The hidden problem facing Arsenal Women



By Tony Attwood

Just Arsenal raised an interesting issue recently concerning injuries in women’s football in which the point was made that “43% of the Arsenal Women first-team squad [are] unavailable. For the purposes of this analysis Arsenal goalkeepers are not included as, though there are 3 uninjured goalkeepers, they are not available elsewhere on the pitch..

  • 4 of 8 defenders injured (50% injured)
  • 1 of 5 midfielders injured (20% injured)
  • 4 of 8 forwards injured (50% injured)
  • 9 of 21 players injured (43% injured)”

I put the point recently to Andrew Crawshaw who comments on the women’s game for Untold and he said, “It’s an issue that isn’t just affecting footballers. I watched some of the women’s rugby on the BBC last weekend and commentators/pundits were talking about the issue there. As far as I’m aware it doesn’t seem to affect runners so it could be triggered by intense sudden sideways movements. Certainly, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither were stretching sideways for a ball when they got their injuries.

“Whatever the cause the cost to both players and clubs is enormous. We will certainly have to recruit in summer to provide cover for some of our injured players, on top of the normal process of squad strengthening.

“The only trouble is that we could really do with some of those replacements now.”

An article in the Swiss newspaper Blickon this subject looking at European women’s football commented on the same point…

“There can be up to six times more injuries among female footballers than among male footballers,” says Hélène Maystre, expert in sports physiology at the Federal High School of Macolin. A surprising figure, but one that can be explained through several factors. “It goes through the lack of training, the differences in level between the players, poor quality coaching or the tendency to demand performance above the real physical capacities.” 

Éric Sévérac, of the Société Française de Carcinologie Cervico-Faciale, also made the point that the gender gap concerning injuries could be overcome, “as long as the specialists are well aware of the specificity of women compared to men…  More and more studies are looking at female morphology, which gives more keys to preventing injuries.”

Paula Serrano, the Servette midfielder is quoted as saying that “Physiological factors, such as the menstrual cycle, have a strong impact on women. We, therefore, have a greater risk of fatigue or injury than men.”

This growing awareness has resulted in the start of a debate as to whether it is reasonable to make women’s football a complete replica of men’s football in terms of the way the game is played, and this extends to a debate about changing the size of the pitch for the women’s game to reduce the distance travelled by the players.

Sandy Maendly, a former player and sports coordinator on Servette Chênois added, “this type of adjustment already exists in certain sports such as volleyball or basketball, where the net/basket is lower for women than for men”. However, there are many who object to making any changes to the pitch size or anything else in football to accommodate women and indeed it does appear that some commentators are trying to close the debate down before it starts.  Indeed some commentators are arguing that the amount of running in a game has nothing to do with the physical injury problem.

 According to Éric Sévérac, quoted above, part of the issue is the level of investment in the women’s game made by the clubs, arguing that,  “Unfortunately, the experience that younger girls can have in football school is still insufficient.  It is therefore necessary to supervise [promising young players] with more qualified and competent people from an early age. Because the problem today is the following: either the training for young girls is not as developed as for boys, or the training is designed for boys and, therefore, not necessarily adapted to the morphology of girls. 

Indeed working out why women are tending to get more injuries than men in football is now one of the priorities in the game and a number of clubs seem to be increasingly involved in this project.

Jonas Eidevall head coach of Arsenal women is quoted in the Guardian as saying, “We as a club need to look at the factors that we can control and do as good as possible, so we’re not sticking our heads in the sand and just blaming external factors…

“Of course, we’re going to miss Leah, just like we miss Beth and Viv, but it’s also about always looking forward as a football club and injuries are unfortunate, they are a part of elite sports, and we need to manage both as individuals and as a group. 

“We have to accept that and make the best out of the situation. I think that has been part of the success this season, that even if players have been injured and haven’t been able to contribute on the pitch, they have been a really strong group off the pitch with people very invested and contributing still. I know that Leah will be doing that as well….

“I might be wrong, but I don’t think Arsenal women ever have played as many competitive games within such a restricted period of time and of course that’s going to put new demands on the players and teams. We need to adapt to that reality.”

2 Replies to “The hidden problem facing Arsenal Women”

  1. Jordan Nobbs did raise awareness about this whilst at Arsenal, but there was no funding for the research that during periods the women are likely to be injured.

    But this season some of the women players did mention that during this season there has been more games played.

  2. I agree with what Coach Eidevall says at the end of the piece about the number of matches they’re playing in a short period of time. Fixture congestion is always a factor in the frequency of injuries. I don’t have any numbers or tables but we see it in football everywhere. Recovery is a big part of staying on the pitch. Take that away and there’s trouble.

    full disclosure – not a doctor, physio, trainer or any expert whatsoever

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