Having watched around a half century of Arsenal games live, both at Highbury and Ashburton Grove, one of the first things I’d noticed – after the bowling green-like surface at both “Homes of football”- was how much opposition teams would need to toil away at their foul count to get a yellow card compared to us.
My first game was one of the Champions Leagues games played at the old Wembley (against Fiorentina) and even then I used to marvel at the fact that a robust challenge on us would generally get waved on by the man in black yet if an Arsenal player tried that same type of vigorous interception there would be a sharp intake of breath while the crowd waited to see whether there would be “an ecstasy of fumbling” at the referee’s top left pocket to flourish a yellow card.
As I trudged home after that first live match experience, where I had the delights of seeing Bergy, Henry, Kanu, Adams and other Arsenal legends play, I put down that perception to my partisan nature and I assumed the sense of injustice felt then was due to that natural fans bias.
Fast-forward ten years and has age mellowed my perception of this egregious treatment of our team and do I believe match officials deal with our games in an impartial manner?
No and no. So that’s a double no.
By way of an attempt to look rationally at this I thought “New year, fresh chance for officialdom to convince me of their objectivity” so I counted up – with my advanced level excel skills coming to the fore – fouls and yellows awarded in our games so far this calendar year.
We’ve had 4 home and 5 away games and the stats are as follows:
In total we’ve had 102 fouls awarded against us with 13 yellows while our opponents have had 125 fouls and 11 yellows. That means 7.85 fouls per yellow for us and 11.36 fouls per yellow for our opponents, that means the opposition have to foul us nearly four (3.52 to be precise) more times to get a yellow.
This is prima facie evidence of what I’ve always suspected, that we are either penalised more or we don’t know how to “skilfully” foul or foul at a low enough but persistent level to not warrant a caution, Darren Fletcher style, yes YOU Fletcher you scruffy, dishevelled excuse for a footballer.
However if you look at how the home and away statistics disaggregate another picture unfolds. At home we have conceded the same number of fouls as opponents, 54, yet we have been shown 6 yellows to the opponents 5. So that show’s we don’t have referees influenced by the crowd at Ashburton Grove as it’s a near identical fouls per yellow (us 9 exactly and opponents 10.80) but its away from home the referees show all the bias to the “Top 4” that smaller clubs with chips on their shoulders bleat about.
Our 48 fouls away from home have resulted in 7 yellows (6.86 fouls per yellow) while the opposition playing in front of their home crowd have earned only 6 yellows from 71 fouls (11.83 fouls per yellow) – that’s approaching TWICE the level of fouling required by us to warrant a yellow, and that’s just the opposition fouls that are called by the referee (we can all remember plenty of instances where dangerous fouling against us has gone without caution.)
I’m well aware that some may say statistics can be produced to support any argument however something as straight forward as fouls per yellow is not a convoluted or especially esoteric measure of the equality of cautions earned compared to foul play.
The home-away disparity is partly due to the hostile atmosphere at away grounds influencing referees – they may say it has no effect but 44,000 ‘dippers crying out for a penalty when Stevie Me launches into his trademark double axel with a half twist near our penalty area nearly always results in a spot kick. A similar situation exists at Old Toilet where the Shrek (and Greasiano and “Donkey” van Nistelrooy before him) has been conning us out of results (none more so notably to end our unbeaten run) on a regular basis – that our manager is no longer surprised by this is testament to how long this situation has prevailed; these are just “Old Trafford-ish” instances. The power of the prawn sandwich brigade has had referees from Riley to Webb showing all kinds of ludicrous inconsistencies favouring the toilet scrubbing in-breds who play in that Salford retail park.
In conclusion I would say we have to wise up and learn how to foul more “efficiently” and we have to make Ashburton Grove a more forbidding environment for the opposition so that we can make our home advantage count for more in influencing the referees.
Perhaps we have started to develop a bit more of a nasty streak in recent times which is all the better for letting the opposition to not start taking liberties with us.
There is also hope for the our home atmosphere being more intimidating on the evidence of the Bolton game where I joined in the jeers of Jaaskelainen (while they were 2-nil up) for time wasting and booing the Bolton players for their traditional thuggish approach.