Why are Arsenal getting so many yellow cards this season?

By Tony Attwood

This is a report on a story that the media is ignoring completely.  And it is not the story of Arsenal’s form of late (which is another story they are ignoring, for as you will know, if you have been taking notice, across the last six league games Arsenal have recorded the second best results in the league – only Manchester City have done better, being undefeated over their last six.)

Although even when Arsenal are not the story in the media the Mirror makes them the story as with the headline, “English football’s dirtiest player and club this season as Arsenal avoid top spot“.

Now why would they say “Arsenal avoid top spot”?  Are Arsenal normally the dirtiest club in the league?

This season Arsenal has sustained 33 yellow cards in the league from refs.  Top of the league is Leeds with 61.    So Arsenal are getting 54% of the yellows of the most yellowed club.  And yet they talk about Arsenal avoiding top spot!!!

Last season we got 47 yellow cards in the league and the top club got 73.  So we were on 64% of the yellow cards of the top club.

The season before last (2019/20) however we were the most yellow-carded team with 86 cards.  Now you may recall that it was in December 2019 that Mikel Arteta joined the club, and it was under the reign of his predecessor that the yellows began to get out of hand, and Arteta was unable to reign the numbers in.  

If one looks back at the videos from that era what one can see is that Mr Emery (for whatever reason) had no notion that with PGMO referees, and that Arsenal had to take particular precautions to avoid getting yellow cards in a way that Mr Wenger had learned to do.  But in the first year of the reign of Unai Emery our yellow card level was 72 – and we were the fourth most yellow-carded club in the league.

Indeed go back to 2015/16 and Arsenal were the least carded team in the Premier League, and although we had wobbles as PGMO changed tactics, we had pulled the number of yellows back to 57 by 2017/18.

But then in 2018 Mr Emery arrived and Arsenal shot up in the yellow card stakes and by the following season, we were the most yellow-carded team.   No one it seems had warned Mr Emery about PGMO, or if they did he didn’t believe it (bias and unfairness in England, the home of fair play? Surely not!) 

However, the board were certainly blaming him for not knowing about PGMO and not keeping the yellow cards under control.

But the stats were pretty awful – in four years we had moved from the club with the least yellow cards to the club with the most – our card number more than doubling.

Season Most yellow cards Least yellow cards Arsenal yellow cards Arsenal league position
2015/16 Aston Villa – 75 Arsenal – 40 40 2nd
2016/17 Watford – 84 Bournemouth – 52 68 5th
2017/18 West Bromwich – 73 Chelsea – 42 57 6th
2018/19 Watford – 77 Liverpool – 38 72 5th
2019/20 Arsenal – 86 Liverpool – 38 86 8th
2020/21 Sheffield United – 73 Liverpool – 40 47 8th
2021/22 – thus far Leeds United – 61 Leicester City – 26 33 5th
2021/22 estimated Leeds – 105 est Leicester – 47 est 57 est 16th est

As we can see the number of yellow cards varies season by season, and this season PGMO does seem to be getting quite carried away with the card waving.  Indeed the Arsenal number of cards has shot up and at current rates is estimated to total 57 by the end of the season – ten more than last season.

Partially this is due to a new wildness among PGMO referees in their card waving (no club has ever had over 100 yellows before in a season but that is where Leeds are heading).

But Arsenal also have had particular issues as they brought in a completely new defence this season, and it has taken them a while to get used to the way that PGMO referees react to Arsenal players.

Indeed if we look at the defensive record we can see we are getting things under control.  Last season Arsenal conceded 39 goals in the league – the third-best defence in the league.  This season we are going to be not far from this, having conceded 25 goals in 22 games, giving us an estimated 43 goals against by the end of the season.  Just four more than last season, and with a totally new defence.

So the number of goals conceded is going to be almost identical but with a 72% increase in yellow cards!  

It’s a funny ol game.

9 Replies to “Why are Arsenal getting so many yellow cards this season?”

  1. Tony,

    is there a way to find out cards given out for acts of play as opposed to cards given out for stuff like time wasting, telling the ref he is incompetent, whatever stuff that is fully subjective ?
    That would be an interesting one I believe

  2. With reference to the Martinelli double yellow. Have I misunderstood the rule of the game? I looked them up:
    “Once the referee has decided to caution or send off a player, play must not be restarted until the sanction has been administered, unless the non-offending team takes a quick free kick, has a clear goal-scoring opportunity and the referee has not started the disciplinary sanction procedure. The sanction is administered at the next stoppage; if the offence was denying the opposing team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, the player is cautioned; if the offence interfered with or stopped a promising attack, the player is not cautioned.”
    Surely the last sentence means that Martinelli should not have been booked for the first foul?

  3. Hugh that is indeed absolutely the point.
    The trouble is that PGMO seems to have its own secondary rule (which is not a rule for refereeing in general) which says that errors made by referees should not be a) publicised by the media or b) corrected by PGMO, for fear of undermining the authority of the referees.

    So once again I think Arsenal are being sacrificed on the alter of PGMO infallibility .

  4. The deflection of the ball after hitting the ref in the Womens match against Man City where play was allowed to continue resulting in a goal for Man City, was a clear breach of the rules, yet the only consequence of that incident, as far as I’m aware, was for us to be fined for failing to control our players.

  5. Why are Arsenal getting so many yellow cards ?

    Indeed, especially when you see how the rules are applied to others in not quite such a pedantic fashion.



    A player is cautioned if guilty of:

    -dissent by word or action.

    The reason I highlight that particular rule is to, in turn, highlight the exceptional nature of Marinellis Red card. The reason it was so exceptional was because of how rare it is for a referee to issue 2 simultaneous yellows, despite how many times that would be the correct action. If referee’s were to consistently apply the rules in such a pedantic manner we wouldn’t have anyone left on the pitch.

    During Man Utd’s 1-1 draw with Southampton Lingard was booked for a foul. 1st Yellow. He then immediately showed dissent by word AND action, right in the face of the referee. That is, by the rules, clearly another yellow card offence. Was it issued ? Of course not. It never is.

    But why is it never done ? Just because it never is. And really would you want it done ? Well personally, no.

    And that’s what I keep saying, as do others, about the Martinelli incident, yes by the book they both could, I say could of been yellows, but when do you ever see that ?

    Well like the example I give, never. Except when it’s us.

    So the answer to your question may be, it’s just being ‘us’ Tony ?

  6. I think according to the rule of the game martinelli should only get a yellow as opposed to two as highlighted by hugh but we already know that when it comes to arsenal it a different rule, we even joke about it with opposition fans here in Nigeria.

  7. I replayed the cynical Kilman block on Martinelli after 5 minutes on Thursday. It was an obvious caution which, predictably, Oliver chose not to punish with a caution. He had set his stall out very early and confirmed that later.
    Having seen 5 Manchester United players confront Attwell this afternoon they can expect a £20,000 fine when he submits his report. Attwell could instigate a fight at the local ladies knitting club. I await developments with bated breath. I think we all know a sanction will not be invoked. Referring to Hugh’s comment it appears Oliver didn’t know, or chose to ignore, the laws of the game he was refereeing. It will be interesting to see who referees our match with Brentford. Take your pick from Atkinson, Attwell, Moss or Pawson!!!!!

  8. As I see it, the Martinelli “incident” should never have happened. The ball was not in play when the first foul was committed, and so Oliver should have issued the yellow card there and then. I’m not sure why he signalled advantage for a foul that took place when the ball was out of play.

    While I’m here, perhaps you haven’t seen the following “incident” from a match between Brighton and Bournemouth on New Year’s Day in 2018, when Davy Propper went on the warpath, fouling two players in less than 5 seconds, and receiving 1 yellow card. Each foul appears to be worse than Martinelli’s, and the most interesting factor here is the name of the referee – Michael Oliver

    penguin agenda

    I’m looking forward to hearing the justifications for Oliver’s behaviour from “Arsenal” fans.

    Attwell was demoted from the PL “select list” many years ago. It took him a few years to wriggle his way back. He really shouldn’t have bothered.

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