Watford v Arsenal: Tackles, fouls and yellows, and the strange way referees react

By Bulldog Drummond


The tackles and yellow card data that we use throughout the season come from the Premier League’s website.

The Premier League website does actually have an entry for fouls per club on its website year by year, but if you click on it having chosen your season of interest, you’ll find the message “No stats are available for your search.”  I have no idea why they won’t publish this, unless it is to hinder research such as ours.

But Untold is not so easily disrupted, and so for the fouls data, to make our regular comparison between tackles, fouls and yellow cards we turn elsewhere, and we use the data from Footstats.    This is also the data that is used when the media at large report the number of fouls per club in reports, and so appears to be an official source.  But just not something that Premier League wants us to know about.

The reason for this of course could be the way in which Arsenal have seized hold of the link between tackles, fouls and yellow cards since Mr Arteta took over the coaching of the club, and set about taking Arsenal from being the most yellow carded team down to one of the least as this table shows…

Club Tackles Fouls Yellows
Arsenal 344 220 35
Watford 407 330 44
Highest in league 500: Leeds 330: Watford 75: Leeds
Lowest in league 344: Arsenal 216: Leicester 31: Liverpool

However because Arsenal have played fewer games than anyone else except Everton and Leicester (each also on 24 games) we now also need to look at tackles, fouls and yellows per game.

Club Tackles/game Fouls/game Yellows/game
Arsenal (24 games) 14.33 9.17 1.46
Watford (26 games) 15.65 12.69 1.69

From this point we have to consider the all-important ratios which then gives a clear indication of how the referees consider each club differently.

Club Tackles/foul Tackles/yellow Fouls/yellow
Arsenal 1.56 9.83 6.29
Watford 1.23 9.25 7.50

It is this table that so often shows up the oddities of what PGMO referees are up to.   Here we can see that Arsenal can put in more tackles than Watford before being called up for a foul.   Likewise, and indeed logically, Arsenal can therefore put in more tackles before getting a yellow card than Watford.

But Arsenal will get shown a yellow card much more readily for fouls than Watford.   Every 6.29 fouls Arsenal commit brings a yellow card this season, while for Watford the number is 7.5

This shows, as we so often see, that some clubs can go on tackling and fouling, knowing that the yellow card is going to be shown much less frequently than for their rivals.  And we must always be aware that getting a yellow card generally changes a defender’s game, for he knows that a) the referee is watching him and that b) one more slip, no matter how minor is going to bring forth the second yellow card.

This is not to suggest that all referees are biased against Arsenal, but it is a factor that is built into the system and the way that it works.  Referees are clearly aware that they are consistently penalising one team more than the other for its tackling, and so psychologically, making (as they do) instant decisions, the referees use the option of a yellow more readily for one team than the other.

To overcome this being discussed there is a general agreement among the media not to run the tables such as those above, but to focus on individual players and the number of cards they get – something that generally doesn’t tell us much at all about refereeing.

Thus they will never, ever show you this table…

Team Fouls Yellow cards Fouls per yellow
Manchester United 281 55 5.11
Tottenham Hots 255 44 5.79
Chelsea 264 42 6.28
Arsenal 220 35 6.29
Manchester City 234 34 6.89
West Ham United 235 33 7.12
Liverpool 254 31 8.19

The final column is the one that matters: it shows how many fouls a club can get away with before a yellow card is waved.  You can interpret this in one of three ways.

First, a club with a high number (such as Liverpool) is practised at delivering niggling fouls which just annoy and upset the opposition but which individually don’t end up with the referee waving a card.

Or it can mean that the referee brings to the game the view that Liverpool are not a dirty team, and so they ignore the repeated fouls and wag a finger not a card.

Or that Liverpool at back at the old game of rotational fouling in which defenders take it in turn to commit the final tackle, and so do not get the card for having committed a lot of fouls.

Looking at the other end of the table, one can see that Manchester United seem simply to invite yellow cards – they have picked up 77% more than Liverpool.  And yet they have only committed 7% more fouls than Liverpool!!!!!

Arsenal have dealt with this cut cutting the tackling and so cutting the fouling.  Arsenal foul significantly fewer times than the other top teams.  Yet despite committing 34 fewer fouls than Liverpool, have still picked up four more yellow cards than Liverpool.

If you want to know why Liverpool are doing so well, here’s a reason:  they can commit almost one fifth more fouls than Arsenal without getting a similar increase in cards.

As they say, it’s a funny ol’ game.

3 Replies to “Watford v Arsenal: Tackles, fouls and yellows, and the strange way referees react”

  1. So West Ham did their part by losing. Wolves lost as well which pretty puts them out of contention for 4th, but still in the running for EFL.
    5th us Arsenal’s to get now.
    Will be an interesting sunday

  2. 35% of games refereed by Pawson end in defeat. Only Kavanagh, Oliver and Atkinson have presided over a higher percentage of defeats in EPL history. So that doesn’t bode well.

    He’s pretty average with his card waving though and only gives us an average of 1.55 per game whilst giving the opposition 2.25 per game. He also seems to show more leniency to us, giving a yellow card for every 5.0 fouls by the opposition whilst we commit 6.4 fouls for each card. Red cards are two a piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *