Regulars will be familiar with the wit and passion that Trev brings to the comments, or ‘drinks’, that follow each piece. They will also know that Trev is currently recovering from painful knee surgery that, somewhat ironically, has enabled him to write a piece about the possible reasons for the injury situation that causes all manner of ill-informed comment on social media sites. I will let Trev introduce himself, and his thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to put this together for us Trev, and we all hope your own recovery picks up apace.
I have run my own Sports Physiotherapy practice for 24 years, having trained under a tutor from the National Centre for Sports Injuries, in the diagnosis and treatment of muscular-skeletal injuries and conditions. Treatment consists of a range of manipulative soft tissue techniques and osteopathic manipulation.
Like most Arsenal fans, I find our continuing injury situation frustrating, not to say infuriating. Unfortunately, I fear some of our woes may be of our “own making”. Here are a few thoughts…
So why do Arsenal get so many injuries ?
The first part of this piece sets out some of the anatomical and physiological basics which underlie the possible answers. Stick with it if you can. I sincerely hope you think it was worth it by the end – should anyone make it that far !
Whether an Arsenal footballer, a little old lady, an all-in wrestler, or a blog writer, there are some physiological truths that apply to each and every one of us. The one at the root of this article concerns muscle function.
In the human body, the muscular system does a few things, some of which may not be immediately apparent. For example, the muscles store the ingredients required to generate medium term energy – that is to say, while the sugars needed to fuel a 100m sprint are all in the blood stream, the 1500m runner will derive their energy from the muscle stores, and the marathon runner will eventually burn up fat reserves.
The muscles also create a pumping system which cleans the body of the waste, such as acid and oxidant, created by generating energy. Most obviously, the muscles generate the forces which move the body around, and slightly less obviously, the forces which prevent it from moving too.
To explain that last point – whenever an injury occurs in the body, be it bone or joint damage, trauma, bruising, strain or inflammation, the muscles around the injury site go into a protective contraction – ‘if it can’t move, it can’t incur any further damage’ is the theory. This protective contraction reflex, or spasm, also kicks in whenever a joint is stressed to more than 70% of it’s flexibility or strength limits.
That contraction may resolve itself as the injury state improves – sometimes it does not. There are ways of “kidding” the body’s nervous system into releasing the protective contraction, and it is important that this is ensured as the body returns to health, otherwise continued contraction and compensation for injuries can result in postural changes.
The body will try to accommodate imbalances as far as possible which, over time, can lead to changes in many parts of the body. Eventually, something has to give but detecting and correcting all the affected parts can be a difficult and lengthy process.
None of that is peculiar to Arsenal Football Club, but the more injuries a player suffers the more complex the problem becomes. And it is our young players that seem to be more injured than most.
I believe that is because Arsenal players tend to have been promoted to first team level at a younger age than at most other clubs. Connective tissue – the tendons and ligaments that give stability to joints – does not mature and harden in young males until the age of around 21. Arsenal’s style has been based on ball retention, committing and unbalancing opponents, thus inviting challenges and moving at high speed. All this results in higher risk of catching, tearing and twisting injuries, sometimes, in Arsenal’s case, to 16-20 year olds.
Once that connective tissue is damaged as a teenager, it is very hard to get a perfect repair. Any resulting instability, damage or trauma in a joint will result in the soft tissues reflexively contracting to immobilise and protect the joint. Contracting muscles, operating at a shortened length, are more likely to suffer further tears or strains.
The Arsene Wenger model of recent years has tended to be to use leaner players for their quickness and agility, and we have had a lot of smaller, shorter players who rely on technique and passing rather than the more mature power runners of his earlier years at Arsenal, when we didn’t seem to suffer these injury pile-ups.
When we played Chelsea a few seasons ago, compared to their players, we were on average several inches shorter and many pounds lighter. Arsenal players have, therefore, been under more physical strain just to try to compete. Over 90 minutes of top level football the body could well be into fat burning for energy conversion as muscle supplies run out. As our players are so lean, they could struggle for energy from fat sources which will result in fatigue and possible injury.
Our injuries seemed to lessen once we began to recruit older players, and while we have had serial offenders like TV5, TR7, and a mystery situation this season with Lukas Podolski, most of our current crop has been to those immature, younger players like The Ox, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Ryo Myaichi, and now Aaron Ramsey who is struggling to recover from a thigh strain, and the still young Yaya Sanogo who arrived with a bad injury record that is continuing.
Abou Diaby’s situation is a bit of a freak but he has clearly never properly healed, van Persie only had an injury free season when he was 27-28 yrs old, and Kieran Gibbs has only recently been less plagued by injury as he has matured, but even he is now struggling again as the season lengthens out.
Compare those players to Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Arshavin, Olivier Giroud and the signings of Wenger’s earlier years who joined at an older age and have been relatively injury free.
What causes consternation among many fans is the now customary “3 week” syndrome. The club probably does not want to let rivals know exactly what the injury situation is, but fans would clearly like to.
Podolski, for example, was forecast to be out for ” 21 days” immediately after the game – “6-8 weeks” by the following morning, which had become 13 weeks by the end of November with another “3 weeks” to go. Apparently his hamstrings had virtually shredded themselves, but supporters were not told what the problem really was. That is very frustrating for supporters, but it is the club’s decision to handle the situation that way.
The latest situation with Kim Kallstrom will not have helped to dampen fans’ angst, although it may have been a ‘business’ decision to take him, which Arsene has subsequently explained.
The Aaron Ramsey thigh strain is the latest mystery and, personally, I am struggling to see how a lad leaves the pitch looking relatively comfortable at Christmas and is struggling to be back for a late Easter.
However, rather than simply incompetence, it is more likely that Arsenal’s playing style of close control and ball retention, coupled with the employment of a lot of young, relatively small, super lean players is what tends to result in these clusters of injuries.
Greater maturity, bigger physique and more powerful players seem to be the answer to more than just the fitness problem that we have in the Premier League.
Does that mean Arsenal should recruit an army of Stoke type giants ? Most definitely not.
But finding players who can combine the physical and technical requirements of Arsene Wenger’s style of football is a very hard task.