How half of last seasons top 8 are tackling more but fouling less!

By Tony Attwood

“…the Arsenal hierarchy seem to have opted for a different, almost riskier approach, investing in six young talented players who will no doubt take time to bed in and flourish in red and white.

“The risk stems from the fact that Arteta, along with technical director Edu, have opted for a long-term strategy when Arsenal’s glaring issues are very much short-term, the north London outfit crying out for some ready-made additions to strengthen a decline that seems to hasten with every passing match-week.”

That is from the Mirror, and it raises some interesting issues.   Let us start at the end with “a decline that seems to hasten with every passing match-week.”

Let’s look at Arsenal’s last ten games shows six wins, three defeats and a draw.  

Date Match Result Score Competition
02 May 2021 Newcastle United v Arsenal W 0-2 Premier League
06 May 2021 Arsenal v Villarreal D 0-0 Europa League
09 May 2021 Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion W 3-1 Premier League
12 May 2021 Chelsea v Arsenal W 0-1 Premier League
19 May 2021 Crystal Palace v Arsenal W 1-3 Premier League
23 May 2021 Arsenal v Brighton and Hove W 2-0 Premier League
13 Aug 2021 Brentford v Arsenal L 2-0 Premier League
22 Aug 2021 Arsenal v Chelsea L 0-2 Premier League
25 Aug 2021 West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal W 0-6 League Cup
28 Aug 2021 Manchester City v Arsenal L 5-0 Premier League

Of course we have the problem of introducing new players into our squad and introducing them to our unusual tactics of cutting out tackling, while also accommodating the radically changing tactics of other teams..

This is of course another topic that the media don’t like, generally feeling that tactics is too difficult an issue for their readers to grasp.   But that’s a shame since our regular analyses of tackles and fouls is already showing some strange features this season.

For example, Chelsea are putting in three plus extra tackles a game this season, but the fouls against them are coming down by two fouls a game!

West Ham are going tackle crazy putting in just under 4.5 extra tackles a game, but the fouls against them are also down.

Tottenham’s tackle rate is up slightly, but the fouls against them is down by almost three fouls a game!

Last season, we worked hard to squeeze tackling out of our game, and yes out of the top eight clubs in the league last season Arsenal were right down at the bottom when it came to tackles – thus giving referees far fewer excuses to award fouls and yellow cards against them.

But now Manchester United have started to follow this tactic, cutting their tackling rate by 3.5 tackles a game.   And already it is having an effect reducing their fouls per game by 1.89.

Thus in keeping the tackling right down and trying to squeeze it out further, Arsenal and Manchester United are following a similar pattern, removing the chance for referees to penalise them.

But the vagaries of the referees are deeply ingrained.   Chelsea’s tackling rate is going up and up, but the number of fouls they are called out for are going down and down.  The same for West Ham and for Tottenham.   Tackles up, fouls down.

Now we established some time back that the tackle is the key element in getting a foul given against you.  Not the only way of doing it but a main way.  So what is going on?

Certainly Manchester United could be feeling aggrieved at the moment and Chelsea and West Ham must be laughing  their heads off.  I’m not suggesting referees are being bought, but that old belief among refs that Chelsea and West Ham are clean football playing teams which leads to giving them the benefit of the doubt over tackles, really could do with being looked at.

So what now?   Arsenal are clearly changing their entire defence around, and as a result are having to instruct the new comers in the ways of PGMO, its variable attitude to tackling and the Arsenal approach of cutting tackling out.   And indeed this is what was taken advantage of by the opposition in the first three games.

But as the new players are instructed in the Arsenal “cut out the tackling” approach  so the referees will be forced to reduce the number of fouls against the club, and matters should improve. 

2021/2 tackles pos Club Tackles per game 2021/2 Tackles per game 2020/1 Up or down Fouls per game 2021/2 Fouls per game 2020/1 Up or down
6. Chelsea 19.33 16.10 +3.23 7.67 9.92 -2.25
10. West Ham United 18.00 13.52 +4.48 8.67 9.66 -0.99
12. Tottenham H 17.30 16.73 +0.57 8.67 11.55 -2.88
13. Liverpool 15.33 13.8 +1.53 11.00 10.42 +0.58
14. Leicester City 15.00 17.92 -2.92 7.67 10.95 -3.28
15. Manchester City 14.66 13.1 +1.56 8.67 9.50 -0.83
19. Arsenal 12.67 12.00 +0.67 8.33 9.08 -0.75
20. Manchester Utd 11.00 14.50 -3.50 10.00 11.89 -1.89
Tackles are the main way of having fouls given against a team.  Thus the two “up or down” columns should (all things being fair and equal) move up or down together.  Yet this only happens in about half the cases.
The tactics files

One Reply to “How half of last seasons top 8 are tackling more but fouling less!”

  1. The clarity of this approach is that cutting out the tackles is removing a plank of the referee’s authority. At a stroke the referee as the paramount arbiter of the game – the game as it is being played, the game as a series of shifts and scenes and moods, the game as a series of balance points where the game can be lost or won, the game as a lesson in how to inhabit time, the game with its final scoreline written into the final whistle – is taken down from his pedestal. He becomes, like the fans, a spectator to the ingenuity of the players and the fluctuations of the spectacle.

    A bold move from Mr Arteta. It is not entirely unheralded, unforeseen. In the first seasons of Cruyff’s Ajax we spoke of the possibilities opened – a game without physical contact, where the transference of the ball from one to the other and back again was due to the ingenuity, technique, skill, consciousness, of the players. Always lurking there was the ”English Problem.”

    Physical contact. Transference of the ball by hard physical tackle. This summed up in that wonderful phrase -”He robbed him of the ball.” The historical longevity of the ”English Problem” relayed by another description of soccer, ”Rugby by another name,” and with it, all the underlying attributes attached. You’re a ”weak tackler.” You’re ”shifty.”We ”know everything about your kind.” And so on.

    Nobody else, obviously, had the ‘English Problem.’ In the classic phrase of a former union colleague married into a family from Naples, ”In Italy a footballer is a professional.”In England the footballer is the offspring of the communities slaughtered in the Somme.

    The genius of Sky and the echelons of football was to devise a package for TV built on the highlights of the ‘English Problem.” The referee from Leeds, Mike Riley, saw how he could sustain the power and the position of PGMO, maintain his position, advance the earning capacity of the EPL, by one elegant manouevre – make the Ref paramount. That automatically meant no refs from London.

    The game as a spectacle, evolved out of the English Problem, has to have one ref, and that one ref has to be capricious, wilful, in his decision making. The game is about the Ref. His mood. His moodswings. His face. The camera is always on him.

    Taking out the tackle opens for the ball to be moved in space with the players’ actions creating a choreography for the transference of the ball and a future to take place. The referee huffs and puffs and facilitates behind it, a spectator, the spectacle in front of him and around him.

    Should Mr Arteta succeed, as he will, the video of the end of the Invincibles will be examined as the birth of Riley’s Empire and the last wave of what had to be overcome.

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