In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and Arsenal injuries. As regular as clockwork, Arsenal fans are certain to have an injury crisis plague their team. The worrying thing is that these crises always seem to happen to key players at a time when other teams are beginning to gain momentum. Could it seriously all be down to bad luck?
When Shad Forsythe arrived from the German National Team’s technical staff, he was billed by many as being the best fitness coach in the world. Either those claims were greatly exaggerated or his input is not being accepted. There has been no change whatsoever to the frequency of injuries at the Emirates this season. Let’s take 1 November 2014 as a reference point. This the day Theo Walcott finally returned to the squad after his ACL injury kept sidelined for 302 days. Up until that date Arsenal had suffered 73 injuries while Manchester United had suffered 77. This was in stark contrast to Chelsea’s 46 and Southampton’s 40. A frightening picture. Two factors can be looked at when examining an injury: 1. Training Methods and 2. Individual Man Management, although the two are linked.
It remains difficult for the average person to say with certainty the exact training methods of a club on a daily basis. Open training sessions are not frequent enough but this is understandably to protect the club. Despite this murky fact, people close to the club state that Arsene Wenger’s training methods are “outdated” and “military style”, this is consistent with comments by Ray Parlour stating that Arsene Wenger has not changed his training methods in 10 years. This is a problem because 10 years ago the game was not as intense as it is today. Sports science has also evolved from then. 10 years ago players could train at military-style intensity and still perform with less fatigue, as the game was slightly slower. In the modern game this is not possible and is unsustainable. This outdated style results in an accumulation of fatigue which makes players more susceptible to injury.
Training methods then link to man-management. Let’s take Kieran Gibbs for instance. Gibbs is a player that has struggled with muscle injuries for the majority of his short career and it was not surprising when he picked up a hamstring injury on 16 August. The surprising part was however, that after more than a month out he started and completed 90 minutes in Dortmund then 4 days later completed another 90 minutes against Aston Villa. Gibbs was given no time to rest and fully recover, he then completed 90 minutes in every league and Champions League game after that until a hip/thigh injury forced a substitution against Sunderland – minimal time for recovery. This is how a vulnerable player is handled and he is not the only one. Ramsey and Wilshere have also been treated in a similar vein. Young “injury-prone” players are given minimal rest by the Arsenal boss.
Old school training is hurting Arsenal in the same way it is hurting Manchester United, while younger modern coaches at Chelsea and Southampton are able to use modern methods. The link between training methods and man-management also explains how Chelsea can play the same players in every competition with minimal rotation. Fabregas has been able to stay relatively injury-free this season, while it’s hard to imagine the same statement would apply if he returned to Arsenal.
Muscle injuries in football can often be attributed to accumulated fatigue but this is not always the case. For instance in Diaby’s case, progressive science being pioneered by Thomas Dhave attributes part of his chronic injuries to a concussion sustained in April 2007. The training environment at Arsenal does not assist in alleviating this. On the opposite spectrum, Alexis Sanchez has been Arsenal’s most regular player and it’s worrying that he played almost 90 minutes in every match throughout the Christmas period. Strangely enough for a player not used to playing over Christmas and not used to getting as much playing time throughout his career, he has remained injury free. A theory to this may be in Sanchez’s physical stature. If one pays particular attention to the slightly larger size of his legs and thighs, they may indicate a higher red muscle fiber presence which can withstand more fatigue. This theory is open to challenge.
Along with technique, tactics and physicality, a team needs good communication in order for it to properly perform. This communication, mainly non-verbal can only come about through playing together regularly. Unfortunately for Arsenal not enough of the expected stars have played together and built the on-field connection required to play more effectively.
Ultimately, a team with many injuries can never challenge for any silverware that requires consistency and will constantly fall short when placed against football’s elite. As Walcott, Özil, and Ramsey return to the squad, Gooners can only hope that the technical staff have taken proactive steps to protect and not over-play them. Only then with the best players available may we finally see the true Arsenal.