Of the current top seven in the Premier League only Manchester City have been fouled less than Arsenal this term.
The Gunners used to find themselves ‘bullied’ off the ball, hassled and muscled out of games back in the days when Cesc Fabregas was captain and teams with players of lesser quality saw aggressive physical football was the only way to take points from a game with the North Londoners.
We all remember the fouls – Abou Diaby’s ankle, Eduardo’s ankle, Aaron Ramsey’s leg break – it seemed them as if Arsenal players were made of glass and every other team in England knew it. They were smaller in stature physically and the team consisted of a number of technically gifted players from the continent who happened to be slight of build.
We remember the days when every time a set piece game into the box, the opposition considered it a clear goal-scoring opportunity because Arsenal couldn’t deal with aerial bombardment and, naturally, that’s often what they got once managers realised it was their weakness.
Those days are gone it seems. Arsenal players have been fouled less this term than Everton, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham players. Arsenal players are fouled on average 10.5 times a game in the Premier League.
That’s 251 fouls on Arsenal players across 24 games so far – I’m prepared to assert the re-signing of Mathieu Flamini has helped somewhat but it’s not just one player who is prepared to get their hands dirty this term.
It’s almost everyone. Week in week out, the defence are up for a scrap inside and outside of the box, Jack Wilshere’s never been one to shy away from a challenge, Aaron Ramsey has been physically supreme, the likes of Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, the ‘smaller’ flair players, have been sliding into challenges and winning the ball back in tackles. Olivier Giroud leads the line physically, using his strength and aerial prowess to hold up the ball and make his presence menacing in both boxes.
In the 2009/10 season, just as an example, Arsenal were the second most fouled team in the Premier League averaging 14 fouls against them per game (531 fouls across the whole season). That team scored six own goals, and kept clean sheets in 38% of their games.
They scored 16 goals from set pieces at the other end that term and as this critique notes, 56% of their goals the following season were scored from a set piece, and 26% of the goals they conceded came from headers.
This season they have yet to score an own goal and have kept clean sheets in 45.8% of their games (11 clean sheets so far) and have scored seven goals from set pieces or penalties at the other end. They have made 474 tackles, averaging 19.8 per game.
The ‘bullying’ tactics formerly used against Arsenal by rival managers in years gone by have simply gone out of style in the last 12 to 18 months as it has become abundantly clear that the Gunners are almost impossible to bully off the ball, the pitch or the top of the table this term.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald