By Tony Attwood
The point that we have been putting forward for a couple of seasons now is that the way clubs are treated by referees differs considerably. Our explanation for this is not that there is wholesale corruption going on, although we can’t rule this out, but rather there is a bias in the way referees see clubs. Club A might be seen as a club that typically uses foul tackles to get out of trouble, while Club Z (in the eyes of refs rarely does this but relies more on pure skill.
The thinking behind this comes from three sources. One is the largescale variations we have seen between the way tackles are treated by referees in terms of ruling them as fouls and handing out yellow cards. The figures below give some examples.
A second is the way in which referees are assigned to Arsenal matches. (We’ve not checked this with other clubs because of the amount of time such work takes, and besides which no matter what evidence we put forward, some will choose not to believe us). As we showed last season, referees who are liable to hand out more yellow cards to Arsenal, got to referee the club more often than those who handed out no cards or just one in a match.
What’s more, while in some countries no referee will ever oversee a club more than twice in a season, in the Premier League it is possible to get the same referee up to five times in the course of a season.
The third source of this thinking is the evidence relating to what happened to results during the time when no crowds were allowed into the grounds. With crowds, home teams dominate results. Without crowds away teams dominate. Research from the University of London working with fully qualified referees showed that this was primarily due to the influence of the crowd on the referees.
Details of all three lines of thinking are given in depth on this site and you can find much of last year’s work on this summarises in the 2020/21 Key Data Tables page.
The prime argument against our reporting has focused on the comparison of tackles, fouls and yellow cards tables, which suggests the variance between the way clubs are treated is due to how accurate is the tackling of each club’s players.
We agree this could be a cause, and yet to us it seems very unlikely, given the variance in the way different referees treat Arsenal and what was found in the 160 game analysis that Walter and his team undertook – and the utter secrecy of PGMO. If it has nothing to hide, why does it hide?
Of course by using assertion rather than the analysis of matches in detail, and the analysis of the resultant statistics, one can put forward any point of view. We prefer the statistics and analysis, but of course others can assert as much as they wish.
At this point in the season we’re taking a look at our chosen three metrics: tackles, fouls and yellow cards, and considering the traditional top six (from which of course Arsenal have momentarily suspended membership) and Leicester, which was the club whose extraordinary tackles / fouls / yellow cards statistics alerted us to the issue a few years ago.
Here are this season’s figures. Top numbers in red, bottom numbers in black.
Arsenal, in all three metrics are middle of the road, which is quite an achievement given that virtually the whole defence was replaced in the summer, and these players have had to get used to the way English referees work, living in a new country, learning a new language, and adjusting to Arsenal’s style of play.
We are expecting that as the defenders get more used to the refereeing situation in the Premier League so the number of yellow cards will decline and the number of fouls called will stay where they are.
In this second table we look at the ratios achieved.
Leicester are still working this extraordinary magic of tackling at a level akin to other clubs but being able to knock up around double the number of tackles as Liverpool before a foul is called.
The Liverpool figure is interesting in that they are getting called out for tackles being fouls far more often than last season, when they appeared to have the Midas touch.
But it is when we look at the number of tackles that a club can undertake before getting a yellow card that we see the real oddity. Chelsea can undertake 22 tackles before getting a yellow card while Manchester United can only get 7.3.
Now we know that Manchester United this season are following Arsenal’s lead of last season in cutting their tackling level dramatically – indeed as noted in the first table they have the lowest tackle rate, following Arsenal’s approach last season which was so successful in the last two thirds of last season.
But it is the variation in the final column that is weird. Are Tottenham’s tackles almost three times as nasty as Chelsea’s to warrant a yellow every 4.5 fouls to Chelsea’s 12.3?
If Chelsea were not committing fouls at the same level as other clubs we could say that they have perfected the art of tackling. But they are committing fouls – yet simply not getting yellow cards. Are they really the perfect tackling team – or are the referees just refusing to give them cards at the rate they hand them out to other clubs?
The tactics files
- How tackling changed in the PL and how it is affecting clubs’ positions in the league
- How clubs manipulate referees through their tactics
- Revealed: How clubs have evolved their “referee handling” tactics with such success
- Arsenal Women v Tottenham Hotspur Women match preview
- What every football club (and most certainly Arsenal) is aiming for.
- The apparent decline of Tottenham and the question of care for players elsewhere
- Positive injury news for Arsenal ahead Monday’s game with Sheffield United
- Arsenal’s finances stay secure but we can expect more price rises for fans