Untold Injury Half-Term Report

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Untold Injury Half-Term Report

By Dale Higginbottom

What is the point of it all? Why are we here?

Well back in August I posed the question,  Do Arsenal really get more injuries than anyone else? and out of that asked, “Do we have good reason to blame injuries for poor results?”

Injuries are a factor that each club and manager has to deal with but does one team really get it worse than another?

Each season seems to be more physical than the last, not in terms of tackles but the stresses on the body. Players must run more, cover more, support more, close-down faster, run harder, run faster and as a result squads have grown to match the increase in injuries that have subsequently occurred. Are high injuries levels an Arsenal only phenomenon though?

Rewind back to Wigan Vs Arsenal, April 2010. We had something like eight first team players (Gallas, Vermaelen, Fabregas, Song, Arshavin, Denilson, van Persie, Almunia) plus a few more squad players (Eduardo, Ramsey, Djourou, Gibbs) unavailable to play or play any significant role in the game. We lost the game and the result completely ended our slim title hopes.

This was I think the third season in succession where our league campaign was hit hard by the sheer volume of injuries and it led me to write and article wondering whether the Invincibles would have coped so well with similar injury levels (found here: http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/archives/4610).

Was this run of injury hit campaigns purely down to our bad luck or is there something else that hasn’t been thought about before? Do other teams have the same problems as us? We all remember our injury list in more detail than our rivals’ but does that make things seem worse than they are or do the actual numbers stack up?

When injuries hit our squad badly the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal supporters come out with the same old guff of, ‘Wenger buys crocked players’ or ‘Wenger has not bought enough cover, the squad is too thin’. Now these statements may have had an element of truth but who was measuring this? Who could say categorically that firstly Arsenal are getting more injuries than the average?

Secondly, could anyone prove that these increased injuries were as a result of Wenger’s buying policy. Thirdly, could it be said that the squad was actually “too thin” and any shortages in cover for positions could not simply be due to abnormal levels of injuries and not obvious oversights by the manager.

This season we are looking deeply into the injuries of the big teams (and Liverpool) in order to resolve such issues.

Starting from game one, recording all the injuries for each of the big teams in order to get a balanced view of which teams are hit hardest by injuries.

After a bit of refining and alteration and the with the aid of a clumsy spreadsheet  I’ve come to the format that we see each week, a list of players missing entirely from the league game squad due solely to injury. This list has developed over the weeks and now that every team has played 19 games it’s time for a half-term report.

Let’s start with the simple, easy numbers, Total injuries. These are the combined number of games missed for each squad.

Total Injuries

  • Arsenal 113
  • Tottenham 111
  • Man Utd 90
  • Man City 80
  • Chelsea 71
  • Liverpool 52

Oh, to be in Liverpool’s position (well not in the league). Liverpool have played the same number of games as us (28 each this season, excluding games after the 19th league game) but they have been able to rest players much more, being knocked out of the Carling Cup and fielding weakened teams in the European competition.

There will be an element of rushing players back and taking risks due to their thin squad but even so, you would then expect repeat injuries along the way.

As we have seen throughout this season, Arsenal and Tottenham lead the way with injuries. This might even out over the season but even if it doesn’t we’re holding out pretty well, particularly when you consider the Chelsea position of fifth in the league and the second best injury figures.

So, we’re top in total numbers but what about the number of players that have picked up an injury this season.

Number of players having missed at least one league game through injury.

  • Tottenham 19
  • Man Utd 17
  • Arsenal 16
  • Chelsea 16
  • Man City 15
  • Liverpool 12

It has been pretty obvious that Spurs have had a tough time of it when it comes to losing players to injury this season. They have always been near the top and in addition to these figures they have been without Jonathon Woodgate who is not included as he failed to make the 25-man squad.

Chelsea is the interesting one here. Despite having much fewer total injuries they have had the same number of players out as us. This tells us that we’ve had many more long-term injuries (Vermaelen, Ramsey, Almunia, Frimpong etc) whereas Chelsea have had a spread of short injuries over a number of players.

This is shown a little more by the average injury length (Total injuries / number of players)

  • Arsenal 7.06
  • Tottenham 5.84
  • Man City 5.33
  • Man Utd 5.29
  • Chelsea 4.44
  • Liverpool 4.33

That’s quite an interesting statistic. Arsenal are far an away the team with the worst recovery times. An average of just over seven games per player is much higher than any other club, Liverpool have an average of just 4.33 games!!

Why is this the case? Is there something wrong with our medical staff? Well, probably not, I doubt that the man who brought scientific methodology and increased focus on the physical fitness of players to the Premier League would allow his medical facilities and personnel to be below par.

What is it then? Well, firstly it could be coincidence. We have had a few long-term injuries and these might not be so influential on the figures when taken over a whole season. Secondly, we have a squad that the manager has faith in. Wenger is more than happy fielding a whole second eleven if the situation requires it and this has a great knock on effect on fatigue levels which may be a benefit seen only in the injuries in latter half of the season. But also, this trust in the squad means that when players are injured they are given plenty of time to return to full fitness before being pushed into the squad.

It’s no surprise that the two teams with question marks over squad size and depth have players out for the shortest amount of time, for they can’t afford not to have the players playing, whether they are 100% fit or not. One other thought is that Liverpool and Chelsea have quite thin squads and so are not rotating as much as us. This might lead to more short-term injuries and at present they have been riding their luck a bit with long-term injuries.

In terms of a comparison there’s a lot more to look into so I’ll try to delve a bit deeper into the figures in future weeks. The overall figures only provide a basic overview of what we can understand from the injury articles but on the whole, we can be quite proud of our progress this season and how well the squad copes with the injury situation.

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27 Replies to “Untold Injury Half-Term Report”

  1. I was just wondering how the season long injury to Frimpong might have affected these figures.

    While he made a great impression in the pre-season games, I wonder just how much he would have figured, had he been fit. My guess is that he could well have been on loan somewhere. Certainly having him out game after game is not like having Cesc or Song out game after game.

    If we took him out of all these figures, then would that single factor not have taken us down to 85 in the first chart – which would be a mid-table position.

  2. It would actually take us to 94 so still second highest. By the same point however, Spurs have had O’hara out for the same period, Man City have been without Michael Johnson and each of the other teams have lost fringe players for brief periods.

    I agree there is a good chance that he may have gone out on loan but obviously we’ll never know. I think in part two i’ll compare injuries to key players, just ironing out the best way to do that.

  3. Great work Dale!

    A Tony mentions (8:11), if you remove Frimpong the numbers do improve. I think the injury situation has been managed particularly well this season.

    My question is whether this, is aided by the “Satellite” technology that was introduced during the off season for tracking players. Allowing for players to be monitored more intensely perhaps!

  4. To add to Tony’s point, it might look even better if adjusted for Almunia’s “injuries” that persisted following the WBA game…

  5. At a meeting with the AST at the end of last season Ivan Gazidis quoted the Opta stats that said that, on average, Arsenal players run greater distances than players of any other team during matches and that Chelsea run the least.
    Now you can interpret those however you like when it comes to ‘efficiency’ and ‘letting the ball do the work’ but it may be a reason why our players have somewhat less left in the tank when it comes to recovery and why rotation may be more important for us than any other club.

  6. A question to those with bigger and better memories then mine and with longer years of support. It may be purely coincidental but have you ever felt more uncertain about the clubs medical diagnosis (sorry dont know prural for that) on injuries then we are since gary lewin left? In the last year or two we have several players lost for injuries that are given return dates and dont, another return date and dont etc. I understand lighter boots, stud length & shape, speed of the game etc make some injuries more likely but it should not affect a clubs ability to diagnose it correctly and get the return date correct. I also understand one player maybe getting something that confuses medics but personally I feel its more then that with us.

  7. I’m quite surprised to see us top of the mid-season injury table, it feels like we haven’t had it *too* bad with injuries this season, at least compared to the abomination of wounded we had last season.

    Although as has been pointed out, removing Frimpong would make quite a difference. He did have a very prominent role in pre-season and did well, but it was due to the injuries (ironically!) to Song, Diaby, Denilson, Ramsey and Eastmond that he got his chance at all. Whether to include him in the figures or not is a tough call, but it does have a very large influence on the final result. Perhaps the solution could be to ‘weight’ the value of players to their respective squads, and devise a system whereby there are multipliers applied to players depending on importance, eg. 1.5x for five key players, 1.0x for first team starters, 0.8x second XI, 0.5x everyone else. It’s not perfect but it might bring a little more perspective to the figures and allow for interesting comparisons against other clubs – quantity vs ‘quality’ of the injuries suffered.

  8. In regards to Frimpong I think he would have been playing in the Carling cup and if he would have been up for the task would have been in the mix when it was big rotation time.
    Maybe he could have had a short loan spell somewhere but I think Wenger would have kept him close in case Song would get an injury and certainly when Denilson was out for a while.

  9. Richard, tht’s quite interesting. You can also say that arsenal players run further because they can and yes it possibly does lead to longer recovery and a greater need for rotation. Maybe the style of play only suits younger players.

    NB, just re-checked the numbers and excluding Frimpong we’d be at 95 (Not 94 as I said before) and without Almunia’s injuries we’d be at 82. Like I said i’ll reflect some of these issues in part two by just considering the key players.

  10. Wrenny, yes I was thinking about looking at a starting XI or top 18 player (11 plus 7 subs) but a weighting system might work. As you said it’s not perfect and does involve some value judgements on my part, which goes against my quntitative nature. hehehe
    I’m not entirely certain, for example, of Man City’s starting lineup or five most important players. I think i could get it pretty right (maybe Tevez, Hart, Toure 1, Toure 2 and Silva?) but it’s open for debate.

  11. Dale, yes it will require a lot of debatable judgement calls regarding players, a big move away from the ‘pure’ figures that you’ve compiled which are far more statiscally valid. It shouldn’t replace your model in any way but it would certainly be interesting to have both the pure numbers and the weighted numbers just to compare and contrast.

    I would suggest leaving any weighted figures just for your mid-season and end of season reports though. And it should be much easier to make those value judgements after a half season/whole season to base them on. Keep up the great work!

  12. It would be interesting to make “strongest elven” for each of “big teams” and than check stats in that form. I believe that in such calculation we would be somewhere in middle, while Tottenham would be probably worst of all.

  13. This is way off point but please read this:
    Here is a quote from the report:

    UEFA’s general secretary Gianni Infantino held up Arsenal as an example of a well-run club who have boosted their income without ever overspending.

    He said: “Ten years ago Arsenal reported less income than Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle. Now it is more than those clubs and in 2009 more than double Newcastle’s.

    “This shows what is possible with good management and careful investment.

    “What kind of healthy business model is it to wait for a knight rider on a horse with a lot of money to throw around and then one day jump back on his horse and ride away?”

    As Tony always says, “we have been saying this at Untold since the discovery of Swiss Cheese.” Or was it Sammy the Snake or Dog Face who said it? I forget now.

  14. Regarding the injuries we currently have and the comments by wenger are a bit worrying.

    “We always have people in mind and we check them out. We look everywhere. It’s difficult to find [them] at this period of the season but overall I feel at the moment we have so many games that it’s very important just to focus on the next one.

    “We have solutions internally with Ignasi Miquel, with Alex Song who can play centre back and with Squillaci, who should come back very quickly.

    “If we find somebody at the right level we will do it, if not we will continue like this.”

    If the above is the case and we dont bring in anyone wenger will have to take full blame.

  15. I’ve just been reading over our medical staff, and it is indeed interesting to know who has left and come in. There are a lot of names for sure. one thing is certain. The current guys have a wealth of experience. Newest being gary O’driscoll. Who helped coach the lions and Irish rugby clubs. I would say trying to keep men of that sport fit and injury free is very difficult.

    An article into these guys would be fantastic and maybe we could correlate the moves with the injuries and see if it is actually the case or just a coincidence. Especially as a few guys joined 2002. And our current Lewin (cousin to the former Gary) worked as his number 2 and is now our number 1.

    Good read, though I’m scared at our recovery time stat. That is frightful.

  16. On and a bit off topic. Good and bad news today in Belgium as in the press reports are saying that Vermaelen will need an operation. That is the bad news.
    The good news is that (if those reports in the press are correct) that he will only need one month to recover from it. So this could mean that let us say at the end of February he could be back.

    But of course this is when all goes as planned. Which it normaly doesn’t at Arsenal when it comes to injuries….

  17. Yea I read that, they said 4 weeks but it would be realistic to say 6. What happened to the horse placenta treatment? Must of worked for RVP. He bashed his toe at the start of the season went out for ages, but has come back, doing all sorts like running and jumping on his knees for celebrations.’Iron man’ Persie!

  18. @ Walter
    One month is not such bad, if its only one month. But it will for sure take recovery time and till Thomas get what we expect from him it will take another month or so…
    As Almunia is probably leaving (pity i like that guy) we have one “space” for registration opened so why shouldn’t we buy one more center back.

  19. @ gandiv
    Those comments are not worrying, they are exactly what Wenger wanted and needed to say. He’s extremely media savvy (we’ve known that from the start after his confrontation with the press) and so he knows that he can’t come out and say he will definitely buy in January as that will instantly bump up prices. On the other hand he also can’t say nothing or say that he won’t look to spend as that might get fans on his back and take media focus away from the games and results. This way he says he’s looking but it’s not essential and that usually means we’ll try and buy someone but at the right price.

    Given the seemingly small number of quality CBs in the reserves I can see Wenger looking for a potential future prospect, aged 21 – 24 to eventually replace Squillaci in a few years. He could also look at a reserve for Song but I don’t think he wants to hinder the progress of Coquelin, Frimpong or Eastmond.

  20. Does anyone really believe that the Almunia injury is genuine – or just a cover for dropping him? Wenger is often accused of being too loyal to his players and being too protective of their feelings. This may be such a case and may be making our ranking look artificially high.

  21. Could you do an analysis that aims to determine whether Arsenal players get fouled more than the opposition? Or what proportion of injuries are caused by tackles vs othe causes? Any such analysis may help illuminate the potential that teams getting “stuck in” are contributing to injuries?

  22. It’s not that we lost to Wigan last year, it’s the matter in which we lost. Up 2-0, we gave up 3 goals in the final 10 minutes. It fits the M.O. of how our team loses games.

    1. Waste chances, can’t break down the other team in the box
    2. Concede late, can’t score the 2nd goal at 1-0 up, can’t score the 3rd goal at 2-0 up.

    We always find a way to keep the other team in the game even when we dominate the game.

    This season it’s the same thing. Up 1 at 2-1, Wigan a man down, we are unable to score the game clincher and, worse, we give up a second.

    I have to admit, I was very proud of the boys for finishing 3rd last season with all of those injuries, but I still think more could have been done in January to improve the situation. Whether it’s bringing in a player for half a season or getting someone in on loan I don’t know, nor do I care…Arshavin playing half of the season up front by himself was ridiculous.

  23. Great article! With all due respect, I think the fact that you so quickly dismissed the idea that the medical team could be at fault a bit ridiculous. Do you think the fact that Liverpool invested heavily in a new sports medicine department which seems to have brought the best people from around the world together to produce superior results(in injury terms!) is just a coincidence!? None of us are educated enough to ridicule the job the sports medicine department are doing, but It’s simple, stats speak for themselves! If a coach gets sacked for no winning than a doc should get sacked for no getting players fit!

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