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.
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