By Tony Attwood
Our view is that Mr Arteta introduced a radical new approach last season, after Arsenal finished 2019/20 with an astonishing 86 yellow cards – the highest of any team in the league. This very high number (averaging over two a game) not only influenced the way players played after they had been given a yellow card, it also removed players from the squad as they served suspensions for multiple yellow cards.
It is also quite possible that this high number influenced the referees’ view of Arsenal as a dirty team and thus made the referees ever more likely to see a tackle which might or might not be a yellow card, as worthy of a yellow if undertaken by Arsenal. And this was… because they were known to be a team that got yellows. The perfect self-fulfilling prophecy.
As a result the club under its new management started working on a process of cutting the prime cause of yellow cards (the tackle) out of the game.
Now this was highly effective in that Arsenal moved from being the most yellow carded club in 2019/20 (the season of the 86 cards) down to the 17th most carded club with just 47 cards – a decline of over 45% in one season.
This campaign now have seven yellow cards thus far, the 13th lowest in the Premier League, and the chances of getting yellow cards is declining game on game, which is obviously what we want, as the new defence gets used to the ways of the PGMO referees.
As to how it is done, it’s fairly simple. Reducing yellow cards is achieved first by cutting down on tackles and second when there is a tackle by giving the referee little chance of calling it a yellow card offence.
But having a new defence this season has made this harder. However the little chart below shows progress is being made. I’ve included Burnley’s figures by way of comparison.
|Club||Tackles per game 2019/20||Tackles per game 2020/1||Tackles per game 2021/2 prior to Burnley v AFC||Tackles Burnley v AFC|
Now of course you may feel that since we finished last season in 8th that is nothing to write home about, but it was this cut in tackles that accompanied the improvement in the last two thirds of last season, during which period we were the second most effective club in the Premier League. (There are more figures in the Key Data Tables page for last season).
So this season we are now on 66 tackles for the season which is an average of 13.2 per game – a remarkable achievement with four new members of the defence at work.
Of course tackling is reduced in order to cut out the fouls, and when we look at the figures we can see that this has gone down as well.
|Club||Fouls per game 2019/20||Fouls per game 2020/1||Fouls per game 2021/2 prior to Burnley v AFC||Fouls Burnley v Arsenal|
The key test then is, are the yellow cards going down and are we winning?
We have seven yellows so far this season, which places us at 13th in the league table. West Ham are bottom with just two, which is really spooky. It suggests they are “doing a Leicester” and needs some investigation. I’ll come back to this
But for us, all is moving in the right direction, although there is something else very odd in the statistical charts at the moment – and it is something we spotted last season.
Liverpool get a yellow card for every 11.6 fouls. Arsenal get a yellow card for every six fouls.
OK, if you think that Arsenal’s fouls are twice as bad as Liverpool’s, throughout each and every match, those figures are reasonable, but watching Liverpool matches on TV I just don’t see that at all.
Yes of course you can pick out the occasional bad foul, but what we are talking about here is that Arsenal’s every foul is twice as bad as Liverpool’s, all the way through each game of the season.
I simply don’t believe it.
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