Arsenal’s fouls dropped by 22% last season. Did it help?

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.

Team 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Total
Liverpool 366 372 410 385 422 397 344 315 331* 396 3738
Arsenal 374 360 348 377 350 397 383 412 421 345 3767
Soton 382 443 468 416 424 416 420 450 426 3845
Man C 384* 443 394* 445 409 395 344* 328* 361 361* 3864
Chelsea 403 371 420 382* 408 394* 363 340 386 433 3900
Tott H 340 342 403 441 452 432 384 375 423 439 4031
Everton 449 413 365 388 315 459 459 432 472 386 4138
Man U 367 361* 399 453 472 497 404 433 433 452 4271
Leicester   457 405* 451 365 351 418 416

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
2011/12 Manchester City 384 443 328
2012/13 Manchester United 361 497 361
2013/14 Manchester City 394 443 328
2014/15 Chelsea 382 433 363
2015/16 Leicester 405 457 351
2016/17 Chelsea 394 433 363
2017/18 Manchester City 344 443 328
2018/19 Manchester City 328 443 328
2019/20 Liverpool 331 422 315
2020/21 Manchester City 361 443 361
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

2 Replies to “Arsenal’s fouls dropped by 22% last season. Did it help?”

  1. An additional important factor is the difference between actual fouls committed and the numbers awarded by referees.

    My impression is that Arsenal commit fewer than are awarded and for others it’s the other way round. As an example, think of Kane’s ability to “buy” free-kicks by actually committing fouls himself.

  2. I seem to remember that Man City had a meeting with Pigmob a few years ago because they thought they were being unfairly penalised. Nothing was ever reported from the meeting. Maybe we are seeing the result of the meeting in the table above.

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