Liverpool v Arsenal – the rather alarming implications

by Tony Attwood

Liverpool’s decision in the game against Arsenal, dramatically to increase the level of fouling from its normal level is a statistical fact that can’t be denied.

Before this weekend’s game they had committed 107 fouls, at a rate of 9.73 per game.  Now it is 122 at 10.17 a game.  15 fouls in one game.  Even Watford, this season’s bonkers foulers who are way out of reach at the top of the fouling chart only average 13.42 a game.

Those are the facts, and they remain the facts despite the fair number of people who wrote in and denied them, or called the writers of Untold various unpleasant names.  The Premier League itself (which publishes tackles and yellow cards data) accept the figures, and they have appeared in the  media that bothers to do statistics.

A fair number of people wrote into the last article which focussed on these details, (as usual we didn’t publish the abusive comments, but still quite a few made it on line) and it was interesting that many of those who were arguing against the points made, didn’t address the issue of why Liverpool suddenly increased the level of fouling, just for this game.

Yet it is undeniable that this is what Liverpool did.  They increased their level of fouling by over half – and it is very hard to see how this could have been a chance decision on the pitch.  

So the more likely explanation is that Liverpool’s management told the players to go into the tackles much harder.   And they would have done so knowing that their chances of getting yellow cards was low, and any they picked up wouldn’t really matter since they get so few anyway.

Indeed if you are a regular reader you may recall our earlier headline before the match which said that Arsenal were 42% more likely to get a yellow card than Liverpool in this match.   In fact we were quite wrong – Liverpool got two cards, we got none.   But even with these extra yellow cards Liverpool are still 18th in the yellow card table – which emphasises just how unusual it was for them to pick up even one yellow card, let alone two.

Putting it all together there is no explanation for Liverpool’s high level of tackling, fouls and yellow cards, which is completely out of line with their previous behaviour on the pitch this season, other than the fact that it was a deliberate policy.   Of course I don’t know what their manager said to his defenders but it would appear to be “they are a young defence, go and frighten them”.   He might have said “kick the shit out of them”, of course, but whatever it was, the result was the same.  It was what Arteta saw early on, and why he got so angry.

Now this is an interesting development given the high regard with which Liverpool as a club, and Klopp as a manager, are held by the media.   And the media’s general desire not to look at statistics is a desire reflected by many of our correspondents yesterday who totally refused to engage with the figures and instead put forward different explanations for what happened – as if the stats were not there at all.

And it all plays right into Liverpool’s hands.

Of course for Liverpool to get away with such a tactic they needed a compliant referee, and we have speculated before that different clubs are seen in different ways by PGMO and so certain referees are given specific games.  As we know, this referee is on track to handle over one-third of Arsenal’s games this season, which is going to make life very difficult for us, if other teams, seeing Liverpool’s successful tactics in the match yesterday, adopt the same plan.  We are going to be kicked to pieces.

Yet for clubs it is a very simple approach.  Become known as a non-fouling team, and then when up against a talented young team, turn on the intimidation.   The club will pick up a couple of yellows, but since yellows are so rarely given to the club, it doesn’t matter.

We can in fact see how this has developed.  Between 2019/20 and 2020/21 Liverpool increased their number of fouls through the season by 19% but their yellow card rate only went up by 5%.  That told them all they needed to know.

So it seems they’ve noticed the vagaries of refereeing just as we have, but Liverpool have chosen to exploit them with a new, and I would say unwelcome tactic of using their image as a clean team to venture into intimidating through suddenly massively increasing their level of fouling – but only in certain games – knowing that a couple of extra yellows in a specific match, is neither here nor there.

I doubt much can be done about it, so I suspect we will be seeing others travelling the same route.  We’ll keep an eye on how the figures go.

13 Replies to “Liverpool v Arsenal – the rather alarming implications”

  1. I think that the explanation of the increase in number and aggression of Liverpool’s tackling on Saturday is more simple, Tony. Klopp, in interviews before the game, said that he had told his players to be more committed following their defeat in the previous game. We saw the effect of that instruction.

  2. I wouldn’t say Liverpool were overly aggressive in the game, they just competed at a level that most Premier League teams do against the bigger clubs. It did seem a tactic yes and one that is highly unusual for Liverpool. Arsenal are a young side and maybe klopp thought a more physical approach would break their rhythm and if that was the aim then it was achieved. It’s a lesson at the highest level for these Arsenal players that have made huge progress and one they can learn a lot from as the team continues its development under Arteta.

  3. Such hyperbole (“The Rather Alarming Implications”, “15 fouls in a game” etc etc) – Liverpool committed 15 fouls, Arsenal 13 fouls – in trying to find reasons why the result was not fair you make your self look ridiculous

  4. Of course Gedly if you want to take out individual elements and ignore others you can claim anything is ridiculous. Try this one for size…

    “The earth is plainly flat and not round, because I can see this as a I walk on it. The sun clearly goes round the earth because I watch it pass by every day.”

    Besides I don’t think I actually said the result was not fair. I said that Liverpool decided in approaching this match to change their tactics. Nothing unfair about that, and it clearly worked. Arsenal need to find a solution.

  5. That is a completely silly response and example

    That Liverpool were pressing much better than they haver been this season led to an increase in fouls does not equate with your angle that Liverpool ‘decided to foul more’. In any case and as I said Liverpool 15 fouls v Arsenal’s 13 fouls is hardly a big difference between the sides and I have no idea why you draw attention to that as a significant factor, and not the huge increase in pressures, for the result

    You have no idea whether the number of fouls were planned for so you insinuate that there was a ‘kick the shit out of them philosophy’ – in fact your silly response goes to show your limited thinking – they had more fouls than normal ergot they decided to bully Arsenal

    Evidently it’s too simple to say you were outplayed

  6. Gedly, I am sorry that you’ve not been able to understand why I drew attention to the issue. I thought it was quite clear and most readers seem to have got it. It is to do with the number of fouls committed by each team per game. Where that regular number suddenly changes the obvious implication is that it is at the direct instruction of the manager. In this case this is enhanced by the observations by Garth Crooks and others in the media subsequently. But if you want to allege simplicity on my part you can – although I still wonder why you bother to communicate with someone who you think too simple to understand your comments. Seems an odd way to run your life.

  7. In all your stats do they mention the number of Fouls committed by individual players (ManE ) for instance .
    Just curious.

  8. No Gedly, the point is you simply are unable to understand easy words in the English language. There is nothing to suggest in my writing that I am simple, and the strings of letters that I am entitled to put after my name suggest this is not the case (and really if you are going to be so rude as to accuse someone of simplicity you ought to do you research into who this person is). I think what you were perhaps in your clumsy manner trying to say was that the idea was simple. But just think about this for a moment. This site carries vast arrays of original statistical analyses which rarely if ever contain inaccuracies – how could you imagine that the person involved in putting many of them together is “so simple”? It really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Of course you could provide some evidence – but it would need to be more than one spot of evidence (such as the occasional wrong bit of long division) to back up your “so simple” allegation.
    No, I think that on that one example alone, the difficulties lie with your perception of reality, not my intellect.
    You really are a most curious chap.

  9. Pressing teams commit fouls further up the pitch and often that is an area which referees seem to view as less critical and don’t call them or let play carry on without yellows. They are just as cynical as fouls further back as they break up counters but are often viewed differently because it is attackers doing the fouling.

  10. Tony sometimes I find it hard to believe that you believe the things you write. I suspect you feel pressured to come up with theories for your fellow conspiracy theorist goons.

    1. Liverpool’s decision in the game against Arsenal, dramatically to increase the level of fouling from its normal level is a statistical fact that can’t be denied… You seriously suspect that klopp comes to the training ground and is like, gentlemen we’ve been doing 10 fouls a match, but tomorrow against arsenal, we’ll do 15. And during the match at 70th minute, Henderson will be like, boys we’re still at 5fouls, we need to up our fouling to get the coach’s target. It’s ridiculous. I can bet that everyone else would say foul levels of a team would naturally be influenced by certain factors one of which would be how the opposition played. I can also bet that analysis of foul numbers of any team in the league fluctuates from match to match.

    2. You kept referring to Liverpool’s tactics as kick the shit out of arsenal yada yada yada, so I went and checked the numbers only to find Liverpool made 15 fouls and we made 13. Just 2 more fouls than us over the course of the game, yet they kicked the shit out of us????wow!

    3. To get away with such a tactic they needed a compliant ref… The same ref that gave them 2 yellows for 15 fouls, and no yellow to us in 13 fouls. But yeah the ref was compliant in their favor. And you wonder why arsenal fans are ridiculed, called whiners, crybabies etc. Tony just stop already

  11. @UKP,

    First of all, at no point does Tony say that Arsenal deserved to won. Please admit to it and don’t write as if the subject is to whine about a loss. The subject is to show how bonkers refereeing is becoming. It is not the same thing. And to be clear, Certin teams are getting a far worse treatment and Tony’s stats are showing that.

    1) just go search for what Fergusson has said about it, notably about the infamous game (with more inamous refereeing) that broke the unbeaten streak of Arsenal. Sure coaches do this. It is part of the game. What you can get away with is always good. And do you believe that Liverppol were not aware that they were gifted Oliver – and we had him for the 4th time – in 12 game ? And you believe they are not aware how a specific referee goes about his job ? Sure they do. And most probably at half time, the word was : go get them, little chace we get any problem, so be more aggressive etc. It is part of any coaches speech. And I don’t. for one second. believe Klopp is any kind of saint. Not in his environment. He will win at all costs.

    2) Arsenal had 18 tackles, and 12 fouls. No yellow cards, which,means, considering how prompt Oliver has always been to punish, that they were relatively ‘clean’
    On the other hand. Liverpool had 14 tackles and 15 fouls, which does mean that the referee considered that a) each tackle was worthy of a foul – which i doubt 2) some other things were happening (hands, elbow, etc) and were punished by a foul.

    3) Again you don’t get the point. Nobody whines and yeah Arsenal lost. So what.

    but tell me :


    Just imagine the referee would be systematically lenient and offer Arsenala penalty….how loud the howling would be !

    Tony has been exposing the PL’s incompetence in many things. Starting with this issue. And he’s picked up other trends by studying the statistics the PL is giving out. Ask Spurs fans if they feel referees are fair to their team and if, of many things, it is not a reason for their slipping down ? The numbers for them are calamitous. There are enough pieces where Tony has brought to light such weird things like Leicester, Newcastle.

    Considering the amount of money being poored into the PL. the betting happening, how can such an amateurish incompetent bunch referee the games for God’s sake ? I mean. The same referree 4 times at game 12….

    So be sure of one thing, Tony won’t stop.

  12. @Chris you have said so many things, I may not be able to respond to all but I’ll try
    1. At no point does Tony say we deserve to have won..
    Response; at no point either did I say tony said we deserve to have won. Maybe it would have been better he said something like that so as to be plain and clear though.
    2. The subject is to show how bonkers refereeing is becoming.
    My response: Inasmuch as I don’t believe refereeing has become bonkers, I don’t see how the article even suggests that. Could you point me to the thesis statement that captures that thought as the aim of the article?
    3. Your 2nd paragraph goes on about speculation, opinion and more. You are entitled to your opinion I don’t see any point responding. However, you would do well to make a better case about Oliver favouring Liverpool. The stats you quoted seem to suggest the opposite even though you have conveniently interpreted them the opposite of the untold way. If it was arsenal instead who tackled 14times and got 15 fouls untold would have been screaming that the biased ref penalized every contact made by an arsenal player and added one for good measure. Blue murder. But now it’s the other way round, arsenal tackles more, get less fouls against, no cards and no, it’s not the ref being biased against them, it’s them being dirty and we are clean.
    4. Do I think it’s natural that arsenal get the same ref 4 times in 12 games? Actually I don’t think about such stuff, I think about why the possession stats was 84% Liverpool and 16% arsenal in the last 15minutes of the first half. I think about how it could have been 8-0 if not for Ramsdale. I think about how we are so far behind Liverpool, city and Chelsea and the best way to catch up. Yeah I think about footballing problems we have and not conspiracy theories you spin. We got a ref that was good to us yesterday, if we got him 38games a season and he ref’d us in that manner I’d be happy. I get it that you won’t be even if Jesus was the ref, but then again a bad workman blames his tools.
    5. Tony has been exposing the PL’s incompetence in many things… Maybe. However the incompetence on Saturday wasn’t on the part of the PL, it was by the arsenal team. We can do better. My wish is that we look at that Liverpool team and learn from them, instead of cooking up old wives tales about ref bias, learn from a better team and be better for it. Thank you

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