Aston Villa v Arsenal: how to tackle without conceding free kicks – the Villa way





By Bulldog Drummond

In an attempt to stop the remorseless flow of free kicks and yellow cards against Arsenal, the club has continued under Mikel Arteta to reduce the number of tackles that the players put in, in each game, although as the table below shows, having reached an all time low of 12 tackles per game in 2020/21, they have now crept up to 14.7 tackles per game.

And it is worth seeing how these have changed over the years. The figures are for the average number of tackles by the club in a league game in that season.  This has meant that the number of fouls conceded by Arsenal per game has crept up, but only by one, and once the new defenders are fully conversant with the need to keep tackling down, in order to stop PGMO staff members from taking control of the match, Arsenal should get the number back down again.

Here’s a table of this season compared with the last four seasons in term of tackling, looking not only at the top two in the league but also the notorious Leicester City and this weekend’s opponents Aston Villa.  Figures come from WhoScored.

Tackles per game

Team 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23
Manchester City 13.7 13.5 13.1 13.1 12.7
Arsenal 16.0 15.4 12.0 14.2 14.7
Leicester City 17.8 19.5 17.9 18.2 18.2
Aston Villa 13.8 13.9 16.7 17.8


Of course tackles are an issue because of the high number of tackles that are called as fouls by the referees, and the fouls called against Arsenal are creeping up once more.   The level is only one more foul than Manchester City per game, but given that in 2019/20 and 2020/21 we were conceding fewer fouls per game than Manchester City, it is a trend that should not be allowed to go any further.

But this of course is the problem with bringing in new defenders – they have to learn that PGMO men will go after Arsenal players with more vigour than for defenders of many other teams.

Fouls per game

Team 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23
Manchester City 8.6 9.5 9.5 8.4 9.2
Arsenal 10.8 9.2 9.1 9.6 10.2
Leicester City 9.2 10.2 10.9 9.4 10.5
Aston Villa 11.9 11.6 10.6 11.2


Tackles per foul per game

This table shows us how the four selected teams have changed across the years in terms of how many tackles they can put in per game before being called for a foul.

So obviously the higher the number the better, because it means the club’s defenders can tackle more without being penalised with a free kick against the team.


Team 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 Average
Manchester City 1.59 1.42 1.38 1.56 1.38 1.47
Arsenal 1.48 1.67 1.32 1.50 1.44 1.48
Leicester City 1.93 1.91 1.64 1.94 1.73 1.83
Aston Villa 1.16 1.20 1.58 1.59 1.38


The table shows that Arsenal and Manchester City over the last four seasons have been more or less matching each other in terms of the way referees treat them.

Aston Villa however clearly hasn’t got the hang of his fully, but they have been learning their lesson.  They joined the Premier League this time around and were virtually being penalised for every tackle.  Now, thanks to their adjustment made after their first two seasons back in the Premier League they have for the last two seasons managed to make more tackles before being called out for a foul than either Arsenal or Manchester City.

But clearly since Villa have scored 20 goals fewer and conceded 15 goals more than Arsenal they have not yet found a way to turn their increasing freedom from referee interference into a real benefit.

I have included Leicester in the above figures because, as you will know if you are a regular reader, it was the discovery of Leicester’s extraordinarily high rate of tackling with its amazingly low rate of fouls given against the club that started our interest in the tackles to fouls ratio.

After we published our initial findings showing that Leicester were able to put in 30% more tackles than Arsenal before a foul was called, that referees suddenly changed their attitude toward Leicester and the number of tackles the club could make before getting a foul called against them, was reduced considerably.

But then in 2021/22 when we moved on to other affairs, and stopped doing that analysis, the rate of tackles they could put in without getting a foul called against them shot back up.  Another review this season has taken the number back down again, but they are still getting away with more tackles before a foul is called, than most other teams.  How and why is a matter for conjecture, but the best thought we have had so far is that it is a feeling among the referees that Leicester are the nice guys.

Not a very scientific thought, I know, but more palatable than suggesting there is downright corruption.

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