How Tottenham used the Leicester’s model to become masters of the gentle tackle

By Bulldog Drummond

Over the past ten years Tottenham, in league games, have committed 4031 fouls, compared to 3767 fouls committed by Arsenal.  A difference of 7% more fouls by Tottenham.  Hardly significant.

In terms of yellow cards Tottenham have had 618 and Arsenal 591, meaning Tottenham have had 4% more yellow cards than Arsenal.   Again a difference that is hardly something to get too excited about.

However, that is the average over ten years, and some years have been a little less well balanced.  Indeed last year was rather different.  It was the year Tottenham did a Leicester.

Across the league matches against all other clubs, last season Tottenham committed 94 more fouls than Arsenal, thus suggesting they were playing a different type of game – especially in the last two thirds of the season after Arsenal had got their tactics sorted out and their fouling rate declined dramatically.

Tottenham last season got a yellow card for every 8.28 fouls they committed.   Arsenal last season got a yellow card for every 7.34 fouls committed – a tougher referee response against Arsenal, but maybe just a blip, because across the ten years Arsenal have got a yellow card for every 6.3 fouls committed.  Tottenham have got a yellow card for every 6.5 fouls committed.  

So that difference across the ten years is so small as not to be noticeable, and yet…

Something changed last season.  Back in 2019/20 the number of yellow cards for the two clubs was almost identical (86 Arsenal, 82 Tottenham) and the number of fouls was incredibly close (423 by Tottenham and 421 by Arsenal).

So two seasons ago Tottenham got a yellow card for every 5.2 fouls, while Arsenal got a yellow card for every 4.9 fouls.  Hardly worth noting.

But last season, everything turned upside down.  Here are the figures…


Club 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Grand Total
Arsenal 374 360 348 377 350 397 383 412 421 345 3767
Tottenham 340 342 403 441 452 432 384 375 423 439 4031

Yellow cards

Club 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Grand Total
Arsenal 64 42 53 68 40 68 57 72 86 47 597
Tottenham 43 55 66 79 72 62 50 56 82 53 618

Last season Arsenal got a yellow card for every 7.34 fouls while Tottenham got a yellow card for every 8.28 fouls.   Either Arsenal’s fouls are nastier than Tottenham’s, or referees throughout last season referees were 9% more lenient on Tottenham than they were on Arsenal.

That was an interesting stat so we went a bit further and did what we did the previous season, and looked at the statistics that revealed Leicester’s extraordinary approach last season.

We compared tackles, fouls and yellow cards – which gives us the complete picture.

Club Tackles Fouls  Yellows Tackles/fouls Tackle/yellow Fouls/yellow
Arsenal 456 345 53 1.32 8.60 6.51
Tottenham 636 439 47 1.45 13.53 9.34

Put this way, Tottenham tackle more before they get a foul against them, tackle a lot more before they get a yellow card against them and foul more before they get a yellow.  And that is where we found the anomaly. 

Tottenham put in 13.53 tackles before getting a yellow compared to 8.6 tackles committed by Arsenal.   They commit 9.34 fouls before they get a yellow compared with 6.51 for Arsenal.

In fact this is a direct copy of the trick Leicester City were pulling two seasons ago where they used tackling at an industrial level as a tactic, seemingly certain that the referees would penalise them so rarely that it hardly mattered.  

Here are the two years and the two teams compared

Team Tackle/ Fouls 2019/20 Tackle/Fouls 2020/21 Fouls/ Yellows 2019/20 Fouls/Yellows 2020/21
Tottenham Hotspur 1.79 1.45 4.46 9.34
Arsenal 1.61 1.32 4.32 6.51

To remind you, the Leicester City fouls to yellow card figure for 2019/20 reached an unprecedented 9.48, and amazingly Tottenham almost got there last season.  It could be a coincidence, but it seems unlikely.

But the tactic rebounded on Leicester when the tactic was publicised and suddenly referees started penalising them far more regularly, in the way that other teams were penalised.

Certainly to allow one team to commit 9.34 fouls before a yellow card is brought out, while another can only get away with 6.51 fouls would only be fair, if the team getting away with 9.34 fouls was committing very gentle fouls of no real significance and the other team were committing more industrial tackles.  Of course you may feel that is true, and that would explain the figures.

I don’t have enough TV analysis to tell me if that is the case.  But maybe Tottenham indeed are the new experts at the art of the gentle foul that is not worthy of a card, as Leicester thought they were.   That certainly seemed to be what Leicester claimed in 2019/20, but once the figures became public they found themselves being penalised much more.

Or maybe you can prove anything with statistics.  Since I use stats in my work I don’t believe that.  And interestingly, in the Leicester case, I don’t think the PGMO did either.

These are the articles that traced our discovery of that Leicester situation and what happened soon after…

“How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”

“What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?”

Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league


6 Replies to “How Tottenham used the Leicester’s model to become masters of the gentle tackle”

  1. What a ridiculous silly article. Put it this way, spurs are just better than Arsenal. Simple.

  2. Or maybe it’s because Arsenal have players that don’t know how and when to tackle properly or don’t want to go in for a challenge.
    Weak defensive minds? Probably

    Not a very thought out article really

  3. Birdman there are of course many possible explanations, and one can only go for the most likely. You explanation would seem unlikely in that much the same defence was operating the previous year with different tactical results. The most important point really is that with this new tactical approach in place for the last two thirds of the season, Arsenal were the second most successful team in the league – which doesn’t quite fit with your view. But thanks for putting a real email address when replying – sadly several possible comments I could publish didn’t provide that.

  4. Tommy, while my article was full of evidence – as indeed were the previous articles that took us to this point, as well as the articles on Leicester in the previous examination of the issue, your reply contains no info at all. One might say “what a ridiculous silly reply” but one would be far to polite to engage in such commentary. But thank you for providing a realistic email address, unlike a number of other commentators today.

  5. How bolshi are these Spurs fans since they won the league last November.

    Maybe this season they’ll try and win it May when it actually counts.

  6. Spurs fans obviously need to divert attention from their own current internal industrial relations difficulty!

    One area in which they are undoubtedly “better” than Arsenal is in deceiving referees.

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