Tackles, fouls and cards for the big clubs: Arsenal surviving, but Man U’s plan failing

By Tony Attwood

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It was the statistics from Leicester two seasons ago that first led us to look in detail at the way referees call “foul” and hand out yellow cards, so given that we are about to play Leicester again it is worth looking to see what they are up to at the moment.

So we have taken a look at seven teams across the metrics we measure: tackles (the prime cause of fouls and yellow cards) and the fouls and cards themselves.  Then we see how the ratios compare.

Just as a reminder here is the current league table – and immediately we notice that just one point separates the six clubs between fifth and tenth – which is more encouraging than things were.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 9 7 1 1 23 3 20 22
2 Liverpool 9 6 3 0 27 6 21 21
3 Manchester City 9 6 2 1 20 4 16 20
4 West Ham United 9 5 2 2 16 10 6 17
5 Brighton and Hove Albion 9 4 3 2 9 9 0 15
6 Tottenham Hotspur 9 5 0 4 9 13 -4 15
7 Manchester United 9 4 2 3 16 15 1 14
8 Everton 9 4 2 3 15 14 1 14
9 Leicester City 9 4 2 3 15 15 0 14
10 Arsenal 9 4 2 3 10 13 -3 14

But the question here is, how are the clubs handling the referees in terms of their playing style?

In our original survey, Leicester were seen to be able to tackle at levels no one else achieved by getting low levels of fouls and yellow given against them.   We called this out, and then by coincidence, the numbers started changing.

So now for the current table.  Highly penalised clubs are in red, clubs being treated in a more “relaxed” style by referees in black.  One wonders what Man C have done to upset PGMO so much!

Tackles Fouls Yellows Tackles / Fouls Tackles / Yellow Fouls / Yellow
Arsenal 132 83 13 1.59 10.15 6.38
Chelsea 156 94 9 1.66 17.33 10.44
Leicester 157 70 11 2.24 14.27 6.36
Liverpool 132 93 9 1.42 14.66 10.33
Man C 116 81 14 1.43 8.28 5.79
Man U 104 93 21 2.60 4.95 4.43
West Ham 148 77 10 1.92 14.80 7.70

Manchester United

Manchester United from the start of this season adopted Arsenal’s tactics of the last two-thirds of last season which saw the club rise to be the second-best team in the league.  Those tactics were to cut tackles, in order to give the referees fewer chances to call foul and wave yellows.

Arsenal themselves have stopped the refs destroying the team (at least for the moment) and we have become mid-range for the number of tackles that are given as fouls, and the number of those fouls that turn into yellow cards.  It is an extraordinary achievement by Arteta given where we were two years ago.


Chelsea on the other hand are tackling, and being called out for fouls, at very high rates.  Yet they are not getting the yellow cards.   Obviously, the refs think a Man U foul is 400% worse than a Chelsea foul, and so Man U are four times as likely to get a yellow for each foul as Chelsea.

Leicester C

Leicester tackles are rarely called as fouls, but when they are they, like Arsenal, it is very likely to have that foul given as a yellow card.  But they are still the referees’ darlings knocking up 2.24 tackles for every foul.


Man City must be getting very annoyed.  Liverpool can now commit twice as many fouls as Man City before getting a yellow card.  That is weird.

Manchester City

Have Man C done something to annoy PGMO?  Their tackles are increasingly likely to be called as fouls, and their fouls are increasingly likely to be called as yellow cards.

Manchester United again

Although I can’t find it in my heart to feel sorry for Manchester United, the reality is they have reduced tackling levels even further than Arsenal did last year as Arteta turned the club around, and yet are still in trouble.

Man U tackle less than any other club.   But the number of fouls they are called out for is still in the top half of the table and with 21 yellow cards they are the fifth highest.

That is the key to why they are having such a difficult time on the pitch.  The players and managers are simply bemused by getting these cards in a season in which they copied Arsenal’s rescue plan from last year and have pulled out of tackling.

The only conclusion I can find is that PGMO have an even deeper grudge against Man U than they do against Arsenal.  These figures are seriously weird.

West Ham

They were included in our table each time because at the start of the season their figures were off the charts with no ref wanting to penalise them for anything.  We pointed that out, and by coincidence, their numbers have now come down dramatically.  If they stay like this we don’t need to be considering them anymore, and they have been slipping in recent games.

The key factor

Man U can commit five tackles before getting a yellow card.  Chelsea can commit over 17 tackles before getting a yellow card.  That’s bizarre and quite probably bonkers.

If you watch the two clubs and think that is a reasonable reflection of what is happening on the pitch, fair enough.   I watch them and quite simply cannot believe those numbers.

Arsenal faced outrageous figures like this two years ago, and then Arteta came along and dealt with them.  Manchester United’s question is, why is the same tactic not working for them?

5 Replies to “Tackles, fouls and cards for the big clubs: Arsenal surviving, but Man U’s plan failing”

  1. The truth is that before the season starts the PGMO have already taken and map out how the league is going to look like who will finish where they want how on earth that you will bring computer and called super computer to predict football and you will be operating it and you said super computer predicted while you a human being are the ones operating it so the have already fixed the results whom to favor so they should stop deceiving us how computer predicte without the aid of human beings no way just like VAR somebody is in charge and he has some clubs he supported or have sympathy so as he there the still do what they want to do the only thing that is working well now is goal line technology because it already been programmed otherwise they will manipulate it as human being they are so let continue to watch by the grace of God many things are unfolding itself

  2. A fascinating analysis of the stats as usual. However, please recheck your T/F ratio for MU which I calculate as 1.12 not 2.60, making their situation more bizarre.

  3. Now the question I have for you Tony is this; when Arsenal faced bad figures for foul/tackle/cards ratios, the conclusion by untolders was that arsenal were being unfairly treated by the refs and not that we were not tackling well. Now that Man city and Man Utd are facing similar stats, would you also say that those clubs are just being unfairly treated by the refs?

  4. Tony,

    The notion of refs having a grudge against Man U is almost incomprehensible. Perhaps the real change is the departure from the era when the refs were so blatantly on their side, so they could foul with impunity -Scholes, Nevilles, Mc.Nair et al.

    Although they got several yellows and a red against Liverpool, they were still treated very leniently – they should have had 3 red cards.

    Perhaps their reduced number of fouls really are worse than those of other teams?

  5. I can’t answer that question because it reduces a very complex to something simple. But by way of summary, since we started in 2008 the theme of who oversees the referees has been one that has been of much interest, and a whole series of investigations have been undertaken. The “160 games analysed” is perhaps the most well known, but there have been many more.
    The most recent study on referees which is summarised on the Key Data Table 2020/21 page suggests that the choice of referees last season related closely to the way the referees had dealt with Arsenal in previous games, for example. Among other topics we have often considered is that of the way in which PGMO arrange matters compared with other referee associations – PGMO seeming to omit some of the procedures which help ensure that everything is handled fairly.
    At the moment we are still gathering data arising from the initial discovery of the Leicester figures a couple of seasons back, and the very sudden change in those figures after we published.
    I think if I had to highlight one point it is the secrecy that surrounds PGMO which causes the most problems – if it were not for that we’d be able to resolve these matters and I’d be able to answer your question, but with their insistence on secrecy we are forever gathering new data and trying to work out exactly what is going on.

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