You can argue if you like, but Arsenal got screwed all season by referees and here are the stats to back that up.

mike deans faceI know.

Every fan thinks their team is treated the most unfairly by referees but only one can be correct and it is Arsenal fans. That’s without even going near VAR as the decisions Arsenal have had from the virtual referee this season would drive you to distraction.

All season, I’ve been blathering on about this because I’ve been tracking the figures and it was pretty hard to miss. For the record, I don’t blame Arsenal being rubbish on any of this. That still doesn’t make it right.

Let’s find some common ground to start.

I think we can all agree that Arsenal are not a ‘hard’ team. They are not known for being dirty. In fact, they are known for being the exact opposite. Arsenal fans would all be very rich indeed if we got £5 every time a pundit called our side ‘soft’.

How, then, do they get more yellow cards than anyone else?

Total yellows

1920 yellow card final by yellows

It doesn’t get any better when you order it by…

Yellows per game

1920 yellow card final by yellow per game

How about if we look at it in terms of total fouls. These things, we’re always told, even out over the course of the season.

Total fouls

1920 yellow card final by fouls

You’ll see very clearly there that Arsenal committed fewer fouls than United but got 20 cards more. They also got 14 penalties while Arsenal got three.

But where it all really comes to life is when you organise it by ‘fouls per yellow’.

Then you really get to see it in all its glory.

Fouls needed to get a yellow card

1920 yellow card final by fouls per yellow

For a large part of this season (pre-Atkinson, read on for more on that) Arsenal were averaging a yellow every THREE fouls and sat on top of the table. It was only after the restart that things started to get a bit better.

Are we really going to say that Leicester City, of all sides, deserve so many more fouls before they get booked than Arsenal players? Really? The same with Sheffield United? Burnley? None of those sides are known for their light touch.

Pick a team, any team. I guarantee you people will agree that they commit more, and worse, fouls than Arsenal.

I understand the argument that can be made that, perhaps, Arsenal just make more yellow card challenges, but we know that isn’t true because we watch every week, with our own eyes, as Arsenal players get carded for things opposition players walk away from.

Sometimes it’s five minutes later in the same match with the same referee, sometimes it’s the next game. But it always happens.

Week after week after week.

The Atkinson Era

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Referee Martin Atkinson awards a freekick to Arsenal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Brighton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Referee Martin Atkinson awards a freekick to Arsenal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

In terms of officials, we finally got rid of Martin Atkinson after the game against Brighton and he hasn’t been seen, in any role, since. That marked an uptick in Arsenal’s FPY ratio as it was even worse before the break.

Arsenal played 44 games (I’m including the cup final as we know the officials) in those two competitions and Atkinson hasn’t been involved in any of Arsenal’s last 10 games yet he has still managed to be involved in almost 25% of our games.

No referee took charge of more Arsenal games (league and FA Cup) than Atkinson with seven. In total, he was involved in 10 Arsenal games this season as either referee, fourth official or VAR.

30 of Arsenal’s 44 games were refereed by just five referees – Paul Tierney (5), Chris Kavanagh (6), Mike Dean (6), and Anthony Taylor (6) were the others.

The remaining 14 games were split amongst seven referees with Stuart Atwell and Michael Oliver getting three games each, Jon Moss and Kevin Friend got two and Peter Bankes, Lee Mason, Graham Scott, Craig Pawson getting one each.

21 officials have refereed this season. We’ve had 12 with almost 70% being shared between just five.

Does’t really seem right, does it?

The following table counts an ‘involvement’ as being referee, line 1, line 2, fourth official, VAR or assistant VAR.

Official Arsenal involvement Referee
Paul Tierney 12 5
Chris Kavanagh 11 6
Martin Atkinson 10 7
Adam Nunn 10 0
Stuart Attwell 10 3
Constantine Hatzidakis 9 0
Sian Massey-Ellis 9 0
Mike Dean 8 6
Anthony Taylor 8 6
Ian Hussin 8 0
Gary Beswick 8 0
Andy Halliday 7 0
Stephen Child 7 0
Lee Betts 7 0
Harry Lennard 7 0
Daniel Cook 7 0
Kevin Friend 6 2
Marc Perry 6 0
Peter Bankes 6 1
Michael Oliver 6 3
Lee Mason 5 1
Neil Davies 5 0
Richard West 5 0
Jon Moss 5 2
Simon Bennett 5 0
Graham Scott 5 1
Craig Pawson 4 1
Dan Robathan 4 0
Simon Hooper 4 0
David Coote 4 0
Andre Marriner 4 0
Eddie Smart 3 0
Stuart Burt 3 0
Simon Long 3 0
Darren England 3 0
Darren Cann 2 0
Gavin Ward 2 0
Tim Robinson 2 0
Andy Madley 2 0
Peter Kirkup 2 0
Keith Stroud 2 0
Mark Scholes 2 0
Jarred Gillett 2 0
Scott Ledger 1 0
Adrian Holmes 1 0
Matt Donohue 1 0
Andy Davies 1 0
John Brooks 1 0
Nick Hopton 1 0
Matthew Wilkes 1 0
Andy Garratt 1 0
Simon Beck 1 0
Dean Whitestone 1 0
James Linington 1 0
Robert James 1 0
Andy Madley 1 0
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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.