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The injuries of 2009/10: just how do we compare with the other top teams?

By JBH

Yes Arsenal had injuries… but so too did Chelsea and Man Utd

How many times did you hear the above strap line at the end of the last season? Well there are injuries and there are INJURIES! Lets take a little closer look at the injuries over the past year before we jump to any conclusions on how well, or poorly, Arsenal and Arsène Wenger coped.

If we take a look at the Arsenal first team and analyse just how much time they lost to injuries there is an interesting story. I put the following 11 as the first team based on the previous (08/09) season and the players AW virtually always called on when fit and available. Lining up in a 4-3-3:

  • Van Persie
  • Arshavin
  • Nasri
  • Fabregas
  • Denilson
  • Song
  • Clichy
  • Vermaelen
  • Gallas
  • Sagna
  • Almunia

One could argue that Abou Diaby is now ahead of Denilson in the pecking order, but certainly at the beginning of the past season and in 08/09 Denilson was always preferred (in fact played more than any other Arsenal player in the PL in that season).

How much did this team play of the season? Using the Premier league as the basis, there are 38 games and a possible 3420 minutes a player could appear, if playing all 90 minutes of every 38 games. Summarising minutes appearing and overall percentage of the season gives the following:

Player/Minutes appearing/Total possible (3420 throughout) /Percentage (09/10 EPL Season)

  • Van Persie  1256/3420 (37%)
  • Arshavin  2265 (66%)
  • Nasri  1887 (55%)
  • Fabregas  2193 (64%)
  • Denilson  1573 (46%)
  • Song  2237 (65%)
  • Clichy  2086 (61%)
  • Vermaelen  2799 (82%)
  • Gallas  2340 (68%)
  • Sagna  2760 (81%)
  • Almunia  2610 (76%)

Total for all 11 players was 24,006 minutes vs 37,620 = 64%

From the above there is really only Vermaelen and Sagna who appeared anywhere close to the amount that you would expect of a regular first teamer.  The total figure of 24,006 is also significant in that it represents exactly 7 out of 11 (64%) which means on average for every Arsenal game there were four first teamers absent, usually because of injury (Song missed a few games because of the ACN and TV missed one game because of suspension).

Of course the above is not the whole picture. Arshavin played many games with a debilitating foot injury (in addition to being out of position as centre forward with Bendtner injured for 3.5 months in the heart of the season). Clichy came back early from a serious back injury and struggled for several games, but was effectively obliged to play with Gibbs out for most of the season. Similarly Denilson came back early from a serious back (and other) injuries, to cover during Song’s absence, and he also struggled. And the above analysis does not go into the second and third team injuries (Bendtner, Abou Diaby, Ramsay, Gibbs, Eduardo, Walcott, Vela, and Djourou to name just a few).

What about the opposition? Torres seemed to be out for much of the season, as was Essien. Man Utd had a defensive crisis, and so on. Without going into all the detail (and a lot of debate as to who was or wasn’t a first choice player for each team), the best way to compare the top 4 teams is to compare the very top players. The following analysis looks at the best four players in each team – all players taken from the “spine” of the team (central strikers, attacking mid, defensive mid, central defence, goalkeepers), and the emphasis is upon players which are always the first on the teamsheet – the key players.

Chelsea

Drogba 2774 (81%)

Lampard  3220 (94%)

Essien  1195 (35%)

Terry  3260 (95%)

Man Utd

Rooney  2723 (80%)

Fletcher  2576 (75%)

Vidic  2107 (62%)

Van der Sar  1890 (55%)

Arsenal

Van Persie 1256 (37%)

Fabregas  2193 (64%)

Song  2237 (65%)

Gallas  2340 (68%)

Liverpool

Torres  1715 (50%)

Gerrard  2850 (83%)

Mascherano  2755 (81%)

Reina  3420 (100%)

Looking at the key player availability league, Chelsea got 10,449 total minutes (76%), Man Utd 9,296 (68%). Arsenal bring up the rear at 8,029 (58%) while Liverpool are unlikely leaders at 10,740 (78%) despite Torres injury problems.

So while Chelsea and Liverpool had to make do without (on average) one in 4 of their very best players in each league game, and Man Utd (1 in 3). Arsenal had over 40% (ie 2 in 5) of them missing from every game.

Of course the injuries were bound to catch up with them in the end. While the above analysis is of the Premier league, the quarter final of the CL gave a typical indication of how injuries affected the team. In the first home leg against Barcelona 9 of the above 11 Arsenal first team started (RvP still injured and Denilson on the bench). Although Gallas, Fabregas, Arshavin and Song were injured in the game, Arsenal still managed a 2-2 draw.

In the return match with all of Arsenal’s top 4 (above) were injured and Arshavin (top 5) Arsenal struggled and lost 4-1.

For the run in to the EPL only RvP returned from long term injury, and to the above long list Vermaelen was added. In light of such injuries throughout the season, for us to be contenders and then only trail away at the end of the season was quite a remarkable achievement. Some years you just have to accept that you are not going to win it with the injuries you have – 2009/10 was one of those years.

Jerome

Untold Arsenal: the guide to infinity

26 comments to The injuries of 2009/10: just how do we compare with the other top teams?

  • Marc

    Nice piece Jerome. Everyone has injuries, ManU had a period where they had a bastard time with defenders out but Arsenal seemed to constantly either have a key player out or 1st and 1st choice backup missing. You then had what seemed like the whole second half of the season where key players where missing down the spine of the team. I constantly hear that Arsenal do not have a big squad well how would ManU have done if Rooney had sustained RVP’s injury and missed 2/3 of the season?

  • Robbie

    The referees need to protect our players better. They can’t be allowed to kick us off the pitch in every game. Please, UEFA! Protect the beautiful game!

  • walter

    A very interesting article Jerome. And you made some very valid points. Things that I have felt during last season but now I see how it is confirmed with the numbers it just was a case of too many injuries to key players.

  • Dark Prince

    Good article. If those statistics are right, then you did a great job. Hopefully it will be a different case this season. And though injuries are a part of the game, having a good bench is something we at arsenal always miss out on. I’ve always believed that Arsenal have a better starting 11 team than united or chelsea, but its the substitutes and bench strength that Arsenal fall behind. And it has cost us dearly. Hopefully we can do something about it.

  • gooner80

    Hey Walter

    Great stats and a great job. If we could field a team with about 40% less injuries than chelsea and Man u would be in trouble.

    MARK MY WORDS arsenal will have a similar number of injuries, ir has been about 3 seasons since we had a reasonable amount of injuries that you would expect. The only thing I can think of is that is down to the way they play, After Henry left, AW changed the way Arsenal play, playing more possession more in midfield and one up front, obviously there is other factors, but I think the tackles have been flying in because of the slow build up play, where opponents try to close us down and not give us space.

    Idont accept that these players are more injury prone, and wenger is a master of science and nutrition so I cant see him making them train too hard,

    So the main external factors or opponents coming in late and lack of protection from REFS

    The only other thing that contributed to may be 10% was AW bringing players back too quickly because there is not enough depth in our squad so in some ways it shows he thinks some of the players in the squad are not up to it. If AW and arsenal can learn from the mistakes with injuries and bring through either youth that can be good squad players or buy we have a good chance

    If he remains stubborn I can see us having the same injuries again and then we reminisce on what might of been

  • bilal

    the question sir, is why do hey get more injuries than other teams season after season? i ould give you an analysis but why boher. calculate the bone density of our players against other top teams; the times we dodge contacts we should brace ourselves and go into; how we dont tackle and encourage opposing players to come in hard; how we cannot physically impose ourselves in games; etc now, do an analysis of that. frankly, i am surprised a man of arsene’s intelligence has not figured all these out.

  • Ade Abanikannda

    Tony,

    I came across the story in the link below today. Our experts at that most authoritative of sites, ‘Le Grove’ must be incandescent with rage and disappointment!

    http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2896/premier-league/2010/06/22/1989186/arsenal-given-65m-season-ticket-boost-despite-cesc-fabregas

  • Davi

    An interesting analysis. This is the thing, people who say “you’re just making excuses” and “the best team always wins” and “these things even themselves out” are just wrong. In almost every season (in recent times, at least) the big side that is most fortunate with injuries wins the league. I think perhaps Utd were an exception in 08/09 because they were probably less fortunate than chelsea across the year, but generally I think has shown to be a good rule.
    In 07/08 we were easily the best side up until the injuries started to pile up and the dam burst with eduardo’s injury against birmingham. Since then we’ve never had anything close to a decent season injury-wise.

    @Dark prince – I dont really think that’s true. Our problems have been that we’ve had to play THIRD choice players many times. We had to play without cesc OR song (easily our 2 best CMs) for several matches in a row. We had to play a long time with arshavin up front because eduardo hadnt recovered properly, and BOTH bendtner and rvp were out. We also ended the season with both our main CBs out – although Utd can claim to have played for a period with worse problems at the back, this is true, but we have had to deal with the combination of having no 1st choice CBs OR CMs at times.

  • Leo S

    Interesting statistics. Especially the fact that the top 3 finished in the same order as their player availability percentage.

    Davi – Very true. The injuries to Djourou, Gibbs, Diaby, Walcott, Bendtner also robbed us of a lot of depth/options from the bench at some critical times. If this same analysis was applied to the second XI of the top sides, you would probably find that we also had the most weakened bench through injury.

  • ryan

    i definately think injuries have been a massive part of our downfall recently. i do think though that wenger has to be blamed in some places for not having any realistic cover in some positions.

    i mean if song doesn’t play we are defensively so much more vulnerable. at the end of the season eastmond came into his own when he played and i was really impressed, but the wolves game at the start of the season sums up song’s importance. the problem is that we don’t have another player like him in the squad who has experience.if song is injured we either depend on denilson, who i don’t dislike but he’s a different kind of player, less suited to that role and also less suited to the 4-3-3 as the anchor in my opinion. diaby has the ability but is very sporadic in his form, ranging from patrick vieira to someone not a 10th of the player he was. also diaby tries to get forwards too much for a dm and is more of a box to box player. eastmond is an option and i really like him, i really hope he goes all the way but he’s done nothing yet. he’s a promising kid who’s done well but has no experience and we shouldn’t have to depend on someone younger than 20 in arguably the most important position in the team when song gets injured. personally i think the tactics are wrong though. we see fabregas doing the dirty defensive work and our wingers often having to track back to help the defense because song is our only natural dm in the first 11. in my opinion if we played another dm alongside song, be it yaya toure or even young eastmond i think our defense would be far better protected and it would free up our attacking players to push on more without having to track back quite so much. like i think diaby, cesc and denilson are all box to box or specifically central midfielders and none are natural dms. because we play two cms and only 1 dm even with song in the team i think we lack balance at times. when song is injured we’ve been known to play 3 cms and not a single dm at the same time which i think is a big problem as the defense just isn’t protected properly. the biggest part of that problem though is that we don’t have an established back up dm even if wenger wanted to play two at once. so i think half the problem there is the tactics and half the problem is that wenger hasn’t taken that position very seriously in my opinion. it’s not wenger’s fault if a player gets injured, but it’s his responsibility to make sure if we lose one player we aren’t royally fucked and i think if we lose song that’s what we are unless eastmond pulls it out the bag. similarly we had so many strikers injured around christmas and wenger had plenty of time and money to make a signing even if just on loan in january. once again it’s not his fault that a player gets injured, but it’s his responsibility to try and deal with that and also have it covered should it happen in the first place so we can’t blame it all on luck even though much of it is.

    anyway this is a really good article and thanks for doing the calculations, they can be very interesting to compare. l;uck was certainly not on our side last year, but i also want to see wenger addressing some of the problems, because if we don’t sign a dm, then song gets injured and we fall apart then we can’t just say it’s all luck when it was clearly something to address for a long time now.

    peace

  • Jonny

    Jerome, thanks for this: fantastic analysis. I have little doubt a lot of work went into it – it is illuminating and lends a handy stick to beat the doubters with.

    The only problem is those who blame Wenger for the injuries! Nothing can be done there, I feel.

  • Dark Prince

    @Davi- Thats what i’m tryin to say. We ended up 3rd in the league, behind both united and chelsea. And the difference between them and us was our 2nd and 3rd choice players. Just look at Chelsea, they were without drogba, essien and mikel for one month during the african cup of nations. But that month they played better than any other month. And thats bcoz of their bench strength. They have kalou, malouda and sturridge to replace drogba. And in my opinion those three are more dangerous than eduardo, bendtner and vela. They have to even make a player of great quality like Joe cole to sit out as substitue. That is where we fall behind. We need to strengthen our PLAN B. Bcoz its expected that some other player will get injured again. So need to have a PLAN B.

  • Davi

    @Dark prince – For one thing, Malouda was a definite starter for chelsea and imo was a decent shout for player of the season given his important role in many big victories.
    I disagree with the examples you give. Overall bendtner is AT LEAST as effective as either of those two chelsea players – you know his record is just slightly better than kalous in the same number of games, and miles better than sturridge. Both sturridge and vela scored one goal but im very sure daniel had a lot more time on the pitch than carlos had. I know for one thing that vela had only one league start and the majority of his 1st team appearances were 10 minute cameos.
    I dont think chelsea were really stronger during the ACN, they were just able to maintain their high level briefly. The only thing I will say is that chelsea did have a lot more injuries this season than ppl give them credit for and they did cope well. Essien was hardly missed, and imo he’s the no.1 player in his position, possibly worldwide. Chelsea probably do have the strongest squad, at least in defensive positions because they can afford to pay their squad players 50k+ pw with no problems. We can’t really do that, except for walcott (although I have no idea why). That’s probably why I usually draw the comparison with Utd. I dont particularly think their squad is stronger than ours.

  • Just to be quite clear this article was written by “JBH” (Jerome) and not Walter.

    The name of the author is generally at the top. It may sound a bit pedantic to point this out, but I am always most grateful to everyone who takes the time and trouble to come up with a new angle and do the analysis, and I would like Jerome and others who write for Untold occasionally to get the proper credit for their work.

  • bc

    Interesting analagy, but where are you going with this? If you are saying we will be much better off next season without the injuries, i am afraid you will be disappointed. We will have just as many injuriies if not more. The reason for having just as many is the way we play and train. The reason we could have more is that the more injuries a players gets the more susceptible his to more. If you analyse the injuries sustained in matches, many of these are down to our slick passing game and out intention to hold the ball till the very last second. Then there is the strains, we pick up many of these in training and actually take some into matches. Then there is also the amount of players we have on international duty, not just first team but right down to U18.
    Unfortunately, none of these factors are likely to change. You cannot see our playing style or training methods change and we are still likely to see a good proportion of our 1st team on international duty. I mean how many clubs will have 8 1st team strikers on international duty next season (RVP, Chamakh, Bendtner, Eduardo, Vela, Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky) We are likely to have both our right backs and both our left backs on international duty along with at least 2 centre halves (Djourou & Vermaelen) Then there is the midfield (Song, Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri, Wilshere, Ramsey) That is already 20 players not including

  • walter

    Tony, Maybe you could write the name of other writers a bit more visible? In bold and in bigger letters? So that they get the deserved credit for their articles.

  • bc

    (continued) any more new signings and younger players. I know that every club has international call ups but because of our diversity of international players we have more than our fair share. I mean you take Man U for a start Van der Saar, Scholes Neville and Giggs have retired. Brown, Carrick & Owen hardly ever play international football even if they are called up. They could actually field a decent team when its international week, i know it doesnt happen but imagine if we had to do that.

  • Well, I don’t know, I mean, I don’t want them to get too excited.

    (What symbol do I use on the internet to show that a comment is written with ironic intent?)

  • Dark Prince

    @Davi- Maybe thats the difference. Malouda starts as a striker for chelsea. But what about us? If we have a fully fit squad, we still go for only one striker – RVP. And our second striker, i.e bendtner, is not a good as chelsea’s second striker, i.e malouda. I like bendtner, but he doesn’t look as dangerous as malouda. We should look at the number of chances vs the number of goals scored. And regarding defence, i.ve to agree that they hav a stronger defence. Even with ashley cole out for a significant amount of time, they had a really good backup for him. And that is where arsenal lost this season. We didn’t have the back up for defence that we needed. Sylvester is very faulty and campbell cant play too many consecutive games. And i never thought of Song as a defender. Surely he makes good tackles, but his positioning is always wrong as we saw in the barca game in champions league. He lacks the offside trap mindset which we need. Hence he should never be considered as back up for defenders. And the goalkeepers position in our team is very controversial one. But for chelsea and united, they have the best goalkeepers of europe. And though their goalkeepers aren’t that spectacular, i still believe they are better than our backup goalkeepers.

  • Dark Prince

    @davi- my previous last line- though their backup goalkeepers aren’t that spectacular, they are still better than our backup goalkeepers 🙂

  • lee

    i see some ineteresting points that u make gentlemen, and i concur. i think in the days of pires, ljumberg, viera etc, it used to be one touch football and then thierry gets released and its a goal. really mismerising stuff. now we have slow build ups and we get closed down. for example against barca, they could do our kind of one touch football but our players did three four touches and got closed down. we need to return to quick football

  • Cosmojon

    That was at highbury though, wasn’t the pitch more narrow?

  • Limp-aaargh

    Stats are stats and they show we had more injuries – no surprises there. If you devled ino the 2 or 3 previous seasons, pretty much the same picture might emerge. So they key question must be – WHY US?

    If I were to have a stab at some possible explanation, I would observe the following:

    – our play involves more movement/running than the other teams, hence more wear and tear injuries
    – possessionwise, our players, on average, keep the ball more and therefore invite mote tackles
    – notwitstanding the above, opponents play hard(er?) against us in order to regain possession and break our play
    – as soon as you have some injuries and are less able to rotate the squad, the strain on the remaining fit players increases as they need to play more
    – is it anything to do with our training methods? are our such finely honed ‘F1’ athletes that if one bolt goes loose the whole engine collapses!?

    I haven’t got the answer, but the explanation lies in there somewhere i think.

    One way to deal with it is to have a bigger squad. That has implications on many levels, not least financial.

  • HnB

    I’m curious if it’s the type of player that Wenger goes for that is the problem. He seems to pick really talented players who are not necessarily “tough.” Obviously, you can’t fault Eduardo for his injury, but should Wenger man up and admit that he’s never going to be fit enough to play at this level again?

    And if you look back a few seasons, we seem to consistently have trouble with injury. RvP has an injury spell every season, often sustained while on international duty. Rosicky had great promise but could never get over his perpetual injuries. Gallas had injury trouble in most seasons (thigh, back). The players who were able to stay fit, left for other teams.

    The one guy whose injury trouble this year was unique was Clichy. I had not seen him have any significant injuries in previous seasons. I was beginning to think he was made of Titanium, but I guess he’s not.

    So, do they just not stretch well enough or do they not prepare for the game to be as physical as it ends up being or are these guys who play “beautifully” just not rough enough? Should they train with a rugby team?

    I’m tired of eveyone running around on glass ankles.

  • jbh

    Reasons? I’d guess the following:
    1. Lack of protection by referees (compare to the WC where skillful players are given a measure of protection)
    2. Very physical approach against Arsenal – related to 1. but both legal and illegal very physical approach from mid and lower league teams. Try to intimidate them.
    3. Very young team. Average age 23?
    4. Over playing some first team members – through necessity. Vicious cycle of more and more injuries being compounded by difficulties in not being able to properly rotate.
    5. Some question marks over the medical team. One Physio was replaced this year. Not properly diagnosing Djourou injury (he should have had his surgery at the beginning of last summer not at the end of it). Allowing RvP to go to Serbia without an Arsenal examination first (trusting the Dutch medical team!).

    To be fair to AW he has built a very big squad, and he does rotate well. I’d say the “B” team (FA cup team) is the best in the league. And the “C” team (Carling cup) usually performs very well against Premier League opposition (Liverpool win this year).
    You cannot be good enough to come a close third using so many B team players without having good depth to the squad.

  • hiro

    but why not compare the eleven starting players in arsenal with the 11 in the other team? choosing just 4 is wrong