of the table.
|Season||League winners||Fouls in season||Highest fouling season||Lowest fouling season|
|Arsenal overall …||421||345|
In short to be in contention for the title one needs to commit under 400 fouls. How clear an indicator this is can be seen from Manchester City’s line season by season. They have won the league four times in the last decade and each time with under 400 fouls.
Having the lowest number of fouls does not guarantee winning the title, but it is a help.
The average number of fouls committed by the league winner across the last ten years is 368. Of course just cutting fouls doesn’t guarantee the title, but it is a significant step in the right direction.
For two seasons Arsenal have been way above that number, but last season were right down to 345 fouls. And that decline came from the worst fouling season in a decade the year before (421 fouls), which explains why the opening of the 2020/21 campaign was so awful, seeing Arsenal drop to 15th, one third of the way into the season.
Of course the pundits don’t have a clue about any of this – you maybe remember the time when the BT Sport team covering the Emirates cup made fun of the 3 points for a win and 1 for a goal calculation, saying it was too difficult to understand.
But we put things right in the first third of last season and so now the club can build on this achievement of cutting out fouls (which had the knock on effect of cutting out yellow cards) by building up the attack.
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
- The Key Data Tables 2020/21
- Arsenal v Lens: the team, the home/away form and the strange coincidences
- Arsenal v Lens: they had a poor start but are now flying
- Where there is power, money and greed there is corruption
- Why do Tottenham players get fouled more than those of any other club?
- The media, the League and PGMO. An insidious agreement rears its ugly head