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How is the drive to cut tackles, fouls and yellow cards going this season?

By Tony Attwood

One of the great problems with instituting a large number of changes in a squad across one transfer window, is that it then takes the incoming players a long time to adjust to at least some of these factors…

a) living in a new country often with a different language

b) working with a new team of players

c) the way the manager wants the game played.

d) the particular approach of the media in this new country

e) the unique way the referees work in this country

f) the fans and the length of time they will give new players as they attempt to settle down.

This can lead to poor starts to the season, as indeed we saw last season, where after one third of the games had been played we were 15th and certainly looking possibles for relegation.

In the second two thirds of the season, as you may recall, Arsenal recovered and for that period performed as the second best club in the league.

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However it was felt that further changes were needed to be made to the team, and Arsenal has again had difficulties, not least because Mr Arteta has introduced a particular style of play that dramatically reduces the level of tackling.   Which wouldn’t affect us too much if it were not for the fact that we have brought in a new set of defenders.

So although this new “no tackling” approach was phenomenally effective in the last two thirds of last season, we are in many regards starting all over again, both with the players getting to know each other and with the radical implications of this new style of football.

What makes the matter more complex for incoming players is that the media never mentions the tactical change, largely because the rapid uprise in Arsenal’s results in the last two thirds of last season, was not on their agenda.  Indeed as we have seen, most of the media still don’t accept that it happened, and prefer the Daily Express’ vision that Arsenal started well, but faded badly!!!

So we’re looking with interest at how the new defence is coping with the “don’t tackle” approach.  This little table shows how tackles have changed between 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/2 – the current season still, obviously, a work in progress.  All figures are per game.

Tackles 2019/2020 Tackles 2020/21 Change between seasons Tackles 2021/2 Change between seasons Change between 2019/20 and 2021/2
15.36 12.00 -22% 13.5 +12%  – 14%

Thus in terms of tackles between 2019/20 and 2020/21 we cut the level of tackles by 22%.   But so far this season the number has crept up by 12%.  This means that although we have slipped back a little, undoubtedly because of the new defence, we have not lost all the gains, and are still down by 14% on the mega tackle season of 2019/20.

With more solid work it would seem quite likely that  the new defence will quickly learn their way into the approach that Arteta wants.

Let’s see next how this is affecting the level of fouls given against Arsenal…

Fouls 2019/0 Fouls 2020/1 Change between seasons Fouls 2021/2 Change between seasons Change between 2019/20 and 2021/2
11.07 9,07 -18% 8.5 -6% -30%

This is a terrific achievement, and suggests that either Arsenal are being treated more leniently by referees, or that such fouls as are given against Arsenal are for minor infringements.  Given that the whole approach that we saw last season was based around cutting fouls down, it would seem most likely to be the latter.

However, when we come to yellow cards…

Yellow 2019/0 Yellow 2020/1 Change between seasons Yellow 2021/2 Change between seasons Change between 2019/20 and 2021/2
2.26 1.23  -45% 1.5  +21% -34%

Although the yellow cards and tackles are up, the fact is that the figures are not as reliable as they will become later in the season, as we are measuring a very small number of yellow cards (1.5 per game)  and so any variability could make quite a different.

The target of course is for the club to get the lowest figures in each category: lowest tackles, lowest fouls against, lowest yellow cards.

In tackles per game, the team that has the lowest number at the moment is Aston Villa with 12.75.  Arsenal are within one tackle of this level.

In fouls per game the lowest number is achieved by Leicester at 6.75, almost two fouls fewer than Arsenal per game.  Last season Arsenal committed the lowest number of fouls in the league.

So clearly, as two years ago, Leicester are reaching extreme levels and taking this approach even more seriously than Arsenal.

In yellows per game Liverpool and West Ham are on 0.5 – Arsenal are currently running at three times this level.  This is a major change from last season where Arsenal had the fourth lowest number yellow cards of any team in the league.  But as noticed above, these are early days.

All in all I would say this is a very satisfactory start to the season given that we have a new defence in place.  Our tackle and yellow card level is up, but the numbers are low and it is possible that in the coming weeks, with further training, we will sink back to lower levels of cards, which will enable us to keep more players on the pitch at all times.

Last season’s key data tables

Understanding Arsenal’s start to the 2021/22 season

13 comments to How is the drive to cut tackles, fouls and yellow cards going this season?

  • Chris

    Off topic,

    the idiots in the french TV box saying their stupid things, but this one just supersedes all others.

    Barca are down 3-0. So the so called expert starts a rant against Barcelona, saying from memory, yeah this is all nice and fine to field a team of youngsters, but you can’t do that, thisis not serious, you can’t win games like this, blabla bla…

    Now considering what everybody knows, I just don’t understand the criticism…. what the f..k can barcelona do if they can’t afford experienced players anymore ? Not play ?

    And then finding it funny that the public seems to show irony at the situation, how right they are…

    Yeah, I mean why did the young Barca players even start the game considering how young and inexperienced they are…

    What was that song again ? I want it all, I want it now

    Anyway, so even Barcelona get criticised for playing young players even though they don’t have a choice. Arsenal are not alone….

  • Chris Sutton was co-commentator on BTSport for the Barcelona game.

    Listening to him advising us of the errors in Barcelona’s tactics and play was the ultimate irony (and torture, it has to be said).

  • gunner1578

    Well im always fascinated with the statistics you put up and very impressed with what arteta has tried to instill on this front, but my major concern since the first few months I saw arsenal play under arteta is the lack of organization and coordination in attack, we are so focused on attacking down the left hand side through tierney, I would have backed the tactic if he had someone like giroud/abraham(we were linked)/calvert lewin (linked again) etc but our forwards are not good in the air it is obvious, and for the cut back crosses the only one who might score is Pepe, because mostly arteta doesnt allow people from midfield to run into the box like ramsey used to or like wenger had employed during his reign (mostly). Another example is the ridiculous similar routine from kick off where the kick off ball goes to the midfielder who looks for a diagonal to tierney who has to get into an aerial duel, considering tierney himself is not very good in the air, we almost certainly lose the ball each time…
    Looking at the norwich game, we employed the same tactic and found it hard to score, but ended up scoring from an initiation of pass from half line in to the classic #10 position where Saka was stationed, and had a one on one duel which he won, passed to pepe who again was on a one on one and almost scored if not for a terrific tim krul save…

    All i want arteta to do is to select a starting 11 which he thinks would work and stick by it for a few games, and try to mix it up in the attack, currently we are very easy to defend against. and its been the same during his regime… I was reading the comments from Balogun’s brother in an article, i dont know if that was exactly what he said but its true, We cant fault balogun/nketiah/martinelli for not being able to score or get into the game much when the more established forwards aubameyang/lacazette/pepe are struggling in arteta’s system…

    So there you have it, Im not currently arteta out and im all for continuity and patience, but if he cant change our attacking game, all the stats mentioned above are absolutely meaningless as far as i see…

    Sorry for the long comment.

  • Mikey

    Slightly OT.

    I see one of our finest referees excelled himself last night. One Anthony Taylor, one of the refs highly regarded within the PGMOB tried to send off a player for one yellow card believing it was his second. Almost akin to Graham Poll, another highly regard official, who failed to send off a player until issuing him with a third red card.

    So will this trigger an investigation, suspension or sacking by Mike Riley? Of course it won’t………what a ridiculous question. Taylor will be back in charge of another high profile English game within days and if it gets any mention at all by the media, it will be with a chuckle or some excuse about refs “only being human”.

  • Mikey

    Correction: “third red” should, of course, read, “third yellow”

    Blimey I’m that incompetent perhaps I’m an ideal candidate to become an EPL ref!!

  • mick shelley

    Does this article recognizing rough tactics against Arsenal players from indicate a change of direction or is it a one off….

  • Mick that is written by one of their slightly experimental writers – I think the pieces are used to see if there is a change in attitude going on among fans. But do remember the Daily Mirror and Football.London are all part of the same organisation, so they can run their anti-Arsenal in the Mirror, and just test the water with FoLo to see if there is a demand for pro-Arsenal articles.

  • Michael Ram

    I do feel that Arteta is a tactical genius. His strategies to overpower teams are things I’ve never seen before. However, could it be the reason of overdoing it? His constant barking and yelling from the sidelines to adjust minimal position of players might irritate most grown men. I do feel that the freedom of expression from high calibre players are needed to grow the team. Football is not a chess game, it’s field game with high emotions and physically straining. Maybe I’m wrong but I hope the team will get better and improve the league position this season.

  • Nitram

    mick Shelly

    You said Wow.

    Can I just add WOW WOW and WOW again.

    I have never read an article like that about us ever. Honestly I’m stunned

  • mick shelley

    Stunned sums it up nicely!
    I must admit that I wondered whether I was fast asleep and having a dream so I pinched myself to make sure I was actually awake.

  • mick shelley

    Are you saying that the article was not born out of a genuine concern that Arsenal are being mistreated, and that they are only thinking of the potential benefit to themselves in terms of hits to their website.
    Surely they would not be that cynical would they!!!!!

  • Mick I think most writers and publishers on the internet are interested in the audience they get and like to see it rise. But some balance this with a concern to put forward information that is not widely available elsewhere. Others just want numbers.

  • From – “Arsenal the latest to cry foul as agenda against Burnley borders on the farcical”.

    This headline, and the ensuing “journalism” is in response to the article by referenced above.

    Somebody actually bothered to create an account on to point out the error of their ways, but there was no response forthcoming.

    Burnley haven’t received a red card in their last 97 Premier League games, and it isn’t surprising when referees like Atkinson are prepared to accept the thug life.

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