Liverpool v Arsenal: Liverpool adopt a level of fouling not seen before

By Tony Attwood

The Arsenal policy, as we have tracked it over recent years, is to try and cut tackles down dramatically, and this of course has changed Arsenal’s style of play.   In the end the referees are forced to reduce the number of fouls given against Arsenal players, simply because we are not tackling.

Prior to the game Arsenal had committed 100 fouls (9.09 a game) and Liverpool 107 (9.72 per game). Both very much on the low side for the Premier League.  The worst offending club has committed 50% more fouls than that.

But the Guardian figures online today are showing Liverpool committing 15 fouls in this game which is 54% above the norm.  It is a rate of fouling way above even Watford who this season are currently way out on their own in terms of fouls committed.

I find it very difficult indeed to believe that this Liverpool figure was either by chance or because the referee changed his attitude.  Much more likely is the explanation that Liverpool decided that their best way to disrupt the Arsenal style and approach which has been so successful in previous games was to up the level of fouling.

What’s more, this referee only shows 3.2 cards per game (that is across both teams) and so Liverpool thought they could probably get away with no yellow cards either.

Indeed I suspect the explosion by Mr Arteta that we saw in this game, was not just because of the individual incident, but because of the approach that he had already noticed – Liverpool disrupting Arsenal by fouling, fouling and fouling, with no yellow cards being given.

If this approach that we saw yesterday was continued through the whole season, it would mean Liverpool would commit 570 fouls during the season.   Last season the highest number of fouls committed by any club was achieved by Sheffield United at 459.    In 2019/20 the highest number of fouls through the season was achieved by Everton with 472.

Of course, the media won’t process that notion – that Liverpool in one game could move into excess fouling mode, because it calls into question the whole media attitude to Liverpool, and indeed the whole referee attitude to Liverpool.  Liverpool, the club that suddenly decides to go to a fouling level way, way above Sheffield United last season, as a tactic to disrupt Arsenal? I can’t see any publication taking that.   

So Liverpool’s tactic, assuming the number of fouls committed by the club as reported by the Guardian website today is correct, is at a level which is almost 25% more than the notorious Sheffield United last season.

This is an extraordinary tactic for Liverpool to use against Arsenal, making Liverpool in this game, the dirtiest team since in the last couple of years.

Now you might think this could tactic be reported somewhere.  But no.  It’s Liverpool.  Although let me stress again that these are just the figures in the Guardian.   We’ll wait and see if the normal sources confirm the foul rate in the next couple of days.

So how did Liverpool know Mr Oliver would just penalise the tackles without handing out the cards?

Last season Mr Oliver refereed 44 games which is a pretty big workload given that apart from Premier League games his work took him to Russia, Croatia, Israel, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland… you get the idea.

Now it turns out to be a little difficult to get reliable information on fouls awarded by referees in international matches but in his five Premier League games in charge of Arsenal he awarded 11.60 fouls against Arsenal per game.

This season, which is just under a third of the way through, has Mr Oliver already officiating four matches involving Arsenal.   This means that at this rate he will oversee 12 or 13 Arsenal matches this season.  Which is over a third.

Now without even looking at Mr Oliver’s record against Arsenal in terms of his behaviour, one referee doing one-third of all Arsenal league games is utterly insane.   Especially as he has already refereed 19 games this season which puts him in line for over 60 games this season – exceeding even last season’s record when he oversaw 44 games.

Of course, the propensity of the PGMO for giving Mr Oliver Arsenal games could just be pure chance.  Numbers pulled out of a hat – that sort of thing.   But given that other countries have gone over to the policy of having many more referees available, and ensuring that no referee gets the same club more than twice, and given Mr Oliver’s view of Arsenal which sees lots of fouls where others don’t see them, having him over and over and over again in charge of Arsenal matches cannot be to our advantage.

I think Liverpool knew about the referee, knew they were highly unlikely to be given multiple yellow cards, and so went on a fouling rampage knowing that the media wouldn’t comment and the referee wouldn’t take any action with the cards and knowing it would utterly disrupt Arsenal.

And they got away with it.

21 Replies to “Liverpool v Arsenal: Liverpool adopt a level of fouling not seen before”

  1. Laughable. Liverpool win the fair play league almost every year, not bad for such a dirty side, or is it terrible conspiracy?

  2. Leaving aside the fouling of pool the appointment of Oliver was more of a worry to me so soon after the Leicester match in which only he knows why he didnt send off Evans, the coverage over the next few days was not in Olivers favour when even the most ardent anti Arsenal said Oliver was wrong so anyone who has any knowledge of pgmol will know Oliver was more than likely punish us the next time he was given an Arsenal game and he didnt have to wait very long old mother Riley decided to treat Oliver to the game of the week and do what he wanted . From the 1st minute we saw the pool approach and Mane one of the main culprits funny he won foul after foul himself knowing nothing would be done to him which has been the case since 2017 when Moss sent him off against city on that occasion the media thought Mane was hard done by and since that he has got away with whatever he wants showing himself to be a nasty character . Regarding the bust up with Arteta and clippity I was glad to see the boss stand up for his player to many times in the past players have been hurt and sadly with blinkered refs like Oliver it will continue

  3. The strange handling of fouls also exists in the Women’s game. Aoife Mannion commits the worst foul of the game (which results in an Arsenal penalty), but the referee fails to show a yellow card. Fouls committed so far – Man Utd 9, Arsenal 3. Yellow cards so far – Man. Utd 0, Arsenal 1.

    Arsenal currently winning the match 2-0 after 72 minutes, but Kim Little has gone off with a suspected groin injury.

  4. Well Liverpool were running at their normal low level of fouls and yellow cards up to yesterday. The whole point of the article is that Liverpool suddenly changed their stance. And do remember the number of fouls is quoted by the Guardian, not made up by us. But we will as ever wait for the number to be confirmed by other sources before doing the normal analysis of tackles, fouls and yellows.
    I tend not to believe in conspiracies – but of course some people do.

  5. Liverpool and Man U are the most looked after clubs in the league? What a surprise? Referees influence play by disrupting any momentum an opposing team might have at Anfield.

    Any affection Liverpool FC might have with neutral fans could quite easily disappear.

  6. You’re grasping at straws. Arsenal tried to play out from the back and got caught countless times in doing so. They closed the gaps as soon as an Arsenal defender had the ball. Liverpool and Citeh are excellent at playing out from the back but they have the players to do so. Klopp did his homework. Arsenal’s midfield may just have stayed at home as they virtually never got a kick. The young lad Smith Rowe is a quality player and did have one moment were he cut Liverpool open but he was starved of the ball and Trent stayed deeper than he normally would to stop him causing damage. There is a huge difference in Klopp and Arteta when it comes to game management. Arteta went mental because Mane went for the ball. Tomiyasu committed several illegal challenges on Mane which went unpunished by the referee. Stop making excuses. You got carried away because you’ve won some games lately.

  7. Klopp’s reaction to Arteta was pure deflection , his arguing with Arteta threw Oliver off the scent . I t wasn’t until Liverpool were 2 up and relatively safe that the card came out . I will be interested to see how Mane’s foul rate changed from sat the first 15 minutes to half time and then the second half..

  8. Even by the high levels of delusion displayed by football fans this is quite outstanding. Arsenal got totally outclassed from start to finish, 4-0 actually flattered them, and this click-bait fantasist writes this tripe. Brilliant.

  9. This was one of those games when I thought to myself your study of tackles/fouls/yellows/reds, of refereeing in general was definitely relevant. To cut a long story short, Oliver’s “performance”, after Friend’s and so many others, was disgraceful – and I certainly could understand why, at some point, MA “lost it”.
    Having said that, I don’t think I’m a “negative” person in general, and certainly not when it comes to assessing Arsenal FC … but I just can’t see where we’re going, “footballistically” speaking.
    We’re so boring, predictable that very often, after the final whistle’s been blown I wonder whether I’m the only fan left both frustrated and puzzled by what I’ve just watched – not only our losses, most of our wins too; at that stage, I don’t care much about our results, it’s just thrilling football I miss very much.
    All our moves look like the end products of drilling sessions, there’s no room for inspiration whatsoever … how could there be? We’re stuck (trapped??) with the two technically limited but-brave-muscular-athletic-disciplined-defensive midfielder-dogma, which looks eerily like the typical setup of 90% of Ligue 1 teams – and that’s not a compliment. Yesterday’s game was a “shining” example of that: obviously, there was no plan B – two DMs we started with, two DMs we ended up with, no matter what the scoreline turned out to be.
    Not only don’t we score, but we don’t create anything either, how could we? Partey-Lokonga are simply incapable of delivering the kind of pass that disrupts the opponents’ setup (Torreira-Guendouzi could, btw – and I was not Matteo’s greatest fan), while Odegaard, who would be the perfect backup for Granit (the man with a vision and a pass to go with it), keeps rotting away on the bench.
    As for Laca, there’s something almost sadistic about the way he’s forced to play in a position that’s not his (and has never been, ever) so that, even though our goal tally is ludicrously low, we’re actually deprived of our best goal/assist provider. What’s more, half our attacking moves are cut short because of Auba’s disastrous (for top-tier-PL-level!!) first touch (he’s a left-wing efficient poacher, that’s all, certainly not the CF to rely on in order to play quality football), as though it mattered not that all the flashes of brilliance we’ve had in recent months, took place when Laca was our CF, and could build up instinctive moves in connection with Emil/Bukayo, or hold the ball up for the whole team to re-organize.
    At the moment Alex is our attack’s missing link. Alan Smith was a ruthless goalscorer, but he was also the technical rock upon which GG’s Arsenal’s attacks were built. As for comparing Partey-Lokonga with Thomas-Richardson (and so many “pairs” that followed up), I’d rather not get into that at all …

  10. Mane is a very sly fouler.Gets away with murder.Particularly at Anfield & kloppy knows this.Aided & Abbetted by another useless ,hating Arsenal ref.Can someone,perhaps Tony,contact the club asking them to question them why Oliver is officiating almost a third of our matches & ask for explanation or the club will bring it to the attention of the premier league.It’s getting beyond a joke.

  11. I agree with the comments above about Mane. I recall that a few years ago, he started the match against Arsenal with a forearm smash on Lichtsteiner, which was, of course, ignored by the referee – (it may have been Atkinson).

    Yesterday, Oliver ignored a number of additional possible fouls by Liverpool, but was very quick to deny Arsenal any such latitude, by awarding fouls against us which were far from clear-cut. No doubt some of it was due to Liverpool players “showing their experience” by “buying fouls” and “making up the referees mind for him” ( to quote Shearer wisdom).

    No doubt that Liverpool were the better / stronger team on the day, but that’s all the more reason for additional help from the ref not being justified.

  12. My observation on our Anfield performance is that Saka was showing a lack of confidence. He did not attempt to beat the full-back on the outside, but always slowed down to cut-back on his left side, giving their defence time to cover and costing our attack its momentum. I thought that Pepe might have been brought on in the second half (although I accept that he also is inclined to cut-back inside rather than take the defender on outside.) Both these players have the ability to beat opponents on either side, but do not always show it.

  13. This is definitely the chief warehouse for the storage of sour grapes …. Gunners first trial by fire abd they fell apart … lfc were relentless in their press and just overwhelmed the gunners

  14. I think Arteta was angry firstly because the foul which precipitated his outburst was Manes fourth or fifth of the match and second because he led with his arm into the neck of the Arsenal player. I also think Arteta recalled the deliberate elbow from Mane on Tierney in last seasons match for which Mane should have been dismissed but for some reason wasn’t, which added to his frustration. Mane has a lot of history for using his elbows, despite what Klopp would have us all believe.
    Given that Liverpool have the serial fouler Mane, the sly Fabhino who is always ready to dish out the rough stuff and the thug Milner who regularly launches in to out of control tackles it is amazing they get away with so few yellow cards.
    I agree with John L regarding Saka. I was shouting at the television for him to take the fullback on the outside, he would have skinned him I am sure but he kept cutting inside and running into a packed defence.

  15. down into the abyss: lyon-marseille interrupted because dimitri payet – him again, just as in nice – was hit by a bottle coming down from the stands
    something’s very wrong with french footbal indeed (you alluded to that lately, tony, and rightly so); but let’s not blame that sort of chaos on football fans only
    something’s actually very wrong with french society right now: two far-right runners-up for presidency (zemmour, le pen) are between 15 and 20% in the polls; 90% of the media are controlled by 9 billionaires (one of which zemmour is the puppet of), macron’s government’s police has mutilated countless demonstrators (“gilets jaunes”) and killed some (including an old lady in marseille and a rave-party-goer in nantes); the only left-wing candidate (jean-luc mélenchon) is ostracized/labelled by mainstream media – including the very same anti-semitism accusation corbyn was the victim of, macron makes all covid-related decisions with top-rank military officers in a “conseil de défense”, so as to shunt the parliament and in order for those decisions to be shielded by military secrecy, his “minister of the interior” has shipped over military personnel and equipment in order to crush a general strike in guadeloupe (he is likely to have to deal with martinique and French Guiana very soon), etc. etc.
    what happens around french football pitches is a shame, but make no mistake: the way those so-called fans act is the symptom, not the disease – “now is the autumn of our discontent” indeed

  16. DWS – surely the most interesting point is that you spend your time reading what you consider tripe. Unless of course you commented without reading the full article. It is, surely you must agree, a strange way to spend your time, reading what (according to you) you already know is going to be tripe. An odd life to have

  17. This is a huge stretch, Arsenal also committed 12 fouls which is more than the average.

    Oliver gave many soft fouls including the Mane jump which was not a foul and resulted in the touchline bust up.

    When Arsenal beat Villa earlier in the season they committed 17 fouls, was that the tactic used to win that game?!

  18. Tony clear evidence of bias reporting which you accuse the media of, but which seems like you’re the king of… Liverpool made 15 fouls, 54% above their normal. Arsenal made 13 fouls, 44% above their average, but it’s Liverpool that was the dirty team, kicking poor arsenal off the park. Tony please just stop, 4-0 is embarrassing enough already, don’t add sore loser, crybaby etc to it

  19. “.. given that other countries have gone over to the policy of having many more referees available, and ensuring that no referee gets the same club more than twice”
    -a commenter a while back researched and published on untold ref figures for several European leagues, showing nothing spectacular about ref figures for the EPL, of course that hasn’t stopped your ref conspiracy theories. However the above statement was too good to pass up. So I decided to go checking wether truly other leagues in Europe have ensured that no ref refs a team more than 2x in a season.. it’s so easy to confirm the statement as false, just taking a few refs from the various leagues and looking at a few clubs they ref’d all at random. Here goes, all stats for the 2020/21 season & from
    La liga
    1. Alberola Rojas did 20games in la liga
    Sevilla, Alaves (x4), Getafe, Valladolid, Huesca(x3), Elche, Bilbao(x2)
    2. Guillermo Fernandez -21 games
    Valencia (x5) Barca, Ath Madrid (x4 LL+1copa del Rey), Villarreal, Bertis(x3)
    3. Javier Fernandez -22games
    Villarreal (x5), Valencia, levante, Ath Madrid, Sevilla (x4), Cadiz (x2)

    1. Felix Byrch – monchengladbach, Frankfurt (x3) Dortmund (x2)
    2. Manuel Grafe -Dortmund, Frankfurt, Gladbach, Hoffenheim (x3), Wolfsburg (x2), Augsburg (x1)

    Serie A
    1. Maurizio Maurani 18games
    Milan(x4), Napoli (x3), Parma, inter (x2), Juve (x1)
    2. David Massa 17games
    Juve, Lazio (x4), Atalanta, Cagliari, Verona (x2), Fiorentina (x1)

    French Ligue 1
    1. Jerome Brisard -20games
    Strasbourg (x5), Bordeaux, lille (x4), Nice, Lyon (x3) PSG (x2)
    2. Rudy Buquet -20games
    Lyon (x5), PSG (x4) Marseille, Monaco, Bordeaux, Dijon(x2)

    I think the conclusion we can make from this little analysis is that if there is a league that “ensures” clubs don’t get a ref more than twice in a season in Europe, it certainly isn’t among the big 5. Since I don’t have the time to survey all the leagues in Europe, maybe Tony could just tell us those leagues that comply

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