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October 2020

Arsenal have managed to halve muscle injuries sustained by Academy players

“The amount of muscle injuries sustained by young players in the Academy there has been cut in half over the last three years.”

By Tony Attwood


The story concerns Des Ryan, Arsenal’s head of sports medicine and athletic development and the headline above the story reads, “Galway native Des Ryan has managed to halve the amount of muscle injuries sustained by young Academy players at Arsenal.”

Des Ryan is part of the makeover that the Arsenal youth and Arsenal fitness and injury prevention teams had in the last couple of years, with the reorganisation that followed Liam Brady’s departure.  He joined in February 2013.

Prior to that he worked in the field of strength and conditioning for the Irish Rugby Football Union (rugby is that game where handball is allowed – rather like Australian Rules but without the intellectual rigour).

Part of his work was managing the fitness development structures for rugby players in under-19 sides and below and he has assisted with the Ireland senior rugby team.  He’s known to be the man who works on long-term player development and has spoken at quite a few conferences around the world over the last few years.

In a speech he gave recently on ‘Developing & Maximising Youth Potential’ Des said that every single club in all sports should appoint a strength and conditioning coach to address the ‘workload issue.’

“Eventually, through the principle of long-term player development, system alignment and integration, proper planning will be put in place that is player-centric and not centred on the individual needs or desires of each manager that the young player is working under.

“This will ensure that these young players are not over-played, they will stay longer in sport and there will be less chance of getting injured.”

The report of the conference adds that “With Ryan spearheading a massive sea change at Arsenal, the amount of muscle injuries sustained by young players in the Academy there has been cut in half over the last three years.”

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And he explained how parents have a key role to play in managing their children’s playing workload.

The speech also emphasised the role that parents have to play in ensuring that young players are not over-worked.  This is a particular problem in countries such as Ireland where there are multiple codes competing for youngster’s interest.

What is interesting is that the methodology used is not some sort of magic formula involving training this way or that way, but rather knowledge.  “The player, together with his parents and coaches, [should] make an informed decision based on what he or she can do, not what is wanted of him or her.”

Also speaking at the conference was Gary Schofield, a US expert in youth athletic development who said, “There was a recent article in in England in which they asked why England youth players are injured at a higher rate.

“The simple reason was they are playing way too much… The youth athlete doesn’t have the body to handle the physical loads we are putting on them.”

Schofield also revealed some of the key injury influences on young players at development stage, with research showing that if young athletes get less than 7.5 hours sleep at night it increases the likelihood of injury by 1.7 times, while the injury rate during the high academic period is 2.1 times the average rate.

And although the press in the UK wouldn’t dare publish this story as it goes so much against their view that all injuries are the fault of Wenger, the fact that there might actually be a thing called “Evidence based football journalism” is slowly creeping under the door and seeping across the beer stained floors of the pubs favoured by the nation’s scribblers.

Indeed just today the Telegraph published an article under the banner headline Revealed: Arsenal are not the most cursed Premier League club when it comes to injuries

(Notice “Revealed” as the opening word.  Jeremy Wilson has been reading blogettas again.

Anyway he sayeth: “Manchester City – rather than Arsenal – have suffered most acutely with injuries among the main Premier League title contenders this season, according to new research seen by The Telegraph.

“The company Premier Injuries Ltd [a firm linked to ESPN] have collated injury totals since the start of the season for every team according to four key indicators: the number of injuries, the number of days lost, the number of serious injuries lasting more than 10 days and the number of soft tissue injuries.

“That final indicator is regarded as particularly instructive within the medical industry as this type of injury is regarded as potentially most avoidable through the management of a player’s individual workload.”

Well now – we seem to be talking the same language.

“Despite leading the Premier League table, Manchester City’s inability to build a major gap on their rivals despite arguably the best squad is perhaps best explained by such an unusually high number of injuries,” the piece continues.

Apparently the club financed by the state that indulges in flogging, stoning and the other niceties of Sharia Law have had “35 different problems since their first game against West Bromwich Albion, of which 22 have been soft tissue.”

Arsenal are way down the chart having had “24 injuries in all.”  We have lost players for 312 days in total, putting us in 13th position in the league table of injuries.  It is also far better than last season.

So is Arsenal working on the problem successfully?  Yes.  Is the Telegraph leaving its old rampaging bias and semi-skimmed commentary behind?  No.  And I say that because they are also currently running the headline, Arsene Wenger talks a good game on injuries, so why do they keep happening to Arsenal?

The article is by and large the typical mindless gibberish, but here’s one bit that really is so bizarre it is amusing…

One of the most surprising aspects of Arsenal’s continuing poor record with injuries is that it contradicts Wenger’s reputation for being analytical.

I bet the editors wish they had checked what else they were running in the paper at the same time as that piece, running that nipping back down to that pub for another quick one.


Many thanks to Dearbhla McArdle who writes for our co-production Untold Dylan for covering the conference in Ireland.


Arsenal in the 70s, part 8 – the lessons learned and the lessons ignored 1967-73



12 comments to Arsenal have managed to halve muscle injuries sustained by Academy players

  • nicky

    Memo to Arsene Wenger*******
    Promote Des Ryan from working on the Academy guys and let him loose on the first team squad (with a raise in salary). 😉

  • Jerry

    @Tony excellent article! The times are changing as they say, but unfortunately at a snail’s pace in regards to the media!

    I agree Des Ryan has done a great job, but he’s part of the overall improvement of the overall medical and fitness program from the top-down at the club. Believe it or not, the injury record has actually improved significantly this year compared to last year (39% less injuries sustained). More information can be found here in regards to the first team injuries:

    It seems that the only negative trends in regards to injuries are that
    1)the percent of injuries occurring in away games has risen by 11% up to 41% of the injuries
    2) the longest injury stint and the % of players injured for 90 days or more has risen due to the loss of Welbeck since last year.

  • Gord

    Keep in mind Jerry, that just because someone used percentages to describe things, there probably isn’t much data to work from. For example, 1/9 is 11%. Changing that to 1/7 (14%) or 1/12 (8%) looka like a significant change, that probably isn’t significant.

    I seen a news report yesterday or the day before, Abou Diaby is now out for the rest of the season again (at Marseille). That man deserves better!


    OT: Loanees

    Hull is in action in Capital One Cup semi-final action. Akpom and Hayden both getting starts. This is especially good news for Hayden, I thought he had been glued to the bench.

    Up in Glasgow, Zelalem is out wowing the wofo’s again.


  • Mandy Dodd

    That’s really good news. I don’t have the stats but just get the impression a lot of our youngsters have been in the wars over the years, many even before facing the ravages of pgmol protected opponents in the first team.
    Good news for now and the future. As bad as things can look at the moment, always good to read articles like this.
    This fits in with recent quotes from Comolli about overplayed English players.

  • Pat

    Thanks for giving us this information, Tony. Very funny about the Telegraph having two contradictory articles! Very sad about Abou Diaby – a victim of the kick em brigade.

  • WalterBroeckx

    A lot of the problems that can be found with players like Ramsey and Jack are probably down to them being overlaboured in their youth days. Good to see that Arsenal is tackling this problem. And it will probably benefit us in the future when our own academy players make up the step to the first team. These things go slow of course and is not what the ‘I want it now-brigade’ will be interested in.

  • nicky

    Very saddened over the news about Abou Diaby. The poor guy has had more than his fair share of bad luck.
    The only consolation is that he is probably financially secure.

  • blacksheep63

    Wenger Out Brigade
    Kick ’em Brigade and now the ‘I want it now-brigade’
    That’s virtually an entire army
    we should send them all to Syria

  • Pat

    Why saddle the poor Syrians with them?

  • Jerry


    I agree in regards to your statements about comparing percentages. The overall injury numbers are down as well compared to last year:
    1) Total injuries sustained= 24 (which is 39% lower than this point last year)
    2) Days lost in total has decreased to 749 (down 41%)
    3) The average days per injury is down to 29 (lower by about 10%)

    All of those numbers are increased significantly due to the Welbeck injury (213 days) which happened last year. If considering only injuries that occurred this season, the numbers would improve even more.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Welbeck injury was also down to a needless and dangerous tackle on him by a Liverpool player that got send off for it by goodness me Taylor. Clamping his legs around the leg of Welbeck, the famous and dangerous scissor tackle

  • ColG

    Certainly there is a perception that Arsenal get more injuries. I suspect the reality (as always) is somewhere in the middle.

    Although Arsenal have a large first team squad, they have a large proportion of players that are not really first team material. or at least Arsenal first team, either too old / slow (Arteta, Flamini) or too inexperienced. Consequently, certain players get played a lot more (Sanchez, Ozil etc) so inevitably get more injuries, exacerbated by being more frequently called upon when in the ‘red zone’. Also, the high dependence on these players means there absence is much more noticeable than at City (say).

    Wenger’s noted reluctance to spend unless he is getting what he regards as good value is worthy and prudent, but it does mean the legacy of the ‘stadium debt years’ will take a while to sort itself out in terms of having a squad depth of first team quality. I expect he will continue to add at a rate of 1 x world class player + several prospects per year. This, and not having to sell players any more should mean things are going in the right direction, albeit not as fast as some would like.

    The other point is, is there really something the club could do better in terms of keeping players fit? Every armchair critic seems to know better than Wenger. The reality is there may be something that could be done, but Wenger’s team is best placed to know if there is. I am sure they are spending a lot of time thinking about it, even if Wenger won’t say so in public.