Arsenal v Leeds: two teams travelling in utterly different directions

By Bulldog Drummond

There is an interesting article in the Telegraph today headlined “Why Arsenal have backed Mikel Arteta with new contract without top four secured”

There is much talk along the lines of “it can also be measured in the mood and feeling at the Emirates, where the atmosphere has improved dramatically from pre-Covid times and there is now a genuine sense of “unity” — one of Arteta’s favourite words — between fans and players”.

There is also the recognition of the squad’s youth: “The youth of the team is an important factor, too. Arsenal are the youngest side in the Premier League, and there is every reason to believe these players can grow and develop together. Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Aaron Ramsdale are all under the age of 25.”

But what there is not is any mention of the tactical change that Arsenal have made under Arteta which has virtually cut their yellow cards per season in half.   Of course it is always good to cut yellow cards down, but I don’t think a drop of this amount has been seen before.

So why won’t they mention it?   Well, because it gets the debate into sticky ground.   Just as any mention of the table we cited a couple of days ago takes them into equally sticky ground.

Referee Games Home Win% Away Win% Draw%
1. Paul Tierney 24 37.5 37.5 25.0
2. Anthony Taylor 24 41.7 25.0 33.3
3. Craig Pawson 24 54.2 29.2 16.7
4. Mike Dean 23 34.8 39.1 26.1
5. Martin Atkinson 23 56.5 26.1 17.4
6. Michael Oliver 23 56.5 26.1 17.4
7. Jonathan Moss 23 65.2 21.7 13.0

How can you explain that one of the top referees this season has a home win record of 65.2% and another has 37.5% home wins under his belt?   Of course, you can try “pure chance” but really that’s not much of an explanation of such consistency.

We’ve explained it on this site, and maybe the media doesn’t like our explanation, in which case they could come up with another one.  But no, it is not on the media agenda.  And is very unlikely ever to be.

So, nothing changes and we move on with the usual data.

Tackles Fouls Yellow cards
Arsenal 491 319 52
Leeds 723 415 94
Leeds percentage 147% 130% 181%

Leeds’ yellow card total is the most in the league, with 18 more cards that Newcastle, their nearest rival.  They are also the team most committed to tackles, committing 91 more than second-placed Brighton, and the most fouls, although only 11 more than Watford.

That they have committed themselves to the tackle in such a way this season shows perhaps a naivety of their former manager Marcelo Bielsa in terms of understanding refereeing in the Premier League.  But the new manager has failed to reign it in, maybe because Bielsa’s team that he inherited cannot play in any other way.

But the comparison figures do show a certain logic in the approach…

Tackles/foul Tackles/yellow Fouls/Yellow 
Arsenal 1.54 9.44 6.13
Leeds 1.74 7.69 4.41

Leeds can in fact commit more tackles before a foul is called – they commit 1.74 tackles to get a foul against them, whereas for Arsenal it is 1.54.

But thereafter the figures are a disaster 7.69 tackles are committed before a yellow card is waved – Arsenal can get away with two more tackles before the PGMO steps in.   And Arsenal can commit almost two more fouls than Leeds before a yellow is waved.

If you have a look at the physical toll on Leeds players from the tackle-tackle-tackle approach it can be seen with their injuries: Dalls, Summerville, Forshaw and Roberts are all out for the season.  Bamford is doubtful.

Arsenal have Tierney and Partey out for the season.  White has a hamstring injury and is doubtful for the game against Leeds.

But it is also interesting to see where these divergent tactics have taken the clubs, by comparing this season and last season…   One year ago after 34 games the table read…

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
9 Arsenal 34 14 7 13 46 37 9 49
11 Leeds United 34 14 5 15 50 52 -2 47

This season it is

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
4 Arsenal 34 20 3 11 54 41 13 63
17 Leeds United 34 8 10 16 38 72 -34 34

Arsenal are 14 points better off than one year ago, although our goal scoring is eight goals down, and our defence five goals worse.

Leeds are 13 points worse than at this point last season, are 12 goals down in terms of scoring but have let in 20 more.

The story continues


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