By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
It’s well known to many an Arsenal fan that Arsenal’s always had injuries under the venerable – and somewhat derided – Arsène Wenger, regardless of the backroom staff. Many blame injuries on the training pitch, the methods used, the quality of the aforementioned staff, or even the lack of cover from referees. While I’m no doctor, and I will never claim to be well-versed in medical science, I am very well-versed in analytics and predictive statistics. This article is not a personal opinion, but a statistical analysis of a decade-long cycle that never ceases to amaze everyone involved.
Year on year, Arsenal’s title hopes begin anew, only to be smashed to smithereens by injury upon injury to the core of Arsenal’s ambitions. While, as of writing, the current squad for the 2015-16 season is deep enough to sustain injuries to the likes of Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck, and Wilshere and still sustain a title challenge: – regardless of the current league’s quality or lack thereof – the team has not been this fortunate, brimming with quality, bulging at the seams with talent for a decade, a series of injuries would derail even the Invincibles.
However, the Invincibles didn’t have many injuries. Why is that? Martin Keown has suggested that the new training pitch at London Colney, meant to simulate the rugged pitch at Arsenal’s vaunted former stadium at Highbury, is ‘too hard’, and can cause problems. This statement is taken far more seriously once you consider that Joel Campbell is the only Arsenal senior team player without an injury in 2015-16.
While this resolves the question of why the Invincibles and previous teams hadn’t succumbed to the same issues, it does not explain why certain players – such as the aforementioned Campbell – tend to escape injury, nor why the arrival of Shad Forsythe as the new senior training and ‘performance enhancement’ specialist spurred the quick recovery of many a player.
Indeed, Mr. Forsythe has been derided as of late – particularly by a certain firearm-named blog – due to Arsenal’s current injury crisis, occurring at its worst every November. But why November, you ask? Let’s look at the factors involved: Arsenal’s form has, historically, been quite strong in October. Arsenal have topped the table several times in September and October, especially with Premier League rivals failing to catch up in the beginning of the season; everyone’s warming up, but Arsenal are already on fire.
Arsenal’s form has always been that of a calendar year: A strong 2013, followed by a weak 2014, followed by a meteoric 2015, and so on. A team that thrives on yearly form, not seasonal form, is ripe for injuries in colder months, such as November. November comes with several densely-packed fixtures, many of which are away games for Arsenal due to the scheduling system. A mixture of travel, lack of heat, and previous physical exertion for almost an entire year leaves a team open to injuries.
Some would call it a coincidence that the only Arsenal players that hadn’t had much game time in the 2015 calendar year were the only ones without significant injuries, in Joel Campbell and Kieran Gibbs – whose injury was a minor blip, along with Laurent Koscielny’s similar blip. Statistically, it’s highly improbable that these factors aren’t connected.
The squad is built around forced rotation due to injury, wherein Ramsey would come in for an injured Cazorla, and Wilshere would come in for an injured Ramsey. This leads to every player playing a substantial amount of time, getting injured, and repeating the process. We at Arsenal have been fortunate thus far in that the average injury lasts 2-3 weeks, rather than 2-3 months as we’re seeing now with both halves of our first-choice midfield partnership.
A system wherein three or four similar players rotate according to fitness is not inherently wrong: teams such as Bayern Munich – with Götze, Robben, Ribery, Costa, and Coman all filling the same role, and all just as injury prone as each other – employ this very tactic. Injuries are unavoidable in the modern game, for reasons we’ll get into in parts two and three. However, the issue arises when one of the links in that chain gets injured for more than a few weeks, and more than a few times: Jack Wilshere.
The answer is not simple, nor is it short, but for now, the answer lies in several factors. This initial view was aimed as an exposition for a few of the factors I’ll be analysing, with a few numbers propping up in part two. Rest assured, however, that the answer is not one factor alone: Rotation, training regiments, the pitch: they are all microcosms leading to the same macrocosm of injuries.
Join me in part two where I’ll discuss injuries in football in general, delve into more depth on the factors at Arsenal, and dissect Jack Wilshere, and whether he should be allowed to stay at the club.
Ahmed Nada is a blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner