By Tony Attwood
100,000 words? A million words? No one knows how many words the media has used analysing the Premier League’s opening weekend. And nowhere, at least as far as I can find, did anyone write or say anything about Arsenal’s total change of tactics on the pitch.
Maybe it is because they have ignored Arsenal’s tactical changes (alternating between evolution and revolution) in the time Arteta has been at the club, but here was another enormous one. And once again it is at the heart of the art of the defender: tackling.
If all things were equal in the world of tackling in the Premier League then each of the 20 clubs would have one or two men listed in the top 20 of players for undertaking tackles each weekend. But life on the pitch isn’t quite like that because Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton each had three players in from the weekend’s top 20 tacklers in their teams for the first match of the season,
Seeing that there is a page on the Premier League’s own web site listing tacklers, this stat is a very easy statistic to pick up. But no one noticed!
Ben White was the most active tackler of the first weekend with eight tackles, followed by Declan Rice of West Ham on seven, and a total of three players from different clubs on six. And that’s where it is particularly interesting for one of those three players with six tackles was Partey.
Meaning that two of the top five tackling players in the league for the matches this past weekend are Arsenal players. And it gets even more interesting because Zinchenco is one of six players who put in five tackles. White with eight, Partey with six and Zichenko with five.
If you are a regular reader you will know how we have traced the story of the way Arsenal undertook a total reform of the way the defence behaved, by cutting the level of tackling in 2020/21 by 22% from its level in the previous season – a drop from 584 down to 456 tackles for the whole season. (The figures are here).
As a result of this, the number of yellow cards the club received dropped from 86 in 2019/20 (when Arsenal were the most yellow-carded team in the league) to just 47 in 2020/1 making them one of the least-carded teams.
However then in the summer of 2021, having achieved this success the manager replaced the whole defence. As a result in 2021/22 the number of tackles put in went back up to 540.
This looked like a total policy reversal, but now those players have had a season to bed themselves in, and to learn more about how referees in the Premier League handle the issue of what is a foul and what is not. These players are now tackling more than ever, but without getting penalised.
The figures show Arsenal put in an amazing 29 tackles in the game against Palace – by far the highest of any club in the opening set of fixtures this season.
This table shows how the process has gone. We (Untold scribblers) thought that it was all about reducing the number of fouls that were called against Arsenal, but actually it turns out to be a process of bringing in defenders from around Europe who can tackle without giving away fouls.
This table shows the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards relating to each other for Arsenal.
|Season||Tackles per game||Fouls per game||Tackles per foul||Yellow per game||Tackles per yellow|
What has happened is that new players brought into the team over the last two years who can tackle and get far lower levels of reprisals by the referees.
In the game against Palace, Arsenal were the team delivering the most tackles – a complete reversal of the approach when Arteta first came to the club. A reversal made possible by changing the whole defence one year ago.
So which players were putting in the tackles? These figures come from the official Premier League site for the opening game of the season
This is a total transformation – the journey that started by cutting tackling dramatically to being the team that delivers the most tackles – and yet keeps the number of fouls and yellow cards down.
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