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How can some clubs commit fouls with impunity while others get card after card?

by Tony Attwood

In case you like statistics, here are a few that have never been published here nor anywhere else before – at least as far as I know.

These figures look at tackles, fouls and yellow cards and show that we are keeping our numbers considerably below the clubs that go overboard on such things.  This plan of giving the referee fewer decisions to make is a prime Arteta tactic.

Our tackles are running at 72% of the level of Brighton’s (the most tackling club) our fouls are running at 57% of those of Watford who have gone foul crazy, and our yellow cards are running at 55% of the journalists’ favourite: good old down to earth local team Burnley.

All well and good.

But we have a distance to go.   We are running at 20% more tackles than Manchester United, 13% more fouls than Norwich, and a staggering 67% more yellow cards than West Ham.  In case you like tables here are the details – but I would urge you not to get too hung up on this one – this is by way of introduction.  The best is yet to come…

Tackles Fouls Yellow card total
Arsenal number Arsenal 102 Arsenal 59 Arsenal 10
Most Brighton 140 Watford 102 Burnley 18
Arsenal % below worst  72% 57% 55%
Least  Man U 85 Norwich 52 WHU 6
Arsenal % above best 120% 113% 167%

What we can take from this little table above is that Burnley are dirty bastards and West Ham are little angels.  We can also see that Manchester United have taken Arsenal’s experiment from last year to heart and they are now trying to squeeze the yellow cards out of their game by cutting out the tackles.

But even so: we are 67% more yellow cards than West Ham.  How can that be?

To find out, here is the table as it stood after seven games…

Tackles, Fouls and yellow cards
2021/2022 after 7 games – top and bottom marked in bold
Team Tackles per foul Tackles per yellow Fouls per  yellow
Watford 1.06 6.35 6.00
Crystal Palace 1.40 11.30 8.10
Aston Villa 1.12 6.07 5.40
Southampton 1.56 9.61 6.15
Liverpool 1.37 11.44 8.33
Wolverhampton W 1.81 10.00 5.54
Chelsea 1.63 14.62 9.00
Brentford 1.60 8.84 5.54
Burnley 1.49 5.89 3.94
Everton 1.83 9.69 5.31
Tottenham Hotspur 1.68 8.92 5.31
Manchester United 1.29 7.08 5.50
Manchester City 1.53 9.80 6.40
Leeds United 1.94 8.86 4.57
Brighton and Hove 2.22 8.23 3.70
Newcastle United 2.01 8.20 4.01
West Ham United 1.87 18.67 10.0
Arsenal 1.73 10.20 5.90
Leicester City 2.18 12.70 5.80
Norwich City 2.31 10.91 4.72

How many tackles does a club have to undertake to get a yellow card?

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With Burnley it is 5.89 and with West Ham it is 18.67.  To make that clear…

West Ham can commit over three times as many fouls as Burnley before they get a yellow card. 

Which can only be interpreted as meaning that the average Burnley foul is three times as nasty and dangerous as the average West Ham foul.

Now I am no fan of either club, but I have just been back and looked at what each club has been up to on videos, and I really don’t believe that.  If you told me that Burnley were a bit more of a bunch of clodhoppers with thuggish tendencies I might smile and say well, yes, up to a point.  But three times worse than West Ham?  No.

Just as weird is this fact:

West Ham commit 2.7 as many fouls as Brighton before being given a yellow card.

Of course, I know that not all fouls are the same and some players are better at stopping play with a gentle foul than others – but this is the sort of argument we had two years ago when Leicester were getting figures like West Ham are now.

Interestingly in the Leicester case once we pointed this, oh what shall I call it – an anomaly perhaps – out, the referees realised they had been easing up on their favourite club, and the numbers changed.

Will this happen again, or are the referees so chummy now with the club that has a stadium paid by us idiot taxpayers, that they will just let it go on?  I don’t know of course but I can tell PGMO I am not letting this one slip through the net of publicity.   The media might refuse to handle it, just as they refuse to blame the FA for chaos at Wembley, but these numbers clearly show a problem.

Brighton are not insanely useless at tackling and nor are West Ham a bunch of delicate footed angels who spend all day and night perfecting the art.

I simply can see no evidence to show that West Ham are three times better at tackling than Burnley.

On the other hand I am glad that Arsenal are not being penalised like mad at the moment.   Far too many fouls are being given as yellow cards by the referees – but that is what they have been doing since we started counting these numbers, and the figures are lower than before so I’m not making a fuss.

But those West Ham figures are completely beyond belief.  The media won’t touch this because it suggests there is something wrong with refereeing, so we’ll have to do it.

If you want to go back to last year’s stats they are here.


PS: West Ham have had two penalties this season – only Everton have had more with three.  The problem with WHU is they have missed both.  WHU have conceded no penalties.

And you might like “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”


5 comments to How can some clubs commit fouls with impunity while others get card after card?

  • Jack

    Looking at the statistic you’ve presented, Arsenal are 9th in tackle per foul which is basically average. Similarly average in to Foul per yellow. 7th in tackles per yellow. Slightly worse but 1 or 2 would have a bigger case.

    I don’t know how you read bias particularly against Arsenal from this statistic. Somebody had to be first, someone else last. Was the expectation similar numbers for all the teams? That would be improbable for an occurrence that is as loosely defined. A goal is clearly defined. A dangerous and reckless play is left much to the interpretation of the referee. It’s becomes even harder if the tackle is right about the threshold.

    Is the expectation that some teams are far dirtier that Arsenal as such should be worse? A statistical outcome against that expectation would then invariably be the outcome of unfairness.

    But the bigger question for me is do yellow cards that fail to translate to suspension actually affect the game? If yes, to what extent? If not then are you just manufacturing rage for the sake of it?

  • Nitram

    Going by the first 10 minutes of the Newcastle Spurs match I can see Newcastle’s fouls to cards ratio improving dramatically.

    2 absolute nailed on yellows (at least) and not a flinch from Mariner. Even the commentators commented on Newcastle’s, over exuberance, shall we say.

    Not a word about Mariner failing to issue a yellow card mind, which suggests to me that’s exactly what they wanted.

  • Nitram

    Plus 2 nailed on handballs, one in the box so looked at by VAR, still not given. Both would of been Yellows.

    Yes Shelvy sent off but for 2 irrefutable ‘professional’ fouls. Even with that they’ve avoided 4 yellows, in fact one of them was to a player that should of been on a yellow, so they’ve avoided another red actually.

    I’m not mentioning this because it’s Newcastle or because the referee hasn’t done his job, but to highlight the fact we haven’t had a single word of criticism of the referee from the commentators. Not a word.

    Newcastle player on a yellow slams the ball into the ground in dissent right under the referees nose. Again no card (would of been second) and not a word from commentators.

    Again can you imagine the fuss if Xhaka did that.

    Again when it suits the referee can be as diabolical as he wants and he wont receive a word of criticism, yet another day, for example when it’s us, he’ll get slaughtered.

  • Referees are not there to enforce the rules, but merely to interpret them. That is why VAR has been such a spectacular failure in the PL. VAR was an opportunity to bring fairness back into the game, but has been abused to reinforce the status quo.

  • Last night’s appalling officiating display proves my point. Saka was carded for a misdemeanour after Dean had repeatedly let Palace players get away with similar fouls. McArthur (who should already have been yellow-carded) then tried to kick Saka into the crowd. This is the latest in a series of farcical refereeing performances against Arsenal this season. They are making up rules as they go along, and the media stay silent.

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