Tottenham and Arsenal: do the refs treat us equally?

By Bulldog Drummond

Last season we analysed how referees treated Arsenal and found that PGMO tended to give Arsenal more matches with referees who consistently penalised the club with yellow and red cards, and fewer matches with referees who bucked that trend.

We also began to analyse the links between tackles, fouls and yellow cards, finding that some clubs such as Leicester could seemingly tackle with impunity while Arsenal were being clobbered all the time.

So before the start of this season we did a detailed analysis of the tackles, fouls and yellow card figures for Arsenal and Tottenham.

What we found from the stats is that Tottenham tackle more before they get a foul against them, tackle a lot more before they get a yellow card against them and foul more before they get a yellow.  In numbers…

Tottenham put in 13.53 tackles before getting a yellow compared to 8.6 tackles committed by Arsenal.   They committed 9.34 fouls before they get a yellow compared with 6.51 by Arsenal.

In fact this is a direct copy of the trick Leicester City were pulling two seasons ago where they used tackling at an industrial level as a tactic, seemingly certain that the referees would penalise them so rarely that it hardly mattered.

Here are the two years and the two teams compared

Team Tackle/ Fouls 2019/20 Tackle/Fouls 2020/21 Fouls/ Yellows 2019/20 Fouls/Yellows 2020/21
Tottenham 1.79 1.45 4.46 9.34
Arsenal 1.61 1.32 4.32 6.51

In tackles Arsenal are this season in the lower group as we would expect with 72.  Tottenham along with Chelsea are right out at the top with 88.  In the fouls chart we are near the foot of the table as is the plan with 42.  Tottenham despite their tackling rampage have only knocked up three more fouls.  But they are striding ahead on yellow cards with 10.

In the table below the first line of figures shows the clubs that are top of the table for each attribute (tackles, fouls and yellow cards) by way of comparison.  At the foot are the clubs with the lowest numbers.

Club Tackles Fouls Yellow
Highest counts… 96 (Brentford) 67 (Watford) 13 (Wolverhampton)
Tottenham H 88 45 10
Arsenal 72 42 7
Lowest counts… 61 (Aston Villa) 37 (Leicester) 2 (West Ham)

Of course one can insist that these numbers are realistic and that referees are simply responding to how each team plays, but the variations are large.  Have Tottenham really delivered five times as many awful tackles deserving of yellow cards than West Ham?  It really seems unlikely.

The most informative figures are those showing how many tackles each club puts in before a foul is called, how many tackles are put in before a yellow card is given, and how many fouls a club commits before getting a yellow card.

Arsenal have to commit more tackles to get a yellow, and more fouls to get a yellow than Tottenham, so the work last season in controlling the tackling is paying off.

Club Tackle/foul Tackle/yellow Foul/Yellow
Arsenal 1.7 10.2 6.0
Tottenham H 2.0 8.8 4.5

Of course we have a new defence this season, and these new players have had to be retrained in the new technique, so we can expect the number of tackles and yellow cards by Arsenal to continue to decline.  

Thus it could be argued that the referees let Tottenham get away with slightly more tackles than Arsenal but come down more heavily in terms of fouls and yellow cards.   I suspect that this is probably because the new Tottenham manager has not quite got his head around the way referees deal differently with different clubs.

And I think this was Mr Arteta’s problem early last season.   He had realised just how different the way clubs are treated over tackles, fouls and yellows and started to change the tactics of the side, but as we saw, it took one third of  the season for the club to get itself sorted and the players to understand the new way of playing.

Now this summer the new defenders have also had to go through this learning process, and were still doing that when the opening three games came along.

But I think this was why the club was determined to bring in young defenders who could more rapidly adapt to the way the club now has to play in order to avoid excessive yellow card giving. 

The tactics files


7 Replies to “Tottenham and Arsenal: do the refs treat us equally?”

  1. The press does not….. but we know that !

    Fresh example. A story in the Guardian. Here is the opening

    “Tottenham play mid-table football in a shiny new stadium and fail to bridge the gulf to the rich elite – just like their derby rivals”

    This is a real ‘Lawrence’ they are pulling on Arsenal – again. Not that the article in itself is totally wrong, although stating that Mislintat and Gazidis as having been wildly successfull after leaving Arsenal does seem a strange conception of success….but the again, titny tots are such a great team, right ?

    The statement is true to a point. When Mr Wenger started playing at the Emirates, for the 10 subsequent years (or was it nine ?) Arsenal landed in the top 4, played continuously CL and won 3 FA Cups. And what was the Guardian doing/writing ? Anything to downgrade Mr Wenger and his achievements then lambast Mr Emery and not being any more considerate with Mr Arteta.

    What is the tiny tots record since moving to their billion (or close) dollar stadium ? A lost final…They are a mid-table team already with no trophy to show for the investment.

    They do admit the billions poured by individuals and states in search of PR/soft power into the PL, but at no point does the narrative even mention that rules were bent and not respected – while Arsenal respecting them and, at the time, did not have such an owner.

    Which basically means they are part of the narrative that says : you can buy anything if you throw enough money at it. Who cares about honesty, fair-play, the beautiful game.

  2. It’s on Sky TV in the UK, but that makes it unlikely that there will be any pirated link available. However always has a live commentary from an Arsenal perspective on line.

  3. Try BEINsports or if you can get Starsports – it will be broadcast to the Middle East & India and these channels are available on Amazon links.

  4. @Tony,

    the Arsenal live commentary used to have a little bit of information, some description of events, even if telegraphic.
    For a while now, the few things that are reported are start, end, substitution and goals…
    No idea what the problem is, or who validated such a IMHO stupid initiative, but from a web presence/marketing perspective, it seems couter-intuitive….
    Going to the site of the Guardian for example, these Arsenal lovers (…), gives you a better way to follow the game in text mode.

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