Injuries: Time to Find out Why?

By on December 7, 2009

After almost a week off due to personal responsibilities, Arsenal Station returns with a look at Arsenal’s chronic injury problem

For the past 3 years, Arsenal have been wracked with an amount of injuries that would see lesser clubs fold completely. Yet, despite this the club has held its Champions League place, getting to the quarterfinals and semifinals. But as half of Arsenal’s first team is listed as injured, perhaps it is time for the club to reevaluate the situation in a bid to find out either why our players get hurt so regularly or, at the very least, how to deal with it.

Here is our current injury list (according to physioroom.com):

Here is what Arsene said about it recently:

Yes, at the moment it is our worst season for injuries. What happens is that we have injuries in the same area. Last year it was defensively, this year it is up front. It is true [that we pick up more injuries than the other big teams], you cannot deny that. We cannot say there is no reason for that but we have not found it. It’s very difficult to find a common denominator to all our injuries. For example Tomas and Eduardo get injuries because they have been out for a long time. Then you have Van Persie who has been injured with the national team. Theo is in and out because when he came back he was tackled against Birmingham and since then he hasn’t played.”

The chronic injury situation (see a 10-page list of Arsenal’s injuries since 2002 here) over the last few years has led to the almost constant cacophony of calls for more “depth” and a “bigger squad.” But you can’t have a first team of 30 players and you can’t buy quality players to sit on the bench. Even Senderos wants to leave for not playing. I just wonder where are all these quality backups that don’t mind sitting on the bench for weeks at a time that Wenger is constantly criticized for not buying.

The problems with injuries have been obvious to every Arsenal supporter, even if the media tries to downplay it. The quote above is one of the first times I can recall Arsene addressing the chronic nature of the problem. And even though I’ve wracked my brain over the last couple of years to try to figure out a reason why we should be suffering so many injuries to so many players so frequently, it is a bit troubling that Arsene seems to have no more clue than you or I.

He is right, though. There doesn’t seem to be a “common denominator.” I used to think that maybe it was his training methods, but the majority of our injuries come from matches not training. Our predominate focus on small creative players may have something to do with it. But it’s not clear if creative attacking players get injured more than defensive players in the game overall or just at Arsenal.

Possibly more than any other club, certainly any other big 4 club, Arsenal have been devastated time after time by injuries sustained on international breaks. This only makes things much worse. In the league, Arsenal are frequently exposed to tactics and strategies which involve trying to muscle them around. The old stereotype that the way to deal with Arsenal is to be “tough” is misleading. It’s not toughness that beats Arsenal. It is roughness. Tackles like those on Eduardo and, more recently, Walcott, are par for the course for Arsenal in the league.

Besides for Rosicky, who can pull a hamstring getting out of bed, to call our players “injury-prone” is misleading because their injuries generally come from challenges and tackles. And, while, those challenges which cause injuries are usually, but not always, whistled, it is the many questionable challenges that the referee lets other sides get away with that allow the challenges that injure players.

It is just as obvious to supporters of the club that Arsenal receive the least protecti0n from the referees than any other big 4 club. Visiting sides get away with far more against Arsenal, especially at the Emirates, than they could at any other big 4 ground. Mark Clattenburg’s performance on Saturday is a classic example. I can appreciate wanting to let the game flow, but referees need to set precedents early in the match to discourage shady challenges. It’s not hard… you see it all the time in United matches. An early yellow card lets the opponent know that they have to play football, not rugby.

But opponents’ strategies and referees’ inconsistency is only a part of the problem. Just being a blogger from 3,000 miles away, I can’t say that I have any answer to the problem. But as a supporter, I can say that the staff need to look at this as, quite possibly, the club’s #1 problem and treat it accordingly.

Injuries notwithstanding, it’s on to Greece for the final fixture of the Champions League Group Stage at Olympiakos. Arsene, smartly, will not risk players with a crucial league encounter with Liverpool on the horizon. On team selection for the mid-week fixture, Wenger said:

You will see Fran, Wilshere, etc… We played Man City last week and they had a full side out. For an hour we did not suffer at all. After that yes we did. I will try to build a similar team in Greece. It will be a great game for them because Olympiacos will play for something. It is another good opportunity to show that we can do better than we did at Man City.

I’ll close with Arsene’s post-match interview with Sky Sports:

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