By Walter Broeckx
I have been writing in the past about injuries. I even wrote a whole series in which we looked at the different types of injuries that Arsenal players had suffered.
One of the debating points was of course when an injury is caused by contact or not. I remember some not agreeing with some of our interpretation of the numbers in some cases. And of course we had to make some arbitrary decisions on some injuries and assuming that it was 50/50 or 30/70 to count them as contact or non contact injuries.
In this article in particular I talked about the hamstring injuries. And nobody really challenged the fact that I said that hamstring injuries are almost certainly always caused by non contact issues. Now I must say that at the time I had my doubts when we talked about that type of injuries. I am not saying that all hamstring injuries come from non contact but I am also very sure that a lot of those hamstring injuries come from contact.
And sometimes even small contacts that seem unimportant at the time of the contact can turn out to be important. A kick at the wrong time on the wrong part of a muscle can cause some small damage that will get bigger later on. And that is exactly what happened with Alexis. In the match against Dinamo Zagreb he got a kick on his hamstring early on in the match. In fact the Dinamo Zagreb player knew he had made a bad tackle and immediately apologised to Alexis and urged his team mates to play the ball outside the field.
Needless to say that referee Kassai who hates Arsenal as much as Dean I think, didn’t see the foul and didn’t give a free kick. So a lot of people will have missed that foul and kick. But that is the moment the damage was done that cause his hamstring to give way in the Norwich match.
Ask any doctor and he will confirm that a kick on the muscle that is in full tension can cause the muscle to retract even more and even to have it go in to a kind of cramp. Alexis surely felt the impact at the time and hobbled on for a few more minutes. But he ran it off, as they say. That is possible when your muscle has been hit but something. Then you can run it off and make it supple again. As long as the muscle is kept warm and busy this can happen.
If you pull up in a sprint etc, this is impossible in 99.9% of the cases. Then the injury comes from inside and then it is match over. But after a kick a player can continue to play as if the muscle is still fine. However the damage might have been done already.
But athletes are people who usually have a high pain border. Remember how “soft” Theo Walcott was on the stretcher but sitting upright smiling and indicating the score when in fact he should have been screaming from the pain inside his knee…? The adrenaline and all the things in your blood when playing a match can block a big part of the pain. So players like Alexis will feel the pain but will continue unless they really pull up like he did in the match against Norwich.
At that moment the internal damage from a kick becomes visible. But as the injury then occurred people will classify it as a muscular injury and put the blame at the door of Wenger. I expect a Dutch physio somewhere in the newspapers in the UK this week to say this. Maybe it is already there.
But they completely ignore the kicks that cause the initial damage to the muscle. And so will most statistics do.
And now this is with a hamstring injury but the same can be said about calf injuries. I remember my brother having a serious calf injury once from a small kick on his calf during a match. But when you talk about calf incidents people will consider them as non-contact injuries. They might be, but the chance is much bigger that a few kicks left and right on the calf could have caused the injury to come above water.
And also injuries can come from the match before. A good massage after the match can release the tension for a big part in the muscle and give both players and staff a false feeling of everything being fine. And so they continue and carry on but the suddenly in the next match they muscle pulls up without any visible contact. And sometimes of course we cannot even see the contact. It needed a close up from another angle to reveal the contact against Alexis in the Dinamo Zagreb match. So players might get kicks without it being visible inside the stadium or on TV.
So I have always been very careful about pointing at the manager or the medical staff in case of a muscular injury. In a way a fractured bone is easier to see and treat than a kick on a muscle. And even then they can miss hairline fractures from time to time.
The biggest problem for me with muscular injuries is that it usually is a building up of different incidents that causes such injuries. Of course hamstrings do pull up with no apparent reason from kicks. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot come from kicks. Only when an incident can be seen on TV in replays you can see the impact on the muscle. But in most cases we can’t and then the blame the manager game can start.
30 November 1997: Arsenal 0 Liverpool 1 left Arsenal with only two wins in eight league games. This was the fifth game in six in consecutive matches in which Arsenal failed to score – which didn’t make it seem like league game 16 of the 2nd Double Season. The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.
30 November 2002 Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0. The last game of the sequence of Arsenal games without failing to score. Pires and Henry (2) gave Arsenal the goals.
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