It`s always the deflection tactic of first choice if there is any suggestion from an Arsenal related source that maybe bad tackling isn`t good for the game. As though it has any relevance pundits and others of different partisanship will gleefully point to Wengers disciplinary record, particularly in his early years, as justification for disqualifying the argument. Irrespective of whether it were true or not it doesn`t alter the need for the game to take a more intelligent approach to the way challenges are made in the modern game. We accept conditions change in the game all the time. If it didn`t we`d still be playing on mud patches in hobnail boots and the players would be sharing a ciggie at half time.
Discounting the extraneous nature of the point just how bad was Wengers disciplinary record? In terms of the card tally it was pretty poor in the first 5 years of Wengers tenure. The majority of those cards weren`t for offences that would mark Arsenal as a dirty team though officials considered them undisciplined. Wengers record improved significantly after that period and we have been in the top half and often top of the fair play league since. But leaving that aside for the moment what do the numbers tell us about that supposedly dark period? Taking the PL`s official statistics for those first 5 seasons and averaging the disciplinary points on the basis of games played then Arsenal ranked 11th out of the 25 teams that participated in the PL during the seasons from ’96/`97 to ’00/`01. So we were barely in the top half but nowhere near the worst offenders. Part of the reason for that is that we picked up relatively few yellow cards compared to a number of other teams and others weren`t so far behind on the tally of reds.
However we did collect the highest number of PL red cards in those 5 years though not out on our own. Many will remember that many of those were for retaliatory offences, offences under the totting up process and for dissent but even on the raw numbers we weren`t unique. Two other sides collected as many red cards, 22 in fact, as we did. In our worst season ’98/`99 we picked up 7 cards but the newly promoted Blackburn picked up 8 reds in a seasons total of 73 red cards which has only narrowly been topped once in Wengers time. One other team exceeded our 7 reds tally in a season during that period, West Ham with 8 reds in ’97/`98
But in this supposedly dark period of red cards for Wenger, Everton were the worst offenders in terms of disciplinary points with the same number of red cards in those 5 seasons but quite a few more yellows. In second place, sandwiched between worst offenders Everton and third placed Arsenal was West Ham United who also picked up 22 red cards with fewer yellows than Everton but more than us.
So there you have it, Wengers dark disciplinary period as Arsenal manager in the Premier League was topped by the manager of West Ham throughout that time – one Henry James Redknapp.
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