by Tony Attwood
- This article continues from “Arsenal open the season with a remarkable new tactic”
The argument put forward in the last piece is that we are now seeing the culmination of a tactical revolution at Arsenal that began when Arteta arrived, and which in essence centres on the reduction of tackling.
The point of the policy is that since it is the referee who decides if a tackle is a foul or not, and since referees are tending to see eight or nine out of 10 tackles as fouls, the more a club tackles the more it puts the performance of the team in the hands of the referee.
Now we have also shown statistically that some referees are biased toward the home team, and some toward the away team, and not just by a few percentage points, but dramatically so. Indeed we have been showing this for around ten years, and it seems that although the national media won’t pick up the issue, one or two clubs (including Arsenal) are now taking this very seriously.
This review also leads for example into the notion that some teams deliberately look for fouls, claiming they have been fouled when they haven’t through their shouts, appeals and physical reaction. That is hardly news but it also raises the point that some referees are not very good at distinguishing “looked for” fouls from deliberate fouls.
But as we have found, any discussion of this sort is frowned upon, first because the media don’t like the idea of dirty tricks, and second because even more than this the media hate the notion of dirty tricks that fool the referee.
We’ve been trying to highlight this once or twice, (see for example Why do Crystal Palace players get fouled so often?) in the vain hope that PGMO might notice, but what really reversed the scenario yesterday was that Arsenal managed to keep the number of fouls that the referee considered they had committed close to last season’s average of 9.55. And rather amazingly they did this against Palace, one of the two clubs which last season had the most outrageous “fouls against” stats.
Now with Palace’s tactics, seeing exactly what is going on is never going to be easy to achieve, since as their overall figures show, referees believe that Palace players are fouled all match long. So to get the referee to recognise that Palace had committed 16 fouls against Arsenal in the game yesterday when last season on average Arsenal were being awarded under 10 fouls against them per game is a little short of a miracle.
But this is what happened. The referee ruled that Palace were fouling Arsenal more than Arsenal were fouling Palace! Exactly the reverse of what happened across every match last sesaon.
Indeed: a referee recognising a staggering 60% increase in fouls committed by Palace? Unprescedented and unbelievable!
And then on top of that the referee only awarded 11 fouls against Arsenal. Last time around Arsenal gave away free kick after free kick – this time Palace gave away more free kicks than Arsenal.
Here are the stats from last night…
As we have seen the most likely explanation for Palace having so many fouls awarded against their opposition last season in game after game, has to be because they deliberately invite fouls to be made against them – for example by taunting the opposition or by allowing the ball to be a little further away from their feet so as to invite the dodgy tackle. I fully admit we don’t have the evidence to prove that tactic, just the figures showing the amazingly high number of fouls committed on Palace players, so we are looking for likely explanations for a simple point: why did teams playing Palace last season commit so many fouls
One could argue referee corruption, but that’s impossible to prove, so I think that referee ineptness in not spotting the Palace approach is more likely to be the truth. I never like to argue corruption, when incompetence is a possible explanation. Where there is corruption it usually gets found out in the end, but generalised incompetence is often allowed to continue, in my experience.
Of course, for Palace it could be the manager. We know that when Vieira played for Arsenal the opposition would deliberately try to get him sent off, with endless niggling tackles. Could it be that some clubs think they could goad Vieira’s team in the same way, and thus do foul Palace all day long?
As I said before, this seems to be stretching the point given that watching the videos doesn’t seem to show this, so it does seem that last season Palace players were setting themselves up to be fouled.
However, yesterday Arsenal’s players were wise to it. If there is another explanation for the numbers, do let me know.
But let me add one final point: we are arguing about the “why?” – but the figures remain incontrovertible. Last season Palace were fouled far more times than they fouled other – and ot just a bit but massively so. If you don’t like my explanation of what was happening, fine, but it would be a nice to hear an alternative explanation.
Last night Arsenal used that fact, subverted the Palace tactics, and got their victory. And I’m rather pleased about that.
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