By Bulldog Drummond
We have often quoted the fact that in the last two thirds of last season Arsenal were the second best team in the Premier League using this table as evidence.
|4||West Ham United||24||13||5||6||41||28||13||44|
It is an analysis that has often been derided since “only the table at the end of the season counts.”
Now I find that interesting since when Arsenal have just played two games those same people seem to saying that Arsenal should get rid of their manager. So 24 games don’t count for anything, because they are not the whole season, but two games warrant changing the manager!
However what I find the most interesting question is why we did so well in those 24 games in the last two thirds of last season and then lost the first two games of this season.
I would say that losing a substantial number of players to injury and the virus, while at the same time undertaking a major rebuilding of the team, is a major cause. But set alongside this, is trying to explain to newcomers into the club, that when it comes to refereeing, the Premier League is in a world of its own. Changing managers, won’t change the referees, and the benefit we have at the moment is that we have a manager who understands referees.
(If you are interested in the debate about changing managers now, I thought this article from You Are My Arsenal was worth perusal. Here I want to stay with the impact of referees.)
So this weekend, thinking about Manchester City takes us back to the key topic of last season – tackles, fouls and yellow cards.
Last season Manchester City kept their number of fouls exactly the same as the season before: 361. And yet they managed to take their yellow cards down by 23%, which is an amazing achievement.
|Team||Tackles 2019/0||Tackles 2020/1||+/-||Fouls 2019/0||Fouls 2020/1||+/-||Yellow 2019/0||Yellow 2020/1||+/-|
As we have noted before, last season, following the way referees were behaving…
- 17 out of 20 clubs cut their tackling, but Arsenal did it the most.
- 7 out of 20 clubs cut their fouling, but Arsenal cut theirs the most
- 13 out of the 20 clubs reduced their yellow card rate, but Arsenal cut theirs the most.
So what about this season after just two games? I have selected not just ourselves and Manchester City for comparison but also Leicester (because it was their approach to fouling that triggered this enquiry two seasons ago) plus Southampton and Wolverhampton who are leading the way on fouls and tackles respectively this season.
|Team||Tackles||Fouls||Yellows||Tackles per foul||Tackles per yellow||Foul per yellow|
This shows the extraordinary difference between the ways referees handle tackles, fouls and yellow cards with each club.
Wolverhampton put in 2.58 tackles before a foul is called. Arsenal can only get away with 1.67.
Southampton can put in 22 tackles before getting a yellow card. Arsenal can undertake fewer than half that number before the yellow is shown. Are Arsenal really over twice as bad at tackling as Southampton? I rather doubt it.
But here is the real crazy figure…
For Arsenal it is six fouls, and a yellow is shown. Manchester City can get away with nearly twice that number – 10.5 fouls before a yellow is shown. However Southampton are the past masters at this: 13.5 fouls before a yellow is shown. Arsenal are more than twice as dirty as Southampton!!!! Really ?????????
On the basis of these figures, Wolverhampton have found the magic way of tackling without the referee seeing a foul and Southampton are the masters of putting in the tackles without a yellow being waived.
Of course I would not expect numbers to be the same for each club – but these are extreme variations, and it looks even at this early stage as if where clubs end up in the league will be decided as much by the way referees treat each club as by how well each club plays.
For there can be no doubt from these early figures, and the figures across the last two seasons, different clubs are treated differently by referees.
As Mr Arteta clearly decided last season, with the referees deciding that Arsenal tackles are more likely to be fouls than those of other clubs, and deciding that Arsenal fouls are more likely to be worthy of yellow cards than those of other clubs, we absolutely must drill into our new players that tackles need to be cut down to an absolute minimum.
It’s a tough call, but that is what saw us through the last two thirds of last season, and it is what our new lineup needs to learn again now.
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