Arsenal’s biggest enemy in recent years has again got the better of us this season. No, of course I’m not talking about Tottenham. They are still in our shadow; it’s the injury bug that’s struck us yet again.
As off today, Arsenal have seven first teamers sidelined, and we are six games into the Premier League season. Just over a week ago, before Arteta and Vermaelen returned, we had nine players injured, which is an outrageous amount.
The phrases Gooners around the world dread hearing when we get updates from Arsene are “out for a few weeks,” which usually turns out being much more than few and the other is “soft tissue problem” with some “little bit” in between.
Jokes aside, these soft tissue injuries are ones that have been haunting us for years and seem to be the most common cause, posing a serious problem for our medical team.
After doing a bit of research, it seems intrinsic soft tissue injuries are the ones we see at Arsenal; “Intrinsic trauma is damage caused to the tissue from within by over-stretching, over-contracting or uncontrolled internal stress. Repetitive overuse is also a cause of intrinsic tissue damage.”
Arsenal have been faced with these kinds of grievances far too many times, which bears the question; Why do we have so many?
I asked on twitter why Arsenal Football Club, who boasts of the state of the art medical centre at Colney, almost always has the most injuries every single season. I went on to say that since we do have these facilities, is it the staff that is causing the problems?
Our backroom physio and fitness teams are headed by old, familiar faces in the form of Colin Lewin and Tony Colbert, both of whom have been at Arsenal for many, many years now. Lewin, as you know, was assistant physio to cousin Gary, who left the club to serve England national team on a permanent basis in 2008. He’s taken over as team physio since.
I got the usual cryptic sarcastic responses; “So you’re blaming our physios for injuring our players?” and “Are you a qualified doctor?” when I tweeted that along with some stats.
I’m not trying to create a conspiracy theory by any means, but personally, I honestly think it’s the staff that is not up-to-date and possibly the cause of so many setbacks.
Before I go on, I’d like to show you some stats which got me to write this blog. From the well-renowned website Phsyioroom, which keeps track of injuries for every team in the Premier League; it states that last season Arsenal lost 955 days due to injuries last season (http://www.physioroom.com/news/english_premier_league/2012_13/injury_analysis.php).
We played a total of 53 games plus pre-season, compared to Chelsea, who played a colossal 69 games plus pre-season, who were second last on the list, missing out only on 565 days due to injuries.
Yes, they had a bigger squad than we did, but that amount is still ridiculous. They played 16 full games more than, some which went to extra time, and a lot in other countries at continents (Super Cup, Club World Cup). So far this season, van Ginkel is the only first teamer on the treatment table after sadly busting his ACL, which will keep him out for the rest of the season.
I dug a bit deeper on the Physioroom website, looking at where we stood on the injury table season by season; 2011/12- 1343 missed through injury, third on injury table. 2010/11- 1478 days, second on table, 2010/11- 1868 days, top of the league and 2008/09- 1024 days, top of the league.
As you can see, we have consistently been on the wrong of this table every single season recently and it does not seem to be getting better as we’re currently joint second so far this campaign.
In my opinion, the medical and fitness team can have not only done better to prevent these injuries, but also handled injured players better when sidelined to reduce setbacks.
Realistically, when was the last time you can think of an Arsenal player who returned earlier than expected when he was declared injured for 3+ weeks? I struggle to remember one.
Yes, there were some new faces added to the medical staff in 2009 and then 2010; Simon Harland, Darren Page and Gary O’Driscoll to name a few. But, with Lewin and Colbert still the heads of their respective departments, I think we are not going to make any progress.
Before you close this blog, read on to see some interesting quotes from Kieran Gibbs.
Gibbo, as we all know, has been plagued with injuries over the years, but has found himself in good shape this year. These quotes come from his interview with the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2430247/Arsenal-defender-Kieran-Gibbs-hopes-new-health-regime-pays-off.html);
“Since my thigh strain at the end of last year, I met someone new who has taken a good look at me physically and I owe him credit at the minute because he has kept me fit for the last eight to 10 months. I have to thank him for that.”
It is common for players to see specialists for surgeries and during rehabilitation, but I find it strange that Kieran has been continuing with help from outside the club during the season.
Tony Colbert is AFC’s fitness coach and he’s known to be a man who works players very hard. Sometimes too hard. Many fans knew that Jack’s initial setback was because of Colbert, who overworked him, causing his condition to worsen which put him out for a few months more. There was no real investigation into his injury and he is still employed.
In comparison, another club in Europe who have had players dropping like flies is AC Milan. The Milanello is home to the “MilanLab,” a very modern medical centre built in 2002, where science and technology are used together to improve their players’ fitness levels and overall physical condition.
Alexandre Pato, who left Milan in January was branded as “injury-prone,” as he showed so much promise but simply could not keep fit. He moved to Corinthians and since then, he has not had a single injury, playing 47 games since.
These quotes are from Pato’s recent interview with ESPN with regard to Milan’s situation (http://espnfc.com/news/story/_/id/1556414/corinthians-forward-alexandre-pato-not-surprised-ac-milan-injuries?cc=3436);
“The treatment was different there. They do a lot of physical exercise, in the swimming pool, physiotherapy — you end up doing 20 days of work in just one week, and it’s only normal that the body can’t cope. Milan have lots of injuries this year too, which shows that the muscular injuries I had weren’t my fault. I played one game, hurt myself, recovered and injured myself again. It’s the doctors and the excessive workload aimed at getting me back in action sooner.”
It simply cannot be a coincidence that he is suddenly injury-free since moving back to Brazil. It’s clear that it’s the regime and exercises that affected him in Italy and kept him in stands for many months.
Similarly, I think this is the case at Arsenal, where we think we have the best facilities and staff around. It simply does not add up and questions need to be asked. It’s all well and good to have “Arsenal men” in Colbert and Lewin as a part of the backroom team, but if it’s not proving beneficial, what is the point?
I also find it strange that Gary Lewin, as mentioned before, left his position at Arsenal to serve The FA permanently. He was already serving them part-time when England had games. So, why did he leave? And what has happened since then? There has to be a reason for it. He is regarded as one of the best physios around, and would be on AFC’s bench every weekend, but instead does that only once in a month or so during the season when the players meet to represent their national teams.
If you look at last season, we did not have any major injuries like we usually do every campaign, but we could have definitely had one with Szczesny.
It’s a well-known fact that Woj’s father had a big rant about Wenger and his handling of the goalkeeper, but some of the quotes do raise eyebrows; “In August, there was a foot injury after which he played almost instantly. After seven weeks out Wojciech trained for just seven days and played the match. How on earth can he be on his highest form?”
“Wojciech has had two serious injuries. He played with one in April and May [last year]. He shouldn’t have agreed to play that time, but the coach insisted.”
We threw Szczesny into the deep end, injecting him with pain killers, to make sure he was “fit” just days after resuming full training. I have no idea Arsene did this on the advice of the medical team, but it is a strange one. It could have backfired completely. Not only could he have been very rusty, he could have done more damage to himself.
Looking at Arsene’s quotes about Theo, Rosicky, Santi and Poldi, I really hope they are on schedule, and that the Frenchman just wants them to avoid playing for their countries in the break coming up at the end of next week.
That could be possible, and I really hope that they are not delayed any more as each and every one of them, plus Chamberain, are vital to our side. We have been playing very well, yes, but our fixture list in November is going to prove a major test for us, and with these players available, we could definitely go into every game having a big chance.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that there are rumblings about the staff, which need to be addressed, and I hope the club can look at what exactly has gone wrong. Arsene Wenger is a very intelligent man, and I hope he looks into our injury situation and comes up with a necessary solution. With technology and science improving and moving forward every day, we cannot afford to be left behind.
Follow the author on twitter- @P38L0
hoto by Ronnie Macdonald