Arsenal apparently have a discipline problem but, with the stats telling a very different picture, what’s really going on?

Arsenal's Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli (R) walks off having been shown two yellow cards in quick succession by English referee Michael Oliver during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on February 10, 2022. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal’s Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli (R) walks off having been shown two yellow cards in quick succession by English referee Michael Oliver during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on February 10, 2022. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Gabriel Martinelli’s red card against Wolves on Thursday night was Arsenal’s fifth of the season prompting cries of despair about Arsenal’s discipline problems on the pitch.

Leaving aside the myriad problems with Martinelli’s red card, and the fact Sky Sports pondered if it was the strangest in Premier League history, five red cards is not good.

Something is up.

A side that gets five red cards, you’d think, would be one that is renowned for being aggressive and petulant.

You think of teams Stoke and Wolves and Leeds.

You don’t think of Arsenal, who have been derided for being far too soft for far too long.

A side that has a discipline problem so bad that it results in five red cards should also be quite high up on the foul count and yellow card tables, too. Right?

After all, it is a rare thing to just have players sent off without those other elements.

That’s when you start to suspect something is going on.

In terms of fouls committed, only Leicester have committed fewer than Arsenal.

That’s right, Arsenal sit at the bottom of the foul table, cushioned from last place by just one team.

That is not a sign of indiscipline.

In fact, the team at the top of the table – Watford – have committed 42% more fouls than Arsenal yet have only four red cards (-25%) and just three more yellows than Arsenal (7%).

When it comes to yellow cards, only four teams have fewer cards than Arsenal – West Ham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester City).

That tells us that Arsenal don’t make that many fouls or pick up that many yellows.

Arsenal, on average, get a yellow card every five fouls which is about standard for the league. Liverpool, as usual, are an outlier, getting nearly eight fouls before they get a card.

Every time I look at these stats it’s the same for them.

One stat that might, somewhat, point away from refs and more to a problem at Arsenal is the number of tackles they have made where they have actually won the ball.

That’s another table that sees Arsenal near the bottom, with only Burnley below them. You could, therefore, say that Arsenal aren’t that good at tackling and that’s the problem.

Arsenal and Burnley’s foul stats are actually quite similar (202 v 203 and 38 yellows v 40) but they are even worse at winning the ball in a tackle than Arsenal – 187 v Arsenal’s 204.

So, if that’s a factor, how come Burnley haven’t had a single red card all season?

Manchester City, who are the next worst at winning the ball in a tackle (209) have eight fewer yellows than Arsenal (despite five more fouls) and just one red.

Perf Perf Perf Perf Perf Perf
Squad # Pl 90s CrdY CrdR 2CrdY Fls
Fld TklW
Watford 29 22.0 41 2 2 288 210 236
Southampton 25 23.0 48 2 1 277 220 247
Crystal Palace 24 23.0 44 1 1 264 282 261
Leeds United 28 22.0 61 1 0 253 210 253
Brentford 26 24.0 42 1 1 250 240 264
Chelsea 25 24.0 39 1 0 244 268 255
Manchester Utd 25 23.0 47 2 1 241 198 219
Liverpool 27 23.0 30 1 0 236 173 223
Newcastle Utd 28 22.0 55 2 1 225 212 238
Aston Villa 29 22.0 48 2 1 220 294 226
Norwich City 26 23.0 41 1 1 219 279 247
Wolves 21 22.0 39 1 1 219 199 271
Brighton 24 22.0 42 1 0 218 188 267
Tottenham 24 21.0 38 1 1 216 239 213
West Ham 24 24.0 32 2 2 216 180 240
Everton 31 21.0 45 1 0 207 217 258
Manchester City 23 24.0 30 1 0 207 211 209
Burnley 22 20.0 40 0 0 203 164 187
Arsenal 27 22.0 38 3 2 202 212 204
Leicester City 24 21.0 26 1 0 184 231 236
Provided by FBref.comView Original Table
Generated 12/2/2022

Martinelli’s red aside, it is hard to argue with too many of the cards Arsenal players get.

That isn’t the problem.

What is an issue is how we watch, week after week, other players getting away with fouls that SHOULD be a booking or a sending off, fouls that Arsenal players are punished for harshly.

Arsenal players rarely, if ever, seem to get the benefit of the doubt.

Can you imagine an Arsenal player stamping on an another’s face without it being a free-kick like happened at Everton when Tomiyasu’s face was used as a doormat?

You can’t imagine any other player seeing red in the way Martinelli did, that’s for sure.

For whatever reason, Arsenal are held to a far higher standard on the pitch.

We saw that in the game against Wolves itself when Michael Oliver declined to book a Wolves player for a worse SPA foul than the one he sent Martinelli off for.

Michael Oliver Arsenal ref or VAR nearly 40% of Premier League games

 

Was the Gabriel Martinelli red card wrong?

Clattenburg: 1 yellow would have been fairer for Martinelli

Gabriel Martinelli admits being upset over red card: “It’s difficult to accept”

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.