Tackles, fouls and yellows: why are Man City and Arsenal being punished so much?

By Tony Attwood

A tackle from a Manchester City player is 83% more likely to get called as a yellow card offence than a tackle by a Chelsea player.

While most of us will, I suspect, be quite happy with the way things are going for Arsenal, and certainly relieved that the maniac journalists and their blogging pals did not get their way and have Mr Arteta sacked after three matches, there is a very big warning light shining, in terms of the behaviour of PGMO referees on the pitch.

For if refereeing decisions in the Premier League continue as they have for the first 11 league games, Arsenal and Manchester City will see their yellow card rates rise substantially this season.  On the other hand Chelsea will see a major decline in their yellow card rates, West Ham a slight decline and Liverpool will stay about the same.  

Club Fouls 20/21 Fouls est 21/22 Yellows 20/21 Yellows est 21/22
Chelsea 433 386 50 41
Manchester C 361 359 46 62
West Ham 374 338 48 45
Liverpool 396 369 40 41
Arsenal 345 345 47 58

Yet as we look at the number of fouls Arsenal are committing, that number is stable while if the current rate continues Arsenal yellow cards will just escalate further and further.

Quite what is causing these bizarre figures is difficult to tell.  Certainly Arsenal have a new defence and although they are clearly learning how to operate as a team we are at present only the seventh best defence in the league, as opposed to the third best defence in the league across the whole of last season.

To see if Arsenal are improving their defence we can, as ever, look at the league table of the last six matches.  Here we have the last six table arranged by goals against. 

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
3 Chelsea 6 4 1 1 15 3 12 13
2 Arsenal 6 4 2 0 11 4 7 14
4 Manchester City 6 4 1 1 11 5 6 13
1 West Ham United 6 5 0 1 12 6 6 15
6 Crystal Palace 6 2 4 0 10 6 4 10
10 Leeds United 6 2 2 2 6 6 0 8
7 Southampton 6 3 1 2 6 6 0 10

This is something of a relief because aside for changing our style of play we have no control over the crazies at PGMO, and even by reducing our tackling further and further it is often touch and go what they will do.

So even though the yellow card rate is rising in a most worrying way, we are keeping the goals against down, in the same way that we did last season.  You may recall that last season, ordered by goals against, ended

P Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 27 5 6 83 32 51 86
4 Chelsea 38 19 10 9 58 36 22 67
8 Arsenal 38 18 7 13 55 39 16 61

Here as you will of course know, is the current position in the Premier League

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 11 8 2 1 27 4 23 26
2 Manchester City 11 7 2 2 22 6 16 23
3 West Ham United 11 7 2 2 23 13 10 23
4 Liverpool 11 6 4 1 31 11 20 22
5 Arsenal 11 6 2 3 13 13 0 20

Because of the difficult start to the season with almost a completely new defence, and most learning for the first time that managing the referee was as much their concern as managing oncoming attackers, our goals conceded is on the high side.  Indeed with the full season’s table thus far we have only the seventh best defence, unlike having the third best last season.

We can see the effect of this situation using our usual tackles, fouls and yellow cards table for the season to date.

In the table below I have also shown the difference between the various clubs listed and at the end the figures for the most and least tackles, fouls and yellow cards in the league.

Club Tackles Fouls Yellows Tackle/foul Foul/yellow Tackle/yellow
Chelsea 176 112 12 1.57 9.33 14.67
Man C 144 104 18 1.38 5.78 8.00
West Ham 176 98 13 1.80 7.54 13.54
Liverpool 148 107 12 1.38 8.92 12,33
Arsenal 161 100 17 1.61 5.88 9.47
Difference 22% 14% 50% 30% 64% 83%
Most 218 (1) 154 (3) 30 (5)
Least 139 (2) 83 (4) 12 (6)

The clubs listed in the “most” and “least” columns are (1) Everton, most tackles; (2) Manchester United, fewest tackles (3) Watford most fouls; (4) Leicester fewest fouls; (5) Newcastle most yellow cards; (6) Liverpool & Chelsea fewest yellow cards

So what conclusions can we draw?

The most obvious difference is the way the way Manchester City and Arsenal are being punished for fouls – a foul from either of them is almost twice as likely to get a yellow card as is a foul by a Chelsea player.  

As we can see in Arsenal’s case the club is committing considerably fewer tackles than Chelsea and West Ham and yet getting 50% more yellow cards.  And that is why we have to manage the whole affair, reducing our tackling and through that controlling what the referees can get away with.

As in previous season’s we’ll get no help from the media with this sort of analysis, and the response from the blogs is normally “you can prove anything with statistics” which says more about their knowledge of maths than anything else.

Arsenal cut their yellow card rate almost in half two seasons ago, it is worrying that so much of that work could be undone under another PGMO onslaught.  Of course some of the difference is due to the new defence learning the game, but the trend is still worrying.

18 Replies to “Tackles, fouls and yellows: why are Man City and Arsenal being punished so much?”

  1. As a City fan I agree with your insightful blog and would add a further cause for the glut of yellows we both receive.

    More often than not when our players are fouled we retain possession so the Ref plays advantage, exactly as we all want. Do the Ref’s take that in account? If the game hasn’t actually stopped do they consider the yellow when the game stops later? Obviously not!! When the Chelsea’s of this world get fouled they lose possession and the game stops they all scream for a yellow and they tend to get it….

    Just my pennysworth.

  2. Tony,

    Is there any evidence to suggest the yellow card situation has improved over the last six games for Arsenal? Without any supporting evidence I think your last sentence might be wishful thinking because MCFC’s defence has been together for a while now and you’ve amply demonstrated how we are faring on this front.

  3. @Tim Hogan,

    have you watched the last game ? If I am not wrong, 6 fouls, 4 yellows… And what did Watford get ?!? 2 yellows for 19 fouls
    This with just 40 % of possession

    Something just does not add-up, unless Arsenal players have turned thugs overnight and become physically dangerous. If Arsenal were as bad, Watford ought to have collected quite a few more yellows, or even a red during the same game.

    That trend is worrying.

    I was thinking last week-end that in place of Xhaka getting the yellow/red treatment now they are going after just any player.

    What we saw was a referee hell-bent on finding ways to disrupt not only this game but games in the future.

    As for the City situation, this totally evades me. Maybe they are fed-up of Guardiola because he does occasionaly criticise PIGMOB, in which case Klopp better shut-up as he could be the next in line for a special treatment…

    The numbers just don’t add up. Refereeing is different from one game to another, there is not a standard attitude. And if you saw the glaring incompetence and arrogance of Oliver in the BVB-Ajax game, maybe the referees are giving us weekly proof of the incompetence and incapability to produce equal quality performances week in week out.

    Personnaly I believe that they are not managed correctly, they know damn well that they risk nothing, their job is safe and they have come to believe that 99 % of the time they are perfect as their boss is touting urbi et orbi.

    Have you ever heard of one of those referees being punished ? demoted ? criticised ? Nope. They are here, year after year as if this is their God given right. Has any of them ‘disapeared’ from the PL ? Not either. Give the name of one company, organisation that has employees and NONE of them make errors, are considered top performers !

    Peter’s principle would imply they rise in the organisation, which would put them onto the international stage or some management position higher up the organigram. Interestingly, you don’t see that many of the star PL referees on the international stage, especially World Cup and Euro finals. They are visibly not considered reliable and/or competent. And there is no organigram showing where they could be parked if they stopped refereeing. So they keep on toiling and screwing up results.

    Do FIFA or UEFA care about this situation ? If you ask me they just don’t give a damn. The PL and it’s financlail might is a thorn in their eye. So why intervene ? Just don’t take the referees and leave the PL to manage the mess. At some point it will hurt the PL. Other countries are managing the referees much more professionnaly and with transparency.

    When you consider all this, you get the feeling PGMOL is run like a mafia-like organisation. They cannot even count : not enough referees and referees getting the same team over and over again. Imagine the scandal if some referee where to be assigned Liverpool on a regular basis and systematically screw up their games…the UN would intervene and send in blue helmets !

    But Arsenal ? The ideal ‘victim’ with owners not daring a reaction and being the club of that french guy who was not even english…

    Which brings me to my last question : WTF is going on with City ?!?! What did they do wrong ? Whose feathers did they ruffle ?

  4. Tony

    I thought that the yellow cards given against us in the Watford game were all justifiable if somewhat harsh. The referee’s failing was in not treating Watford’s fouls in the same way. Rose could have been red carded for the foul on Lacazette and wasn’t even booked. If Watford’s fouls had been treated in the same way as our fouls, they would probably only had 8 players on the pitch at the end.

    If nothing else, all reporting should have cited the referee’s clear incompetence.

  5. (off-topic)
    koge students 1 arsenal teachers 5
    couldn’t watch the game properly (family reunion – remember hornby’s chapters about the curse of being a fan AND having to pretend to live a “normal” life??)
    looking forward to reading your report, andrew!

  6. Tony

    “Quite what is causing these bizarre figures is difficult to tell.” For once, I completely disagree with you. The cause is patently obvious.

    Referees give yellow cards. And the PGMO is controlled by Mike Riley and supported by the media.

  7. Johnson must be correct. He is, after all, a paragon of honesty, integrity, virtue and principle and has never been known to tell lies.

  8. Watching all the hoopla about the movie Arsene Wenger : Invincible, one thing struck me.

    Say what you want, but as a manager, Mr Wenger OWNS the title ‘Invincible’. Whoever does it a second time, he’ll be like Buzz Aldrin.
    And Arsenal, and more specifically all members of that team, own the title ‘Invincibles’.

    This must eat some people in the FA/PL and PGMOL so bad inside out that it may explain the level of hostility, I could even say hate that they have shown in the past and still keep on showing.

    Which again emphasizes my earlier point : this organisation is truly incompetent because it just cannot hide it’s preferences or ‘un-preferences’, emational attitudes, likes or dislikes, and visibly transmits this into ‘Referee basic behaviour training’ down to all the referees as part of their professional DNA

    Which still does not change the ownership of ‘Invincible’ and ‘Invincibles’. Too bad for them…

  9. Have the yellows increased for City since Pep complained and they were invited by the PGMOL to have a meeting about it a couple years back or so?

  10. Ben that is a very interesting point. In fact the number of Man C yellows go…
    2017/18: 59
    2018/19: 44
    2019/20: 60
    2020/21: 46
    I will try and find time to analyse a number of clubs across the years to see what patterns emerge. My thesis here of course is that clubs can adjust the number of yellow cards by cutting tackles, but that this doesn’t always work. I’ll try and go into this further.

  11. Ben/Tony

    As Tony showed there is often a definite moment at which you can point when drastic changes occur, as Tony showed with the correlation between our drop in tackling, drop in fouls, drop in cards = improved results last season.

    Untold also showed a clear connection between Riley taking over at the PGMOL and our increase in Yellow and Red cards as well as a significant drop in penalties for and rise in penalties against.

    These things don’t usually happen just by chance. It will be interesting to see.

  12. Nitram,

    My thesis is that PGMOL is run by incompetent people, incapable of making simple planning decisions and of teaching referees to be fair and not infleunced by their emotions. This takes training, and time.

    If management is incapable of showing neutrality – and Riley has proven way beyond any doubt that he can NOT, just remember game 50 – then employees will not. They adapt their behaviour to the one of the manager(s). So attitude of the management permeates to the bottom of the organisation and flavours each and everyone’s behaviour, producing incompetent, arrogant, I should even add dangerous (for the players) referees.

    The simple fact that PGMOL is incapable of having enough referees shows that they definitely have a problem in terms of planning capacity.

    I doubt the ‘corrupt’ scenario. They are just a bunch of incompetents in it way over their had and all too happy to bask in the glory of the guy in black, earn their money and nice benefits and screw the profesionalism.

    And the lack of PL referees in international settings is a proof of that : they are just not good enough and only recruited because someone from England is needed.

    The money they get doled out to shut their mouth once they live is not to cover up any criminal activity but just to cover the utter mess this organisation must be internaly.

    And my guess is that the lack of referees could as well come down to many NOT wanting to join because they know full well what a mess this is. After all a referee can decide not to join in, and visibly many do. PGMOL selects people based on criteria of their top management. Said management not being ‘elite’, ‘fair’, ‘competent’, guess what kind of referees get selected ?!?

  13. With the corrupt PGMOL in charge, the way to stop getting yellow cards is to stop tackling and to tape one’s gob up so that nothing is said.

    The very obviously corrupt PGMOL racists that take a knee is the biggest Piss Take in sport.

  14. Chris

    Thanks for referencing ‘game fifty’. When supporters of other clubs (and some Arsenal) have said stop the whingeing about the referees I ask them to watch that match if they haven’t seen it. That display probably led to Riley’s current position directing the bias in subtle and not so subtle ways. I wonder if it will be referenced in the new “Invincible” film.

  15. Chris & Goonersince72

    I’ve always wondered what Wenger and the players felt about match 50. Recently I read this from Lauren, which suggests they were as p!$$£d off as we all were:

    “That season saw Arsenal’s record breaking 49-game unbeaten run come to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford that has now gone down in infamy.

    A Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty – awarded after Wayne Rooney thrown himself over Sol Campbell’s outstretched leg – gave United a second-half lead before Rooney finished the game off with a second in the closing stages.

    Arsenal were furious at referee Mike Riley after the game, not just for the penalty decision but for his failure to punish the home side for a series of fouls, including several by Gary Neville on Jose Antonio Reyes and one from Van Nistelrooy on Ashley Cole.

    “What they did to Reyes during the game was unbelievable,” Lauren recalls. “It would have been four red cards, easy. But somehow we didn’t get the decisions. They got that penalty and we lost the game. It wasn’t a penalty.

    “In a normal day if you watch that game, there would have been four Manchester United players sent off, especially Gary Neville. It was unbelievable”.


    The article calls it infamous, which it is in our eyes, but what I’ve seen any time it gets mentioned on SKY, or anywhere else in the mainstream media, suggests to me they just find it funny, and worse, generally use the match as simply another excuse to call us weak and claim we just got ‘bullied’.

    I’ve never heard or read a single word of contrition from a single United player, or even the slightest acknowledgement that there was anything at all wrong with how the Man Utd players behaved, or a single word of criticism of how Riley officiated. Not a word.

    It will be interesting to see if Wenger does indeed mention it.

  16. Chris,

    I saw the Watford game. It just seemed like another game where the referee applies two different interpretations of the rules depending on which team commits, or even doesn’t commit, the ‘foul’. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many games like this and it’s not just confined to PGMOL.

    Overall, I think we’ve got pretty similar views about things.

  17. It is not incompetence. It is deliberate.

    If it were incompetence, the mistakes would be shared equally between all PL clubs who would suffer and benefit to the same degree, as in “It all evens out in the end”.

    This has been going on for at least 18 years, and is never going to “even out”.

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