“A beautiful game was destroyed. I cannot give my opinion. I will be suspended. I think you can read my body language very clearly.”
In speaking of the referee’s performance yesterday Mr Arteta showed once again how fully and completely he understands what Arsenal are up against.
We first got an insight into how differently referees will treat different clubs after the first 14 games of the 2019/20 season in which Arsenal were given over twice as many yellow cards as Leicester City despite undertaking far fewer tackles – an extraordinary occurrence.
That led to an in-depth review of Leicester’s ability to tackle with seeming impunity
But before that we looked at the strange figures that could arise relating to tackles, fouls and yellow cards in “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards” with a follow-up article “What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?”
However nothing really prepared us for last night.
According to the official figures published by Premier League Arsenal committed six tackles last night and Tottenham committed 16. The Premier League does not publish any data at all on fouls for fear of what it reveals, although its website is packed with other data. But it does publish data on yellow cards showing three for Arsenal and one for Tottenham.
From that official data we can see for every two tackles Arsenal got a yellow card, while it took 16 tackles for Tottenham to get a yellow card.
This is not the first time that the action of referees has caused some consternation – as it clearly did to Mr Arteta last night. We might think back to the issue we highlighted two seasons ago when these figures were revealed. The fouls figures are reported by Footstats and are those quoted wherever the number of fouls is reported.
We first wondered what was going on in the 2019/20 season when we found this…
What was so extraordinary then was not just the figures which were utterly bizarre but the fact that the media would not comment upon them. And the reason for that was clear. It would imply something was not right in refereeing. So we developed this simple table showing tackles per foul, tackles per yellow card and fouls per yellow card.
The variation in numbers was huge to the point of being utterly unbelievable. But they were true and the implication was clear. Clubs were being treated in very different ways by referees.
We did also recently have a statement by a reader that the number of fouls called and yellow cards given is related to the quality of the tackle not the number, but we worked on this analysis and found that was quite untrue.
The article “Do referees give yellow cards because of the quality or quantity of fouls” shows clearly that the quality of fouls is irrelevant.
Mr Arteta knew that, which is why with this season almost over, Arsenal’s tackling level is way down on what it used to be. And indeed last night those numbers fell even further.
And yet last night Tottenham managed to put in 16 tackles, have nine fouls called and got one yellow card. That is a ratio of 1.77 tackles per foul, 16 tackles per yellow card, and 9.00 fouls per yellow.
Their ratio all season is 1.66 tackles per foul – so they could put in a slightly larger number of tackles but not much to account for the other figures we found.
The tackles per yellow card ratio is 9.22 – so roughly speaking once every nine tackles, Tottenham have a yellow card given against them. Last night that ratio shot up to nearly double – 16 tackles per yellow card.
Likewise, normally Tottenham commit 5.55 fouls before getting a yellow card. Last night it was 16.
Of course, it might be argued that suddenly Tottenham Hotspur sorted out their tackling so that overnight they learned how to produce the perfect tackles which didn’t then get fouls or yellow cards.
Maybe overnight also Arsenal forgot how to tackle, but I don’t think that is a reasonable explanation, especially since Arsenal dramatically cut their level of tackling last night. They clearly knew how the game was going to go.
The sudden change in the way Tottenham were treated by the referee last night raises numerous questions, and of course Mr Arteta couldn’t speak on it, because anything said by a manager that relates to the figures we have been publishing for three years now, would result in a ban.
But what makes last night so very strange, and what explains Mr Arteta’s statement that he could not speak about what went on for fear of being banned is that across the whole season, Tottenham’s figures are not very far away from Arsenal’s. Normally, Tottenham tackle more and foul more than Arsenal but also get a few more yellow cards. But last night was very, very different.
Mr Arteta clearly already knew how the system works, but last night was a real slap in the face for Arsenal in terms of refereeing. Quite how Arsenal can respond to this sudden exaggeration in the refereeing approach is difficult to see. But it is all looking rather ominous.
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