By Tony Attwood
The news that Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is possibly facing a long lay off after his injury against Barcelona, raises once again the issue of injuries, and it was both frustrating and amusing (in different ways) to see a correspondent this morning rant about everything including our multiple injuries. As we’ve shown several times, the notion that Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else is a media invention.
It is always sad when a player of quality is injured and can’t play, but at least we have alternatives – Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott and the two that most obviously spring to mind.
But there is also a link here with the issue picked up the other day, when the question of Man City’s squad was raised with them playing very much a reserve team in the cup game against Chelsea.
Following that we looked at the number of players Man City actually have registered (The curious problem of Man City’s squad) and found that it was only 22 with a couple of under 21s to back them up.
Now given their infinite riches that seems odd, although it is largely explained through the “home grown rule” – they only have three HG players in the 22, and so any new purchases will have to include HGs – and they are hard to find at the right level.
This interested me because I am currently writing a series on Arsenal in the 1970s, (there are 20 episodes so far taking us up to December 1977, with the next article almost ready to roll – there is a full index on the home page of the Arsenal History Society site).
I mention this because in Arsenal’s Double season of 1970/1 Arsenal used only 16 players in the league, with one of them only making one start, and another only two.
There has been a general increase in the number used over the years – in 2003/4 we used 22 players for example – and did rather well as you may recall.
What I’ve found going through the decade of the 1970s day by day is that Arsenal’s success was closely linked to the number of players used – the fewer the better. In one sense this is obvious – you choose your best team and if you have to change it, it is either going to be because of injury or because players have lost form. And certainly as the decade went on, the injuries and form problems increased as Arsenal declined.
Looking at this season’s use of players by clubs in the league we can see that the top four in the league are also the bottom four in the number of players used (yet another stat giving the lie to the fact that Arsenal get the most injuries). The actual number of players used in the league are
- Arsenal – 21
- Leicester – 22
- Man City – 23
- Tottenham – 24
At the bottom end we have Man U, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Sunderland all on 28.
Now that may not seem like a huge difference but it means Arsenal have only used 75% of the squad Man U etc have used. And to reiterate, isn’t it funny that the club that apparently always gets “all these injuries” (as I say, we even had a comment posted last night about how awful our injury record was) actually has the smallest squad use.
The link between squad size and position in the league isn’t exact of course, (Chelsea, West Brom and Swansea have each used 23) but it is general – for the most part the higher up the league you are the smaller the squad you use.
It is just more evidence that the media’s fanatical devotion to transfer windows and all the gibberish created by the bloggettas around them, is a fantasy. Clubs are not only not buying up to the limit of the number of players that they are allowed to buy through the wholly artificial “25” limits, they are also not using this number of players.
Partly this must be because they have long realised what it took me many years to work out – that only 25% of big money transfers actually result in players delivering the goods in their first season.
The big problem with using a lot of players is that it then becomes harder for the players to learn how to work together and to build up the understandings that result in what the media very vaguely call “form.”
The conclusion from this must be that buying a new player is a much bigger risk than we previously realised, for several reasons.
First there is only a one in four chance that he will make a difference to the team in the first season.
Second, if the player is in the majority of big transfers and doesn’t make an immediate impact he may well then find that the media and bloggettas whip up opinion against him. He might survive that, but he might not, but almost certainly the move will damage the team. Just how much this will happen is only now becoming clear as we analyse the difference between the football as perceived by those in the ground, and the football seen through the eyes of the TV companies.
And third, the more successful clubs have smaller squads, which bind together more and develop their own understandings of each other’s abilities.
In short, buying players in the transfer windows is probably as likely to be counter productive as it is to be productive.
But this is not to say that it should happen less and less. Much depends on circumstances.
For example, from the tales that we hear from within the club Arteta, Rosicky, Debuchy and Flamini will leave this summer leaving us with a squad of…
- Armando De Abreu, Gabriel
- Campbell, Joel
- Cazorla, Santiago
- Cech, Petr
- *Coquelin, Francis
- Elneny, Mohamed
- *Gibbs, Kieran James Ricardo
- Giroud, Olivier
- Koscielny, Laurent
- Mertesacker, Per
- Monreal, Ignacio
- Ospina, David
- *Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander Mark David
- Ozil, Mesut
- *Ramsey, Aaron James
- Sanchez, Alexis
- *Walcott, Theo James
- *Welbeck, Daniel
- *Wilshere, Jack Andrew
* = Home Grown
Now I have to admit I don’t have a list of the birthdays of the under 21s and loanees but I suspect a couple of them must be approaching 21 for next season and might expect to move up. Even so we’ll still have one or two spaces to fill in the summer.
From the anniversary files
- 25 February 1987: Oxford U 0 Arsenal 0. The first of six consecutive league games under George Graham in which Arsenal failed to score – the longest such run ever for the club.
- 25 February 1998: Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 2 (Cup 5th round replay on the way to the second Double). Anelka and Bergkamp scored but only 15,674 turned up. The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.
- Warping reality: How the media reworking of the real world evolved after the game
- Now, who will we blame this time and the answer to the simplistic questions
- Why do they need the referee? How Thomas Bowdler’s heritage lives on in football journalism
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site