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By Tony Attwood
Arsenal are currently top of the Premier League injury table with five players out – which is an unfortunate development given that last season Arsenal made the fewest changes to the starting XI of any team, as an article the Athletic recently pointed out.
The current injury “crisis” as I am sure it is about to be called by a football reporter somewhere, runs to five players out – the same number as Brighton and Chelsea. At the other end of the table Sheffield United and Luton Town report no injuries.
Arsenal’s troubled players are Sambi Lokonga with a muscular injury, Rob Holding with muscular tightness, Reiss Nelson with a toe injury, Leandro Trassard as a knock, and Oleksandr Zinchenko with a calf injury which will keep him out for several games.
But less you feel that this is “same old Arsenal always injured” it should be remembered that Arsenal were 14th in the injury chart last season for the number of player days lost through injury. At the top was Liverpool with 162 days lost, Arsenal were 14th with 79 and at the bottom of the table was Brighton with 44. Manchester City were 19th with 49.
So to put that in perspective Arsenal had fewer than half the number of days lost to injury than Liverpool did last season, but almost double the number of days lost as Brighton and Hove. Put another way Liverpool had 3.68 times the number of days lost as Brighton.
Tottenham interestingly were almost identical to Arsenal. Arsenal lost 79 player days and Tottenham 78.
Now of course during the days of Wenger it was constantly argued that it was his training methods that caused the injuries, but no one has come along of late saying it was Liverpool’s training methods that caused their injuries last season. Funny that.
But what is particularly interesting about Liverpool is the way they have persistently avoided yellow cards. Year after year they are bottom or close to bottom in the yellow card table. The following table shows yellow card totals, and takes a look from Klopp’s first year as manager. Yellow card data from WhoScored.
|75 Aston Villa
|73 WHU, WBA
|73 Sheff U
|42 (Man C)
|84 Wolves, Forsest
|44 (WHU, Man C)
So although the table doesn’t present definitive evidence I think it clearly suggests that the manager influences how the clubs play and hence the number of yellows they are likely to get. Looking at the clubs with the most yellow they are primarily clubs that would be looking to avoid relegation – hence a high number of tackles.
The exception is the 86 yellow cards against Arsenal in 2020/21 when Arsenal came eighth. If these were all genuinely given for bad tackles, the tactic was effective in as much as despite their lowly league position Arsenal had the third best defence in the league, conceding just 39 goals.
But it is not the only way to play. In 2015/16 when Arsenal came runners’ up they conceded just 36 goals and got the lowest number of yellow cards, thus showing that it is perfectly possible to keep the number of goals conceded down, and the number of yellow cards down, at the same time.
However last season, Arsenal’s consistency was not just through keeping the yellow card level down in comparison with other teams. It also came by being able to use the same players over and over again.
Arsenal did in fact have two players who played every league game last season (Gabriel and Ramsdale) and seven players who played 30+ games. Manchester City by comparison had no one who played every game and just three players who played 30+ games.
Arsenal’s tactic this coming season I think will be to give games to more players, to ensure the opposition doesn’t know exactly how the team will play, and to ensure we have ready-made cover for any injuries picked up.
Thus with tackling Arteta has long since got rid of Arsenal’s unwanted record of being the most yellow-carded team in the league by dramatically reducing the fouling. Now he is going to get rid of the issue of every opposition team saying, “right you have Saka on that side and Martinelli on the other so…” and thus knowing long before the game starts what the Arsenal team will be. Arsenal in fact had only 12 players who played 10 plus games. Manchester City however had 18 players who played 10 plus league games. They had their back up players ready.
Looked at in this way, these numbers show that Arsenal need more strength in depth, and for the squad players to get more games than they have been getting. This serves two purposes. First, meaning that if cover is needed, the player who steps in has already had experience of playing a number of matches with others in the team. Second, it makes it harder for the opposition to know exactly how to play against Arsenal.
In one sense Arsenal already have this through the diversity of goal scorers. Taking only league matches into account, Martinelli scored 15, as did Odegaard, Saka got 14 and Gabriel Jesus who missed 14 games through the insanity of playing a world cup half way through a season, still got 11. In fact when the number of games played is taken into account Gabriel Jesus had the best goal/games ratio, as shown in the final column.
So our secret weapon (although not really secret) was that the opposition had no idea where the goals were coming from. This coming season we will need to add something else – and I suggest that is going to be by using more players through the season, rather than relying so much on that small key group.
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