Arsenal Injuries: Gremlins or Just Business As Usual?

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 22, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20:  Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal has his shot blocked by George McCartney of Sunderland during the Barclays Premiere League match between Arsenal and Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on February 20, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Ask most Arsenal supporters, and they’ll probably tell you that one of the most frustrating things about following Arsenal in the last few years has been the roll call in and out of the Physio room at London Colney. Injury has been the bane of this team in recent times.

This season, Arsenal has thus far suffered 67 different individual injuries with a few players bumping up their frequent flyer miles into Colin Lewin’s treatment room.

I think that what’s actually amazing is the fact that against all the odds, Arsenal is still six points behind the pace and well in the mix of the title challenge. There’s a statistic being bandied about that Wenger has not played the same players in over 100 consecutive games.

I can’t find any source to back this squad rotation figure up, and my only reference of any substance was that it was mentioned severally on Arsenal TV Online last week. If this were the case, then you begin to wonder what the hell Arsenal is capable of if we had a fully fit squad.

Wishful thinking I know—but you can’t help but wonder. It was only recently that Andrey Arshavin was pontificating about the issue of Arsenal’s prolific injuries—concluding that it’ll be a miracle if Arsenal can get to play with its entire complement of players.

Of course, that was a cue for the tabloid press to spew some diatribe about Arshavin’s comments. They decided it would be easier to sell papers if they hashed the story and said that the Russian actually said that Arsenal need a miracle to win the title.

The issue of constant injuries is a disturbing one though, and it should be a cause for concern for the team. I have a strong conviction that barring the unreasonable amount of injuries sustained by Arsenal (we, of course, have to allow for a representative amount of injuries), Arsenal has probably the best squad around. The dilemma is that we’ve rarely had the chance to use this squad to its full potential.

Saying that, injuries should not be an excuse for not getting on with the business of seeing the team through the season. You can’t legislate for certain freak injuries, but for the garden variety injuries any team suffers through the season—it’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure that there is enough cover.

I’m one of those who believe that there’s absolutely no reason in waxing lyrical about the strength and depth of your squad, yet when injuries hit, you get coy about using your understudies. In any other business, the management are responsible for ensuring that, day to day, the business is staffed appropriately so that it delivers its objectives.

In this respect, I feel that it’s only fair and square that the responsibility falls at the feet of Arsene Wenger.

Some people have suggested that maybe we need to have a look at our medical set-up. Some have even suggested going the Anderlecht way, following the Belgian club’s decision to fire its entire medical team for the disproportionate amount of injuries the team were suffering.

Now that’s what I call a breathtaking overreaction. For one, the medical team is not responsible for creating injuries—that happens on the pitch. Their job is not to stop players from getting injured; their job is to work with injured players, and there’s a distinct difference.

Some theories have also been suggested as to why Arsenal suffer a disproportionate amount of injuries. Firstly, Arsenal’s style and brand of football (Wengerball) is seen as a contributor to the injury situation.

The suggestion is that the strain and stress placed on the players’ bodies as they twist and turn makes them more injury prone. Arsenal players also frequently use bursts of pace to open up spaces and play fluid attacking football—as well as to recover defensively, and this is also seen as a contributor.

The other theory suggested is that the age and development stage of Arsenal players makes them more prone to injury considering what they put their bodies through. As they approach the mid-to-late 20s, their bodies will have settled and become more resilient and will stand a better chance against injuries.

There is, of course, the small matter of the strategy employed by teams that are technically inferior to Arsenal. It’s that ”if we can’t play like them, we’ll bloody well kick them out of the pitch” mentality that you see. It takes the form of two types of tackles.

There’s the type of tackle designed to take out an Arsenal player for strategic reasons ala Martin Taylor and Liam Ridgwell tackles on Eduardo and Theo Walcott, respectively.

Then there’s the strategic rotational fouling that opposition players indulge in to stop our creative midfielders and slow down our game. It makes it harder for the weak referees to do something about it, for each innocuous tackle is executed by a different player. It’s the "death of a thousand paper cuts" scenario that wears down our players and takes them out slowly.

I suppose that in a sick way, you can think of it as a compliment. Teams that can’t cope with Wengerball sometimes only have an option to take our players out.

There are also some ridiculous theories abounding—like the one recently offered by former Arsenal player and now Arsenal TV pundit Kenny Sansom. His view is that Wenger has made the players soft and brittle from his diet regime. The players don’t eat proper food anymore and they’re not ‘ard enough. Sorry Kenny, if that statement wasn’t funny, it would be tragic.

All in all, Arsenal have no choice but to get on with playing their fixtures. It is perhaps a good idea to look at it from the point of view that injuries, however disproportionate, are part and parcel of the game today.

That’s why I come back to the view that it’s solely Wenger’s responsibility to adequately staff the playing squad to cover for the absences through injuries.

I think the jury will be out for a while considering whether the Arsenal manager is adequately fulfilling this responsibility.

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