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Arsenal’s injuries: it seems the figures are very misleading

By Tony Attwood

How many injuries do Arsenal have at the moment?  Are we the worst off, the best, or middling?

That question is a bit tougher than might be thought to answer.  According to the web site the Physio Room we have five injuries at present, putting us eighth in the list.  Top of the tree are Newcastle, Southampton and Stoke with eight each, and bottom are Manchester City and the Tiny Totts both with zero.  Lucky them.

But of course there are more to figures than just plain figures.

For example, Gnabry is not listed, because he has been training and playing with the under 21s.  So he’s not injured, but clearly is not yet ready to contest a place in the team.  And one might argue not needed at present.

Our five listed, with their expected dates of recovery are

  • Ramsey – 1 March
  • Oxlade Chamberlain – 21 February
  • Arteta – 11 April
  • Debuchy – 11 April
  • Diaby – unknown

All sorts of issues arise here.  Are the return dates a return to full training, or a return to readiness to play?  Indeed where do these dates come from?

And as I started to look at the charts I also realised – an injury is always a disaster for the player but it may or may not be for the team.  After all if you have three of your regular back four injured you have a crisis.  If you have three injured – one at the back, one midfield, one up front, you’ve probably got cover.

If you’ve got three defenders out and you can move players around, you are helped.  If you’ve got three out, and some cover and a couple of really good youngsters desperate for their chance, the cloud has a silver lining.

The tables give us more insight into this .  Newcastle actually have three players with no return date given, and Southampton two.  Man U on the other hand have three players out, all due to return in February.  Palace who we play this week have five players out, including Sanogo who would not be eligible anyway to play this weekend.  Of the remainder they have one no return date and one in March.

Liverpool although only having four players out have two of these with no return date and two in March.

And as I hinted above there is of course the issue of importance to the team.  Tragically we have reached the stage of not counting Diaby (wonderful player though he looked at the start of his career) as part of the team.  Indeed with his contract up this season it looks like he will never play for us again, and perhaps never play professional football again.

If, when I had been his age (and when I was still looking forwards towards a career as a musician, not as a writer) I had been told I would never play any instrument again professionally I am not at all sure how I would have survived.  One simply can’t imagine what he has had to go through.  And here we reduce him to a statistic.  To me that moment’s thought puts this in perspective.

But here people are reduced to numbers and statistics – so I am gradually moving to my point.  Apart from the fact that the notion that Arsenal always have more players out than other teams doesn’t seem right, just how important is the number of injuries we have?   An injury is a blow – sometimes an utter tragedy – for the young man injured, and maybe for the team, but for the team it doesn’t have to be if the player was only a bit part player, or has a ready-made backup.

If we go back to 2006/7 to illustrate the point, we had 20 injuries reported during the season which kept the player out for two weeks or more.  Newcastle had 39, Tottenham 36.  Blackburn, Bolton and Watford had 16.   So we were not an injury dominated club.  The clubs near the bottom of the list didn’t really seem to benefit too much.

If we did total player days lost that season from those significant injuries Arsenal had 1072, around half the Newcastle level.   But heading towards double Portsmouth’s figure: they lost 644 days.  It is resources that count, not injuries, it seems.

As to whether the type of injury is of concern, across the league muscle and ligament injuries consisted of over half of the injuries reported.  It seems the same across all the teams.

But here’s a funny thing.  When I turn to the web site Premier Injuries I find Arsenal listed with ten injuries at present and top of the league for injuries.  Statisticians eh?  Can’t trust them!

Turns out that added to the list we find Gnabry, Bielik, Wilshere, Flamini and Bellerin.

Now although Wilshere and Gnabry are long term injuries, they are, I believe, back in full training.  Wilshere could be on the beach this weekend.  But add them and the others about to be ready for this coming weekend to the injury list and the Arsenal story is shockingly different.  SHOCK ARSENAL INJURY CRISIS.

Bet inf has a different set of totals which took a while to sort out – but then I found it included suspended players too.  Here is their current list for Arsenal

Date Player Games Return
18.2 Aaron Ramsey 18
28.1 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 21 21.2 ?
23.1 Abou Diaby 0
23.1 Mikel Arteta 7
14.1 Mathieu Debuchy 10

Which brings us back to where we started.

By and large we know who is out for Arsenal, because we all follow Arsenal.   But I guess most of us don’t know who about all the injuries for all the other clubs and how long each injury lasts, and if there is cover available, or some up and coming youngster like Bellerin or Coquelin, waiting for his chance.

Looking at the data it is clear that just measuring the number of players injured does not give us a total insight – we also need to know if the player is an absolute regular player or a fringe player, and how long he is out for.

But the curious thing is that despite all the fuss I can’t see that we are either the worst or the best off in any chart.  At the moment, Tottenham seems in all charts to be doing well in the injury list, and Newcastle badly, but Arsenal isn’t either.

And when I jumped back to a randomly selected year in the past I got us mid-range again.

The problem is that lots of people write articles in which they proclaim a FACT such as the FACT that Arsenal have an endless injury crisis, without comparing us with other clubs or clarifying the data.   So today there is a PANIC notice on some web sites as Arsenal are advertising for another medical specialist to join the staff.  STUPID ARSENAL after all these years still haven’t got a medical team sorted.   ARSENAL ADDRESS INJURY CRISIS AT LAST.

Hmmm.  I thought we did that by investigating the pitch.  Or the training ground.  Or the diet.  Or… choose your source and choose your invented story.

I am starting to think that the hysteria about Arsenal’s INJURY CRISIS needs reading more carefully.  The numbers alone are meaningless without context.

Untold Arsenal

Anniversary of the day: 

20 February 1933: The Management Committee of the Football League give Arsenal permission to wear shirts including “white collars and cuffs.”  It seems all colour changes had to be formally approved.

9 comments to Arsenal’s injuries: it seems the figures are very misleading

  • Amos

    Not all clubs are as open when it comes to reporting injuries as we and some others are. Arsenal have been part of the Uefa Elite Clubs Injury Study Group for a number of years and has always benchmarked the number and type of injuries compared to other clubs with the same work load. After all Arsenal can find themselves playing some 30% plus more games in a season than some other clubs in the PL. As part of this Study Group Arsenal have always reported that our injury problems when measured over a reasonable time are really no better or worse than other clubs.

  • umeadi nnama

    gooner for live

  • There are different types of injury as well which need to be included in whether it is a crisis or not. Perversely, for a sportsman, strains and pulls are often worse than breaks as they impact a return to full explosive speed. Horrible injury though it was, I imagine that Debuchy will find it relatively easy to get back to full match fitness, whereas Arteta may take longer. I would worry about Ramsey, as I don’t think he has been properly right since Boxing Day 2013, and am anxious about Chamberlain, as both players have strains while Wilshere worries me less as I think it is a more mechanical issue.

    And, of course, there is also the issue of how these injuries are treated. When I was playing back in the dim and distant, cortisone injections were seen as an effective and often used resort, but I suspect that nowadays that approach would be flagged up as potentially injurious to a player’s long term health. Perhaps some clubs have a more cavalier approach (remember the indecent haste with which Bale was rushed back towards the end of the 12/13 season)and focus more on short term gain.

    I imagine too that there is a grey area between ethical and non-ethical treatment, and find it hard to believe that some clubs (possibly all) aren’t steroidically seeking to prevent injury by artificially increasing muscle strength. More than a few employ a Dr Needles I suspect.

  • nicky

    Tony,
    Your words of sympathy about Abou Diaby do you great credit.

  • Gord

    Amos, a week or so ago, I posted a URL to a study out of Australia, looking at posterior thigh injuries in football players (Aussie Rules). They followed 2 teams for a season. They found they were reporting significantly more injuries than the average team reported. The difference was the study included injuries in training and possibly other sources. Whereas teams were just reporting injuries in games (public).

    R.W.Hamming in Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers has a motto, “The Purpose of Computing is Insight, Not Numbers”. The same should hold for statistics, as statistics are an object of computing.

    Sanogo’s injury is a hamstring injury picked up against Newcastle.

  • jayramfootball

    hmm, you mention statistics but you are guilty of using them here. Many of our players have returned so right now, yes we don’t have the most injuries. Its important to look at a longer trend and how many games have been missed. I might be wrong but I think over the past 4-5 years Arsenal have consistently topped that statistic. We certainly are a club with players prone to injury – who knows why. Even Wenger has commented on it.

  • Gord

    The Daily Mail had an article which consisted of a picture.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/football/video-1161382/Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain-sporting-Bane-mask-heavy-gym-session.html

    And they didn’t even have to take the photo, Ox uploaded it to the twitverse.

    A zero work article by a newspaper, who could ever imagine getting paid for doing nothing?

    I am going to guess that whatever this mask is, it is meant to measure respiration rate (in and out). No matter how light it is, it is still going to bounce and be annoying. It looks fairly large, and hence a big chunk of his lower jaw is going to be at an elevated temperature (because all the air in that mask will be at an elevated temperature). As we lose so much heat from our head, this mask will perturb the heat flow, and measurements will not be what they should be.

    I can remember running races (1500, 3000m) indoors, in an arena where they were also cooking hamburgers and french fries. At the end of the race, you had inhaled so much fat floating in the air, you went to the bathroom and puked. And I don’t really know of any physical tracers for airflow that are going to be appreciable better than wearing that dumb mask.

    The object of respiration measurement, is to try and get a handle on oxygen usage. X grams of oxygen used, means Y grams of sugar burned, which means Z calories of energy released, which means W calories of ATP regenerated. That sort of thing.

    The brain uses glucose in areas which are active, which is why F-18 labelled FDG (fluoro-deoxy glucose) is used in PET (positron emission tomography, F-18 is a positron emitter). F-18 has a half life a bit under 2 hours, so you need to be close to a particle accelerator to use it. Carbon-11 is also a positron emitter, but it’s half life is even shorter. And taking some radioactive carbon -11 and trying to make sugar out of it, quickly, so that you can inject it in someone is not easy.

    The problem with both F-18 and C-11, is that the person being studied ends up with a radiation dose of some kind. You really should exhaust all other avenues before using radiotracers, especially outside of medicine.
    And who wants to do maximum aerobic activity inside a PET scanner? 🙂

    Long distance runners hit “the wall”, cyclists “bonk”. I don’t know other words. Sustainable aerobic activity gets most of its energy from the oxidation of fats, but that process actually needs a trickle of sugar to work. Make the event long enough, and all the sugar stores in the body drop to zero, which is hitting the wall or bonking. Or it was, 15 or so years ago, maybe there is a better description now?

    All the muscle (and liver) glycogen is used up when you hit the wall. To continue, the body starts scavenging. The body knows how to make sugar, but to do so destroys protein. When you hit the wall, the body is trying to start this switch to “burning protein” to make sugar, to get the energy from fat stores which are still present. Like a lot of things, you can get better at making this change over. Football players seldom hit the wall, a game isn’t long enough.

    Just to get a football player to hit the wall (instrumented) is (probably) unusual training.

    After a sufficiently rigorous workout, the muscles of the body seem to act like a dry sponge being exposed to water in terms (old data on my part again). Give them sugar, and they will store away the sugar as glycogen in the muscles. And probably in the liver too.

    If we analyze carbon in nature, it is mostly C-12 (about 99%), some C-13 (about 1%) and a trace of C-14 (5730 year half life).

    If we give our glycogen depleted athlete, glucose where every carbon atom is C-13 (which is expensive), and whatever magic ingredients we need to maximize how much of this C-13 glucose ends up being stored in the muscles, we can now do an experiment with stable isotopes. If there is some way to “block” our C-13 glucose from being taken up by the liver (and turned into glycogen), that probably is done.

    There is recovery needed beyond just replenishing muscle-glycogen. Do whatever is needed to keep our C-13 muscle glycogen from being used, and get the athlete back to training level.

    Now we can start having the athlete do workouts by himself (probably in a small gym), and we can sample air (presumably near the mouth during exhale). And we are looking to analyze the C-13/C12 ratio of the CO2 in each sample (probably using accelerator mass spectrometry, the same instrumentation used for carbon dating (C-12/C-14 ratio is of interest).

    And maybe we can get a few days of different or same workouts in, and then we take our athlete back to the wall, to try and get all the enriched C-13 glucose out of his system (and we won’t get it all). And his medical records need to carry how much C-13 glycogen he absorbed, and how much C-13 was retained (an estimate). Because some doctor in the future may do a study, and an oddball C-12/C-13 ratio could effect the results of the study (how it is analysed).

    For normal studies, you still need the dumb mask. But these normal studies can get calibrated against the stable isotope studies, to make them better.

  • Sleekwhale

    I do not think I’ve had information being handed to me on a platter. Injuries @ arsenal need to reduce. There was a time when Fabregas was the most fouled player in the league. I wonder if that’s the kind of record we should keep?