By Bulldog Drummond
Arsenal are 44% more likely to have a tackle called as a yellow card offence than Burnley
Now before we begin we have to go over something that has cropped up before. That one cannot compare the effect of tackles between clubs and claim that is because of the referees, because some tackles are much worse than others. If Arsenal’s tackling is worse than other clubs, they should get more yellow cards – it is not the referees being anti-Arsenal.
This notion however is contradicted by the analysis we undertook of the referees that Arsenal had last year wherein we found that different referees would respond to Arsenal’s performance in very different ways. (Details of all our key findings from last season are here).
For example Martin Atkinson gave Arsenal an average of 1 yellow card per game last season while Craig Pawson gave 2.33 yellows per game. Mike Dean thankfully only refereed Arsenal once but managed to give us three cards in that one game.
So for the argument about different levels of fouling to be appropriate, while the referees are consistent and not biased, we would have now to include the notion that Arsenal are changing tactics dramatically between in games, with some referees, they tackle mostly fairly, with other referees they commit lots of fouls. And remember this is not a change in approach depending on who Arsenal are playing but on who is refereeing – which makes no sense. Why would you do that?
If the club knew that the ref would hand out cards at the drop of a hat, why not tackle less?
This seems to be pushing the bounds of reality too far, and as always with this sort of analysis one really needs to take the principle of Occam’s razor which states that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” – or to put it in everyday speech: the simplest explanation is usually the best one. .
So faced with the either Arsenal varying their level of inaccurate tackling from game to game, or certain referees having a penchant for penalising Arsenal more readily than other clubs, it is a lot easier to explain the tackle / foul / yellow card ratios with the notion that some clubs pick up more Yellow Cards per 10 tackles than others either because referees penalise different clubs in different ways.
Now let’s compare Arsenal and Burnley over the last two completed seasons, and the four games of this season. Figures are per game.
|Club||Tackles 2019/20||Tackles 2020/1||Tackles 2021/2|
In tackles we can see that both clubs cut their tackling last season but have gone up again this season – Burnley increasing their tackling by 26%. So has their fouling rate also gone up by 26%?
|Club||Fouls 2019/20||Fouls 2020/1||Fouls 2021/2|
No Burnley’s fouling has only gone up by 1%. Arsenal’s fouling rate has continued to decline.
However, when we come to yellow cards… the level of fouling seems to be disregarded in that Burnley commit many more fouls than Arsenal and yet their level of yellow cards remains in that band between 1.25 and 1.75 a game
|Club||Yellow 2019/20||Yellow 2020/1||Yellow 2021/2|
So let’s look at the all-telling ratios.
Here the difference between the two clubs is marginal – if one really wants to follow the logic that Arsenal vary the intensity of their fouling, then that suggests the argument doesn’t work… they are running at the same level of fouls per tackle throughout.
But now it gets spooky.
|Foul/yellow card||Foul/yellow card||Foul/yellow card|
As we can see, Burnley in each season examined are able to get away with more fouls before a yellow card than Arsenal. Now it can be argued that Arsenal’s fouls are worse than Burnley’s – except that we have shown before that the way referees hand out yellows against Arsenal is primarily dependent on the referee, not on the foul. So that doesn’t work.
Finally how does tackling relate to yellow cards?
|Tackle/yellow card||Tackle/yellow card||Tackle/yellow card|
Burnley are consistently getting away with more tackles per yellow card than Arsenal, and the difference is getting wider. Now Burnley are committing 3.45 more tackles before getting a yellow card than Arsenal. Last season it was 0.82 tackles more before a yellow came out.
The most obvious explanation is that Arsenal have changed their defence so thoroughly this season that the defenders are yet to adjust to how the situation in England works, whereby the tackles of one team are much more likely to be worth a yellow card than the tackles of another.
The fact that this is so is why Arsenal are having to cut out tackling. It is taking a little while for the defence to learn to play like this, and that is the downside of having a new defence this season, but that is the situation. But that is also why we have brought in young defenders. They learn how to treat the refs now, and then continue to play that way for years to come.
But that fact is that
This season Arsenal are 44% more likely to have a tackle be given as a yellow card than Burnley!
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