They have tried blaming the pitch, the grass, and above all they have tried blaming Arsène Wenger. They are the press and their blogetta camp followers. They seize on comments such that “Arsenal have held a comprehensive internal analysis of the club’s preparation and training” when in fact all sensible Premier League clubs do exactly the same all the time.
They make no mention of course of other clubs, because such information rather damages the simplistic quick and easy journalism that the papers love. And indeed that their journalists love, because it means a quick knock out of a story without facts and then down the pub.
But a look at the top of the league table of injuries from physioroom.com shows that Arsenal are, even now, not out on their own, the pariah of injuries.
So no mention of the times when Arsenal was mid-table. No mention of the fat that three clubs (two of which are currently beloved of the media) are only one point behind Arsenal in the injury league table. And certainly no mention of Newcastle, because their manager is a good guy.
But once again more space for Raymond Verheijen, a man utterly unqualified in the world of injury prevention and treatment but top of the list when it comes to Wenger-bashing.
“The former Wales fitness coach has repeatedly blamed the work-load on Arsenal’s players for injuries and was again critical of what he called the “old school” approach of Wenger,” screamed the Telegraph virtually running word for word an article from a couple of years ago.
They even turned Mr Wenger’s run of the mill statement into a vision of crisis: “We have to analyse every single case and every single exercise. When a player is injured, they are injured, this has always happened. We have not too many muscular injuries but it is post-international games we get all these injuries and is it linked with that?”
Of Verheijen’s criticism, Mr Wenger said: “This guy looks like he knows absolutely everything. I am amazed that he knows more than all our physios and all our doctors. I trust my medical staff to do well and my coaching staff to do the fitness planning very well.
“I can only invite you one day to see what work is done behind and we have some players who are more injury prone than others, but we are very well organised on that front. We have players every years who play 50 games and some who play less games because they are more injury prone. Sometimes you know ideally you have to rest a player because he has given a lot, but if he has played extremely well in the game before and you have won and the player says he feels perfectly alright, it is difficult to say you don’t play…
“We have a very big squad. We are not shutting the door [on transfers] as well. If we find opportunities, we will do them; having everybody back, especially offensively, I feel we have what we need. I said during the transfer period that we would take players who can strengthen our squad, but we did not find them. The question was not even ‘do we sign them or not?’ we have not found one player who could strengthen our squad.”
We have dealt with Raymond Verheijen before, but since he has been dragged out of the depths once again, let’s consider him again. Verheijen blames Wenger and his training methods for all injuries, but never comments on the greater level of injuries of other teams. The message is simplistic and endlessly re-run. Because Mr Wenger trains his team as ‘marines’ they suffer.
Verheijen worked with a few clubs but he mostly worked for national teams in his career as well as attending 3 world cups and 3 European championships. As you know nationals teams are the teams that take players from clubs, make them play unnecessary and meaningless games from which they suffer overload and then send them back to their clubs overplayed and undertrained, and then they get injured because they have done too much. So he’s not really the right man to be critical about clubs and their training methods.
He said : “”When you [train like a marine], first of all you develop short-term fitness. If you do it gradually then you’ll build-up long-term fitness for nine-10 months. “If you get fit really quickly then you develop shorter-term fitness that only last around 3-4 months.”
His comments seem to suggest that injuries will occur starting from 3-4 months into the season. And he said that the same things occurs time and time again and called Wenger his training methods as prehistoric.
So in our earlier article Walter asked the obvious question: what do the numbers say? Is there a period when injuries suddenly become an issue after 3-4 months into the season?
This season it seems as if the answer is yes, but in fact over the past 12 years the answer is no – the main injury period is February, followed by December – the period when we are playing the most games.
In our earlier analysis we pointed out that Mr. Verheijen is forgetting that more than 41% of the injuries sustained by Arsenal players are contact injuries. And that has nothing to do with training methods. But more to do with good referees.
I think it was somewhere around Lecture One of Day One at university that I was told that evidence, explanation, theory and testing are all part of science – you really do need them all if you want to find cause and effect.
In situations like this you can’t test, because we can’t say to one club, do x and another do y, but we can still have evidence, explanation, and theory plus samples bigger than one club.
So you gather data, with as much objectivity as possible, and then seek explanations and turn them into a theory, while recognising that chance is always a part of life.
In this approach you develop theories on such evidence as you have, and then ask the question: is this likely, given all that we know.
So one explanation for Arsenal’s injury list is that Wenger is at fault – his training methods are wrong. It is a theory, but quite why a man who has won the league and FA Cup so often should keep on using faulty training methods is not clear, and in that regard the explanation seems unlikely. The theory is still there, but it has weaknesses – and that is before we note that although at this moment Arsenal’s injury list is high, it is not the highest, and is very close to several other clubs.
Other explanations that it is Arsenal’s fault (the pitch, overplaying the players etc) falter in the same regard – why would the club not change the system? Indeed why would top professionals still come to Arsenal if it were clear that something was wrong with the pitches, or the methodology? Again the theory is still there, but it is a bit feeble.
So we have to look for other explanations – not because the ones that say that it is Arsenal’s fault are proven to be impossible, but because there are good reasons to say they are unlikely. Just saying that Wenger is a pig-headed idiot isn’t really scientific, and needs some support before it can be accepted.
Thus the key point is “supporting evidence”. You could say, “an alien space craft is beaming an injury ray onto Arsenal’s training complex” and you might be right, but there is no supporting evidence. You could follow Raymond Verheijen, but again there is no real supporting evidence.
But when we come to look at the notion that the way some referees treat Arsenal players as opposed to the way they treat others, there is some supporting evidence. All you have to do is read the reviews here, and the reviews on Referee Decisions, written by non-Arsenal supporting referees. You can dismiss all those, but then you have to say why you are rejecting that evidence in favour of whatever view you have.
Now I am not saying that this proves that it is the action of some referees in not protecting Arsenal players is to blame for Arsenal being at the upper ends of the injury league. I am saying that this is a credible theory with evidence and that the other theories we have are not as credible.
Quite why the Telegraph and their chums don’t adopt the scientific approach I don’t know, although I think there is a strong anti-science bias building up in British society. But if they did allow science and evidence-based research back in, they would have to consider the impact not just of training methods, training pitches, the Arsenal pitch, and the speed at which players return from injury, and the alleged obstinacy of Mr Wenger but also the action of referees and the level of injuries that come from issues during a game rather than issues in training.
Not to do so is to leave a whacking great hole in the whole research programme, and basically to nullify all of it. Yes it is valid to ignore the aliens and the ray gun, because there is no supporting evidence, but there is evidence relating to the refs. Here are the links to our research on injuries:
Verheijeen has been very outspoken over the fitness methods not just of Arsenal, but of Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City, Feyenoord, Manchester United, and others. He has claimed that a number of managers are “dinosaurs” including David Moyes and Roy Hodgson, and has often said that some players have been “overtrained”. He also claimed, two days after the funeral, that it was the wish of the late Wales team manager Gary Speed that he (Verheijen) be appointed manager of Wales. He then condemned the FA of Wales saying they had “destroyed the legacy” of Gary Speed.
What Untold would say of Verheijen is, “here is an expert, but he seems to blame a lot of other people for faulty tactics – but this alone can’t explain the differentiation in the levels of injury – because if he was right, the teams that followed his generalised methods would get fewer injuries. And those that he criticise, would have higher levels of injury. But the evidence doesn’t concur.”
In the end the difference between Untold and the press is that the mediaeval explanation of events (“we have had a bad harvest, we have displeased God, let’s kill more witches” – which is akin to “we have more injuries – it must be Wenger’s fault, let’s get rid of Wenger”) is rejected on this web site. We try and look for all sorts of explanations, and then try and weigh them up based on the evidence and the application of logic.
It is just our way of looking at the world