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How Arsenal are being targeted by referees this season: the stats

by Tony Attwood

All statistics that are taken after just a couple of matches in a season need to be handled with some caution, and one cannot draw absolute conclusions from them, but nonetheless figures this early in the season, taken in comparison with recent seasons, can be indicators of how things will go.

Yellow cards are particularly an indicator of how referees are seeing clubs.  The number of yellow cards indicating a combination of the transgression level of the club and the willingness of referees to punish that club.

Now the main cause of yellow cards are tackles – of course there are many other reasons for getting a yellow card, such as arguing with a referee for example, but from the statistics made available by the Premier League the number of tackles and the number of yellows still makes an interesting, if approximate, area of comparison.

Last season Arsenal got 72 yellow cards from 609 tackles which gave a rate of 8.5 tackles per card.  Crystal Palace undertook 730 tackles (the highest in the league) and got 58 yellow cards.   One card ever 12.6 tackles – quite a difference.

Liverpool got 38 yellow cards (the smallest number in the league) from 610 tackles – one yellow card from every 16 tackles.

Manchester City got committed 518 tackles (the lowest in the league) and got 44 yellow cards – a rate of one yellow every 11.8 tackles. Watford got the most yellow cards last season (75)  and committed 655 tackles – one card every 8.7 tackles.

What we would expect is that two factors would broadly influence the number of cards each club might get: we would expect perhaps that the club that committed the most tackles would get the most yellow cards, and that clubs further down the league would have less skillful players and so get more yellow cards that way.  They would also be defending more, and so again, get more yellows per game.

Now if that worked out exactly, that would mean that the clubs at the bottom end of the league would get the most yellow cards.  But if we look at the top ten clubs for yellow cards we see that although this is generally true, it is not 100% true last season.

Rank Lge pos Club Yellow cards
1. 11


2. 15


3. 6

Manchester United

4. 5


5. 7

Wolverhampton Wanderers

6. 16


7. 19


8. 18

Cardiff City

9. 14

AFC Bournemouth

10. 17

Brighton and Hove Albion


So yes, seven of the top ten teams with the most yellow cards last season, were in the lower portions of the league.  In fact five of the bottom six clubs in the league were in the top ten for yellow cards.  But so were two of the top six teams when it comes to league position.

So let’s take a look at some numbers and ask how many tackles it took some clubs to get a yellow card.

  • Manchester United: 1 card every 7.9 tackles
  • Arsenal: 1 card every 8.5 tackles
  • Watford: 1 card every 8.7 tackles
  • Manchester City: 1 card every 11.8 tackles
  • Crystal Palace: 1 card every 12.5 tackles
  • Liverpool: 1 card every 16 tackles

That is a huge difference in numbers.   Not every yellow is for a tackle, as noted, but the vast majority are, and so we can say that Arsenal, Manchester United and Watford were twice as likely to be punished for a tackle with a yellow than Liverpool.

But maybe last season was a one off.  Let’s have a look at this season after two games.

Club Tackles Yellow cards Tackles per yellow

Leicester City

49 0


46 5 9.2


46 3 15.3

Brighton and Hove Albion

44 1 44.0

Crystal Palace

42 3 14.0

Newcastle United

40 4 10.0

West Ham United

40 4 10.0

Manchester United

39 5 7.8


37 1 37.0

Aston Villa

36 0

Wolverhampton Wanderers

35 4 8.75


34 3 11.3

Sheffield United

34 4 8.5

AFC Bournemouth

33 4 8.25

Manchester City

33 3 11.0

Tottenham Hotspur

33 1 33.0


28 1 28.0

Norwich City

26 3 8.7


23 5 4.6


22 2 11.0

Last season Arsenal got 72 yellow cards from 609 tackles which gave a rate of 8.5 tackles per card.  This season the rate (although after just two games) has dropped to one yellow card every 4.6 tackles.

Of course we have to wait for the season to settle down a bit to see if Arsenal are going to be punished excessively by referees once again, as they were last season, but the opening suggestions are that they are.

It is more than likely that already the management at Arsenal is urging the team to tackle less and intercept more, but that is not helping.  At least not so far.

There might be other explanations for what is going on, but at this rate Arsenal will end up with 95 yellow cards which would be an all time record I think.  Certainly a lot more than Watford last season with 77, WBA the season before with 73, and even Watford wild rollicking 2016/17 when they managed 84 yellows.

In 2015/16 the top yellow carded team was Aston Villa with 75, which shows the normal levels of yellows as being fairly static in recent years with only Sunderland going off the charts with their insane kick everything that moves approach in 2014/15, picking up 94 yellows.  At the present rate Arsenal would beat even that.

This could be just a fluke of a couple of matches so far this season, but it might be a new PGMO approach. 

If so we need to give it as much publicity as we can to show PGMO we know what they are up to.  Most of the top management at Arsenal are fairly new to English football, and it may be that the ways of the PGMO have not yet sunk in.  Mr Emery has only been here a year.  Freddie and Edu played in an era before PGMO got their teeth into Arsenal.  We need to do all we can to alert them to the danger.

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