Are Arsenal finally getting to grips with the injury curse?

There have been numerous occasions over the years in which injuries at key times in the season have turned out to be hugely damaging – with some even proving to be turning points.

I think first and foremost of the season-defining Premier League clash at Birmingham City in 2008 in which Eduardo suffered an horrific leg break and our title tilt was well and truly derailed.

While that is an extreme example – and one which owed more to bad luck than anything else – there have been countless others in recent times which have been more about fatigue and, arguably, poor management.

The list of muscular injuries that have kept our best and brightest sidelined for long periods is alarmingly lengthy and has often be populated by the same names, sporting the same old problems.

Research carried out in 2014 by Premier Injuries Ltd found that, in the 11 years between 2003/04 and 2013/14, Arsenal suffered 312 significant injuries which led to a player being out for 10 days or more – the most in the Premier League.

At that time, it was exactly 100 more than Chelsea. The stats also showed that Arsenal’s average injury tally was above the Premier League average for 10 of those 11 years.

You can read more here on that subject.

Truly, we have a long and lamentable record but, perhaps most frustrating of all, is that nobody can say with any great authority quite why Arsenal players suffer more injuries than most, if not all, of our rivals. It could simply be coincidence or bad luck, but does misfortune really run for that long?

In a bid to counter that unenviable record, the club has spent a great deal of money and time behind the scenes – particularly in the last few years – looking at a staggering array of information, in the hope that a root cause can be identified.

The German national team’s fitness and conditioning guru, Shad Forsyth, was also brought on board, in the hope of turning things around.

It’s still too early measure the long-term impact of those investments, but the initial signs suggest encouragement.

During pre-season, Arsene spoke at length about the club’s injury record and how he was considering new ways of approaching the situation, including handling the return of his squad from international competitions over the summer.

To that end, Laurent Koscielny, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and Olivier Giroud were given extended breaks, and most were rested for the first game of the season against Liverpool.

That, in itself, was a gamble and one which Arsene shouldered a lot of criticism for, especially given the outcome of the game.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, it looks to have been a solid decision. An investment in an extra week or two for his key players, to ensure that no avoidable injuries were sustained, has worked a treat.

Granted, Arsene didn’t have the luxury of being able to rest Aaron Ramsey in that first game and, as a result, he suffered the sort of injury that drives fans mad – one which was largely self-inflicted given the amount of football that the Welshman had played over the summer and his propensity to suffer hamstring strains.

Since them, however, Arsene has been especially cautious with his injured players. Giroud and Ramsey have now been out for an extended period of time and the boss has made a point of saying that he will given the pair a proper pre-season in order to give them both the best chance of staying injury free as the season progresses.

In short, he is managing things a great deal better.

There has also been a little more self-imposed rotation and squad shuffling this year. Substitutions have been made quite smartly and risks have largely been avoided.

Arsene touched on the subject in his pre-Middlesbrough press conference.

He said: “I believe we have improved tremendously on the muscular injury front in the last two three or years. Last year we were a bit unlucky with the knocks we got, and the joint injuries we got. It was down to blocks in the game. On the muscular front, I think we have done much better and hopefully we can continue that.

“It is not just one measure, but it is to analyse the level of fatigue, of recovery, the preparation, the prevention. Everything is a bit more scientific and maybe that makes it a bit more predictable as to what will happen.

“We know the players very well because we have had data for a few years and we can analyse when players got injured, the repetition of a few signs and some warnings that we can now know much better about them now.”

There’s plenty to be optimistic about there. It seems the mistakes of the past have led to changes and improvements in how we monitor the players and, hopefully, will result in much fewer avoidable injuries this time around.

All teams struggle with injury, that is just part and parcel of the game, but, as a club, we could stand to do a whole lot better in how we spot and handle our knocks and niggles before they become weeks and months on the sidelines.

If we plan on going deep into league and cup campaigns this year, and not withering into oblivion come the spring, we must have a healthy squad of players available to us.

So far, we haven’t faired too badly on the injury front. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it continues that way.

 

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