Arsenal kick off the league season against Brentford. It’s going to be rough!

By Bulldog Drummond

Brentford FC crest.svgTackling is a matter of contention in the Premier League,  as we discovered after we observed the antics of Leicester City in the season before last.  Leicester, you may recall, took tackling to an industrial level in 2019/20 and got away with it for a while – then were suddenly reigned in by the men of the PGMO with their curious and quaint little ways.

On 6 February 2020 we published “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards” with a follow up article on 26 February “What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?” – two articles which turned out to be the start of a long journey.

But what we have not considered until now is the level of tacking in the Championship and the number of tackles that a player might get away with before a foul is called in that League.  Is it the same as in the Premier League?

Now, with our opener being against a promoted team, and with our being drawn away to industrial West Bromwich in the League Cup, this is the time to ask, and the answer turns out to be… no.

A quick comparison between Brentford last season in the Championship and Arsenal in the Premier League shows a considerable variance.  The figures are taken “per game” as in the Championship clubs play 46 rather than 38 games.

Team Tackles per game Fouls per game Tackles per foul Yellows per game Fouls per yellow
Brentford 13.6 12.5 1.09 1.04 12.01
Arsenal 12.0 9.07 1.32 1.23 7.37

In short, Arsenal were better tacklers than Brentford last season, undertaking 1.32 tackles per foul compared to Brentford’s 1.09 tackles per foul.  And yet despite delivering fewer tackles, cleaner tackles and fewer fouls per game, Arsenal got more yellow cards per game than Brentford last season!  And not just by a fraction.

The figure as you can see is 7.37 fouls to get a yellow card from Arsenal against 12.01 fouls to get a yellow from Brentford.

The lunacy of the difference in standards of refereeing is revealed not only by Arsenal getting more yellows per game, but being allowed to commit fewer fouls before picking up a yellow card as shown in the final figure.  Brentford could get away with 63% more fouls than Arsenal last season before getting a yellow card.

And it is interesting I think, that we often hear criticism from match commentators about refereeing decisions outside of the UK, and how foreign referees don’t always understand the game – although we hear nothing about different levels of refereeing within the Engish leagues.

To be clear, looking at the figures from the Championship, my impression is that this is not primarily a Brentford thing, but something that has spread through the Championship.  Referees are in fact much more forgiving (or if you prefer much more lackadaisical) in the Championship than in the Premier League –  although fans of Championship clubs often themselves complain about the refereeing they see.

I also wondered how well Arsenal traditionally did against teams in their first season in (or back in) the Premier League.  This table shows the results for the last three years.

Team and year promoted AFC Home results in promoted clubs’ first season AFC Away results in promoted clubs’ first season
Leeds 2020 Won 4-2 Drew 0-0
West Bromwich 2020 Won 3-1 Won 0-4
Fulham 2020 Drew 1-1 Won 0-3
Norwich City2019 Won 4-0 Drew 2-2
Sheffield United 2019 Drew 1-1 Lost 1-0
Aston Villa 2019 Won 3-2 Lost 1-0
Wolverhampton 2018 Drew 1-1 Lost 3-1
Cardiff C 2018 Won 2-1 Won 2-3
Fulham 2018 Won 4-1 Won 1-5

So that is 18 league games over the past three seasons against newly-promoted teams.  The results for Arsenal have been

At home:   Won 6; Drawn 3; Lost 0

Away:   Won 4: Drawn 2; Lost 3

In total, 10 wins, 5 draws, 3 defeats.  So the odds tomorrow are pretty much in our favour although it is true that Brentford were more effective at home than Arsenal were away last season.

In the table below I’ve added an extra column at the end to even out the different number of games played.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts % pts
Arsenal away 19 10 3 6 31 18 13 33 1.73
Brentford home 23 12 9 2 39 20 19 45 1.95

Brentford had a very good run-in last season which took them into third place and thus into the play offs with no defeats in their last dozen league games, getting six draws and six victories. Their best win was a 0-5 away victory at Preston.

They will be on a high, and full of promotional vim and whatnot.  We need to be careful.

More anon.

Looking forward: 2021/22

2 Replies to “Arsenal kick off the league season against Brentford. It’s going to be rough!”

  1. you’re definitely onto something with this leicester tackling business – keep devoting all your spare time to it

  2. No need to Oli; most able to comprehend basic statistics who are interested in football are aware what’s going on. What’s interesting now is the way that reality deniers are trying to kick the issue out of the debate.

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