By Tony Attwood
On Thursday 26 November the sports editor of the Guardian ordered his staff out of the pub and told them to write articles under the heading
Premier League: the race for the title (and Europe)
A thrillingly open Premier League season has left more than half the teams chasing big prizes. We examine the leading contenders’ campaigns so far, how well equipped they are to go the distance – and how the table may look on Boxing Day.
David Hynter, the Guardian’s football correspondent, was given the task of covering Arsenal. He’s quite a prolific writer having knocked out 2379 articles since August 2007. So here’s what he said in response to the latest diktat.
“Petr Cech has been a boon, Mesut Özil has found his groove and, from his semi-permanent residence in the red zone, Alexis Sánchez has been freakishly remorseless. When things have clicked for Arsenal, as they did, for example, in the 3-0 destruction of Manchester United, they look like champions-in-waiting. But those lunges towards the self-destruct button continue to undermine them, and they have not been confined to the Champions League.”
So far, so commonplace. But then
“It is possible to paint Arsenal themselves as the biggest obstacle to a title triumph and that takes in their tendency to carry seven or eight injuries. Any team would struggle to cope with their casualty rates. How Arsène Wenger must pine for a clean bill of health.”
So let’s consider. “Any team would struggle” and “Arsène Wenger must pine for a clean bill of health”.
This is typical of the current fanatical Arsenal bashing that is going on in the media. It picks out Arsenal, notes their alleged problems but gives no facts and figures, and no comparison with any other club. Reading the above you might be excused from thinking that the injury table looked like this
|8||West Ham United||1|
|9||Chelsea et al||0|
Whereas in fact it looks like this
|8||West Ham United||5|
Our six injured are Arteta, Coquelin, Theo (due back next week), Jack (due back in three weeks), Rosicky, Welbeck. What they might have said somewhat more accurately and with a glance at a few facts was, “Arsenal have had a tough time with injuries but the fact they are only two points off the lead, competing with clubs such as Leicester who have had an astoundingly low level of injuries thus far, which suggests that some amount of balance might occur if Leicester do get near to a normal level of injuries for teams in the league.”
As with referees’ wayward decisions, injuries don’t all balance out in the end but it seems unlikely that Leicester can continue at this level.
Indeed it is interesting that when the Guardian comes to “examine” (I use the word in its vaguest sense) other clubs they do note some danger signs…
The Tiny Totts: “An injury to Kane remains unthinkable.”
Leicester City: Player who must stay fit: Jamie Vardy.
Man U: Player who must stay fit: “Martial. In a low-scoring outfit – only 19 thus far – the Frenchman’s pace stretches opposition”
Man C: Player who must stay fit “Silva can run a match with ease, meaning the ball is kept away from City’s creaky rearguard.”
For Arsenal the “Player who must stay fit” is Sánchez who “gives the team their cutting edge and a go-to outlet. A player who makes things happen on his own terms.”
If we look at the league table with the number of injuries in the final column, we can argue something quite different. Clubs in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place are in much of a muchness vis a vis injuries, but Leicester have been lucky. Any sudden rise of the injury total table could scupper them. Indeed staying with the top ten, Southampton and Palace might also be in for a bumpy ride with a few more injuries. (“Injuries” shows the total number of injured first team players as shown on Physioroom.com at 10am on 28 Nov).
|6||West Ham United||13||6||3||4||24||20||4||21||5|
But of course the issue is just how vulnerable a club is to injuries to a certain player and in a certain position. The trick is not to have just one super-player who turns it on for you, and makes everything happen, but ideally three or four. Plus not only to have two players who can play in each position, but (because the practicalities of keeping players happy, and the “25” rule) have players who can switch positions.
Thus we come back to the vulnerabilities that the Guardian pointed out, and even a blind man in a dark alley travelling the wrong way can see that Tottenham are vulnerable to an injury to Kane. But is the same true with Arsenal?
Arsenal does indeed have two players who can in each position, but there are certain key players we would sooner not lose. Özil, Alexis, Santi Kaz, Koscielny, all spring to mind. But the fact is that there are at least four such players (and cases could be made for others such as Monreal and Bellerin) is a bonus, because although there is a chance of losing every player to a hamstring injury, there is a far lesser chance of losing four top players all at once.
And in our case, top players they are. I’ve quoted the Whoscored.com charts before, and of course they change every week, and here is the current top ten players as they appear before this weekend’s games.
|1||Riyad Mahrez Leicester||11(1)||952||7||6||3||74.9||8.25|
|2||Jamie Vardy Leicester||13||1149||13||1||4.2||65.7||7.90|
|3||Mesut Özil Arsenal||12||1028||1||11||1.3||88.3||7.81|
|4||Alexis Sánchez Arsenal||12(1)||1047||6||–||4.2||80.5||7.69|
|5||Dimitri Payet WHU||12||1038||5||3||2||81.2||7.68|
|6||Virgil van Dijk Soton||9||810||2||–||0.8||84.2||7.67|
|7||Mousa Dembélé Tottenham||9(1)||704||2||–||0.9||87.7||7.65|
|8||Ross Barkley Everton||13||1154||5||4||2.8||86.5||7.63|
|9||Santi Cazorla Arsenal||13||1115||–||3||1.7||90.4||7.57|
|10||Laurent Koscielny Arsenal||11||990||2||–||0.9||89.4||7.55|
On the whoscored figures we have four players in the top ten in the PL at the moment. Lose any of them and it will be a blow, and of course lose more than one would be a double blow, but that is much more unlikely. Only Leicester has two players in the top ten everyone else has one or none. We’re alone with four.
So my case is that because we have a number of players of the highest quality the danger to the team of losing one top, top player, is reduced.
Of course you can see dangers everywhere, for example when you look at the importance of who gives the assists…
Premier League Assist to Goal Scorer – top five
|R||Goal Scorer||Assisted By||Team||Assists|
|1||Olivier Giroud||Mesut Özil||Arsenal||5|
|2||Romelu Lukaku||Gerard Deulofeu||Everton||4|
|3||Arouna Koné||Romelu Lukaku||Everton||4|
|4||Alexis Sánchez||Mesut Özil||Arsenal||3|
|5||Jamie Vardy||Daniel Drinkwater||Leicester||3|
Yes, for assists we have the top man – although so do Everton. But that little extract from the table shows Everton’s weakness – take out Lukaku and you lose a player who scores and a player who assists.
All told, we are not at the top of the league for injuries – nothing like – and unlike most of our adversaries, we have multiple top level players.
So why, I am asked, did we lose to WBA. I think my best bet would be to refer to you to Usama and Walter’s article on that subject. The whole piece is fascinating, but if you don’t want to take in the blow-by-blow account and just want a summary, scroll down to the end of the piece. It makes very interesting reading.
Derby literally took the fight to Arsenal with O’Hare at one stage punching and kicking Graham repeatedly. As players tried to pull O’Hare off, the referee checked with the linesman and then spoke to Gemmill and Simpson. It was that sort of display. Arsenal in the 70s: part 7
Two more anniversaries
- 28 November 1895: Sidney Hoar born in Bedfordshire. He then joined the army and served in France before being invalided out after a gas attack. However he did fully recover and returned to play for Luton after the war. In 1924 Sidney Hoar was purchased from Luton by Arsenal for £3000 by Leslie Knighton, who 23 years later claimed that at the time he was prohibited from buying anyone for over £1000.
- 28 November 1925: Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0. Arsenal 5th consecutive win – a sequence which included 10 goals in those five games for Jimmy Brain who scored 34 goals in 41 games in total in the season. The sequence also included five goals from Charlie Buchan.