Man U v Arsenal: how Man U failed to tackle and sank to 18th in the form table



By Bulldog Drummond

Both Arsenal and Manchester are at the low end of the tackling chart- in fact, Manchester United have been delivering fewer tackles than anyone this season.  And yet despite being the lowest tackling team in the league, they are the ninth highest team for fouls and the fifth-highest team for yellow cards!!!

This means either some of those tackles are pretty horrific, or the referees are biased against them or our entire approach to this analysis is utterly wrong.

Arsenal’s position is much more consistent.  16th for number of tackles, 15th for number of fouls, 16th for number of yellow cards.   This suggests our tackles are not horrific, suggests referees can be controlled by clubs and suggests our analysis across the last few years is correct.

Tackles Fouls Yellows
Arsenal 193 (16th) 112 (15th) 18 (16th)
Manchester United 173 (20th) 121 (9th) 31 (5th)
Highest 255 161 35
Lowest 173 98 14

The ratios give a clue as to what has gone wrong for Manchester U.

Tackles per foul Tackles per yellow Fouls per yellow
Arsenal 1.72 10.72 6.22
Manchester United 1.43 5.58 3.90

Arsenal can get away with slightly more tackles per foul than Manchester United, but can commit twice as many tackles before getting a yellow and almost twice as many fouls before getting a yellow.  Presumably, because our tackles simply are not as reckless as theirs.  They tackle rarely, but when they do, it is in desperation.

So Arsenal’s tactic in this game must be steady as she goes.  Let Manchester United tackle, and the referee might well do our job for us.  (I can’t believe I just wrote that!)

Thus there clearly has been something going wrong with Manchester United’s planning, and it may well be interesting to see what happens under their new manager.  Will he up their tackle rate and risk getting even more fouls and yellow cards against the club now referees consider them easy prey?  Or does he come into the appointment naive about the vagaries of the Premier League’s refereeing system?

What, he might argue, is the benefit of hardly tackling at all?   (Not realising that the answer obviously is because half of their tackles end up with a yellow card and around one in four of their fouls produces a yellow.)

It is most curious, and something that could probably only be resolved by detailed analysis of the fouls that lead to these incidents.  But we’re probably the only website that could do this, and our timetables are overwhelmed with Arsenal matters.  

Certainly one of the most extraordinary figures on the Manchester United chart is that the club is delivering the lowest number of fouls in the league but the fifth-highest level of yellow cards.

A look at the rest of the top ten yellow-carded clubs shows how weird things have got…

Pos Club Yellow cards
1. Newcastle United 35
2. Brighton and Hove Albion 33
3= Aston Villa 31
3= Leeds United 31
3= Manchester United 31
6. Burnley 28
7. Watford 26
8= Crystal Palace 25
8= Norwich City 25
10. Brentford 24

They are the third highest yellow-carded club in the League with the lowest number of tackles.  How can that be?  And what are they doing picking up the number of cards associated with clubs near the foot of the league?

Looking at this whole situation is a bit like that déjà vu thing all over again.  Here’s the league table on the evening of 19 September.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 5 4 1 0 12 1 11 13
2 Liverpool 5 4 1 0 12 1 11 13
3 Manchester United 5 4 1 0 13 4 9 13
4 Brighton and Hove Albion 5 4 0 1 7 4 3 12
5 Manchester City 5 3 1 1 11 1 10 10
6 Everton 5 3 1 1 10 7 3 10
7 Tottenham Hotspur 5 3 0 2 3 6 -3 9
8 West Ham United 5 2 2 1 11 7 4 8
9 Brentford 5 2 2 1 5 2 3 8
10 Aston Villa 5 2 1 2 8 7 1 7
11 Watford 5 2 0 3 6 8 -2 6
12 Leicester City 5 2 0 3 5 8 -3 6
13 Arsenal 5 2 0 3 2 9 -7 6

They were out in front hobnobbing with Chelsea and Liverpool, and since then they have lost to Aston Villa at home, drawn with Everton, lost to Leicester, lost to Liverpool, beaten Tottenham (which of course pretty much anyone can do these days) and lost to Manchester City and Watford (!) and drawn with Chelsea.

Thus as you would expect from this in the form table, as we have risen to near the top, they have sunk to into the muddy bottom.

Premier League Form (Last 6)
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 6 5 0 1 13 4 9 15
2 Chelsea 6 4 2 0 16 2 14 14
3 Liverpool 6 4 1 1 22 5 17 13
4 Arsenal 6 4 1 1 10 7 3 13
5 West Ham United 6 4 0 2 10 6 4 12
6 Wolverhampton Wands 6 3 2 1 7 6 1 11
7 Leicester City 6 3 1 2 11 11 0 10
8 Tottenham Hots 6 3 1 2 7 8 -1 10
9 Southampton 6 3 1 2 6 8 -2 10
10 Crystal Palace 6 2 3 1 11 8 3 9
11 Norwich City 6 2 2 2 5 11 -6 8
12 Burnley 6 1 4 1 9 9 0 7
13 Leeds United 6 1 3 2 5 6 -1 6
14 Watford 6 2 0 4 11 14 -3 6
15 Aston Villa 6 2 0 4 8 12 -4 6
16 Brentford 6 1 1 4 7 11 -4 4
17 Brighton and Hove 6 0 4 2 4 9 -5 4
18 Manchester United 6 1 1 4 7 16 -9 4
19 Newcastle United 6 0 3 3 7 13 -6 3
20 Everton 6 0 1 5 3 12 -9 1

My goodness that table looks quite jolly in some ways.

3 Replies to “Man U v Arsenal: how Man U failed to tackle and sank to 18th in the form table”

  1. OT Sorry about this for first post but I think this is a gem worth sharing.

    To explain for those who don’t know, The Guardian paper issues an email entitled ‘The Fiver’. It is published on week days.

    Today’s edition begins with this:

    SADNESS IN HIS EYES

    “The Fiver isn’t in any position to accuse anyone else of living in the past, given we’ve spent the last 20 years banging on about ZX Spectrum games, regional ITV and Spurs. “

  2. Is shirt pulling defined as a tackle? Is barging somebody off the ball recorded as a tackle? Is kicking the ball away or timewasting defined as a tackle? Is an attempted tackle that fails and results in a foul being given, actually recorded as a tackle?

    Whilst I do appreciate the general principle of this tackle/foul hypothesis, there is nothing scientific about it when such questions are unanswered….or indeed ignored!

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