By Tony Attwood
Koscielny, Ozil, Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Theo, Bellerin, Gnabry… you know the story. And it is fairly obvious that this is a contributory factor to the club’s current position. Especially when we think that Giroud, Debuchy, Gibbs, Flamini and Monreal, have all had injuries this season as well as those currently out. Goodness, we were down to our third choice keeper for some Euro games this season.
Year after year we get injuries – lots of them. And even though our list of injuries is so high, the assumption is made that the problem with the injuries is the manager.
Now that takes quite a leap, because there isn’t any hard evidence to this effect. A fair amount of speculation, but not much evidence. And it is the evidence that I want to look at here.
I’m back to injuries today because Ivan Gazidis, who has talked about injuries before, has continued to do so in this quarter’s report to shareholders.
Now what we need here is detailed analysis, and perhaps some experts who can help us analyse it. But there are two problems for such experts. First, clubs don’t reveal all the details of injuries for fear of giving their opponents advantages, for fear of not being able to sell a player on when they want him to go, and indeed for fear of putting up the insurance costs.
And second, one possible cause of the injuries is a cause that the media absolutely will not mention under any circumstances.
But in the end all we have to go on is such data as we can pick up – which is mostly the club’s declaration about injuries, and even though the press won’t do a proper analysis, we can.
The latest report turns up in the Telegraph today, and shows that between 2003-4 and 2013-14, Arsenal had 312 significant injuries (significant meaning that a player was out for ten days or more). Chelsea got 212 in the same period. For the last seven seasons in their stats Arsenal have had injuries above the average – which is similar to the figure that Untold produced when we did a season of weekly injury analyses.
The Telegraph have an “exclusive” from Premier Injuries Ltd for their figures, although given that the results quoted are not very extensive, they could have used Untold’s approach, which would have given them a deeper analysis.
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But before looking at our analysis published earlier this year, let’s see what the Telegraph have to say…
This year Arsenal have 25 injuries of the serious kind so far, according to the Telegraph table, compared with 13 for Liverpool, for example.
Since 2004-5, Arsenal players have lost 13,161 days to injury. In the same period, Chelsea have lost 7,217 days to injury, Liverpool 9,287, Man C 10,053, Everton 10,530.
And so it goes on season after season, with the numbers (at least for Arsenal) going up and up. We have lost 874 player days this season. Chelsea have lost 250 days. Between 2007/8 and 2011/12 we either had the highest or second highest number of injuries in four of those five years.
We’ve looked at the “why?” of this before, and talked about Arsenal’s investigation into training methods, the training pitches, and the pitch at Stadium Wenger.
Following the lead taken by Untold through Walter’s series on injuries (which started here – there is an index of all the articles at the end of this piece) the research in the Telegraph breaks down injuries into type – although their analysis (at least as far as reported) does not have the rigour of the Untold review.
The Telegraph says Arsenal, have had the most muscular injuries in the Premier League so far this season at 14 with only Man U having more since 2007/8.
But then, suddenly all this lovely scientific study goes out the window, and the Telegraph reporter, Jeremy Wilson, walks trance like into another dimension. He says,
“Questions, then, can legitimately be asked about Arsenal’s methods.” Well yes, and many other questions can be asked as well. Suddenly he quotes Raymond Verheijen as saying that there was a “career-threatening process” at Arsenal that was structural. And he says, “few professionals in the industry are willing to speak openly about their theories.”
We looked at Mr V earlier this year too – in fact we did a bit of a special on him. It’s in the index below.
But then the Telegraph, instead of jumping back from the rather outrageous and unsupported accusations of one man, goes utterly off the rails by saying “One former Arsenal player, however, told The Telegraph that Wenger’s training methods – which place an emphasis on relatively short but intense sessions – is a part of the issue.”
So one player. We don’t know who. We don’t know if he has a grudge to bear because he was dropped or is suing the club for maltreatment, or is just a bit liable to take on strange theories, or is angry that he didn’t get a long enough contract.
“Players need more rest now and more individually tailored programmes but Arsene has his methods that he believes in,” said our mystery player. As a sample size, one is a bit, well, sort of, low.
At least the writer does admit that “There are many conflicting theories. Research by one Premier League club – who have an excellent injury record – has concluded that the “over-playing” theory is largely a myth and that, with the right recovery, physical limits are more often reduced by mentality.”
Now let’s try and unravel this properly.
I think it was somewhere around Lecture One of Day One at university that I was told (and then told again on Day Two, and reminded regularly, and taken through it all again when I started my research degree wherein it was insisted that I did another full term’s work on statistics, data and analysis) that evidence, explanation, theory and testing are all part of science and social science – you really do need them all.
In situations like this you can’t test, because we can’t say to one club, do x and another do y, but we can still have evidence, explanation, and theory. And samples bigger than one.
So you gather data, with as much objectivity as possible, and then seek explanations and turn them into a theory, while recognising that chance is always a part of life.
One explanation is that Wenger is at fault – his training methods are wrong. It is a theory, but quite why a man who has won the league three times, and the FA Cup five times should keep on using faulty training methods is not clear, and in that regard the explanation seems unlikely. The theory is still there, but it has weaknesses.
Other explanations that it is Arsenal’s fault (the pitch, overplaying the players etc) falter in the same regard – why would the club not change the system? Indeed why would top professionals still come to Arsenal if it were clear that something was wrong with the pitches, or the methodology? Again the theory is still there, but it is a bit feeble.
So we have to look for other explanations – not because the ones that say that it is Arsenal’s fault are proven to be impossible, but because there are good reasons to say they are unlikely. Just saying that Wenger is a pig-headed idiot isn’t really scientific, and needs some support before it can be accepted.
And it is at this point that the Telegraph and Premier Injuries Ltd (at least in so far as their work is reported by the Telegraph) falter. Because they do not consider all the possible causes and then look for supporting evidence and then produce a theory. Yes, it could be Wenger, yes it could be Arsenal, yes to some degree it could be and probably is chance, but there are other explanations that have supporting evidence.
And the key point is “supporting evidence”. You could say, “an alien space craft is beaming an injury ray onto Arsenal’s training complex” and you might be right, but there is no supporting evidence. You could follow Raymond Verheijen, but again there is no real supporting evidence.
But when we come to look at the notion that the way some referees treat Arsenal players as opposed to the way they treat others, there is some supporting evidence. All you have to do is read the reviews here, and the reviews on Referee Decisions, written by non-Arsenal supporting referees. You can dismiss all those, but then you have to say why you are rejecting that evidence in favour of whatever view you have.
Now I am not saying that this proves that it is the action of some referees that is to blame for Arsenal regularly being top of the injury league. I am saying that this is a credible theory with evidence and that the other theories we have are not as credible.
And much more importantly it is not the theory of one unnamed person – which is what the Telegraph is relying on here, or one man like Mr V who has gone out on a limb.
I don’t know if the Telegraph sports writers know about the thing called “the scientific method” – it is the basis of all our knowledge about the world, and it spreads from physics to psychology. It is the approach which is used all the time to find explanations for everything from why your leg will break in a certain situation to why the moon goes round the earth and doesn’t fly off into space. From how electricity works and why an electric shock can kill you, to how your over-arching personality affects some of the decisions you make.
Quite why the Telegraph and their chums at Premier Injuries Ltd don’t adopt the scientific approach I don’t know, but if they did they would have to consider the impact not just of training methods, training pitches, the Arsenal pitch, and the speed at which players return from injury, and the alleged obstinacy of Mr Wenger but also the action of referees and the level of injuries that come from issues during a game rather than issues in training.
Not to do so is to leave a whacking great hole in the whole research programme, and basically to nullify all of it. Yes it is valid to ignore the aliens and the ray gun, because there is no supporting evidence, but there is evidence relating to the refs. Here are the links to our research on injuries:
- Introduction and part 1
- Part 2: average injuries per season analysis
- Part 3: Arsenal compared to other teams
- Part 4 : The risk for each player
- part 5 Non-contact injuries
- Part 5.2 – an aside. Raymond Verheijen
- part 6 Ankles, foot and back injuries
- part 7 Broken Legs
- part 8 How to Hurt a Player and Not get a Card
- part 9 Broken Legs – the analysis in detail
- part 10 Knee Injuries
- part 11: Shoulders and Thighs
- Part 12 Injuries and the number of games
You might also like the way that the Guardian picked up on this story from Untold before the Telegraph got there.