Yes Arsenal had injuries… but so too did Chelsea and Man Utd
How many times did you hear the above strap line at the end of the last season? Well there are injuries and there are INJURIES! Lets take a little closer look at the injuries over the past year before we jump to any conclusions on how well, or poorly, Arsenal and Arsène Wenger coped.
If we take a look at the Arsenal first team and analyse just how much time they lost to injuries there is an interesting story. I put the following 11 as the first team based on the previous (08/09) season and the players AW virtually always called on when fit and available. Lining up in a 4-3-3:
- Van Persie
One could argue that Abou Diaby is now ahead of Denilson in the pecking order, but certainly at the beginning of the past season and in 08/09 Denilson was always preferred (in fact played more than any other Arsenal player in the PL in that season).
How much did this team play of the season? Using the Premier league as the basis, there are 38 games and a possible 3420 minutes a player could appear, if playing all 90 minutes of every 38 games. Summarising minutes appearing and overall percentage of the season gives the following:
Player/Minutes appearing/Total possible (3420 throughout) /Percentage (09/10 EPL Season)
- Van Persie 1256/3420 (37%)
- Arshavin 2265 (66%)
- Nasri 1887 (55%)
- Fabregas 2193 (64%)
- Denilson 1573 (46%)
- Song 2237 (65%)
- Clichy 2086 (61%)
- Vermaelen 2799 (82%)
- Gallas 2340 (68%)
- Sagna 2760 (81%)
- Almunia 2610 (76%)
Total for all 11 players was 24,006 minutes vs 37,620 = 64%
From the above there is really only Vermaelen and Sagna who appeared anywhere close to the amount that you would expect of a regular first teamer. The total figure of 24,006 is also significant in that it represents exactly 7 out of 11 (64%) which means on average for every Arsenal game there were four first teamers absent, usually because of injury (Song missed a few games because of the ACN and TV missed one game because of suspension).
Of course the above is not the whole picture. Arshavin played many games with a debilitating foot injury (in addition to being out of position as centre forward with Bendtner injured for 3.5 months in the heart of the season). Clichy came back early from a serious back injury and struggled for several games, but was effectively obliged to play with Gibbs out for most of the season. Similarly Denilson came back early from a serious back (and other) injuries, to cover during Song’s absence, and he also struggled. And the above analysis does not go into the second and third team injuries (Bendtner, Abou Diaby, Ramsay, Gibbs, Eduardo, Walcott, Vela, and Djourou to name just a few).
What about the opposition? Torres seemed to be out for much of the season, as was Essien. Man Utd had a defensive crisis, and so on. Without going into all the detail (and a lot of debate as to who was or wasn’t a first choice player for each team), the best way to compare the top 4 teams is to compare the very top players. The following analysis looks at the best four players in each team – all players taken from the “spine” of the team (central strikers, attacking mid, defensive mid, central defence, goalkeepers), and the emphasis is upon players which are always the first on the teamsheet – the key players.
Drogba 2774 (81%)
Lampard 3220 (94%)
Essien 1195 (35%)
Terry 3260 (95%)
Rooney 2723 (80%)
Fletcher 2576 (75%)
Vidic 2107 (62%)
Van der Sar 1890 (55%)
Van Persie 1256 (37%)
Fabregas 2193 (64%)
Song 2237 (65%)
Gallas 2340 (68%)
Torres 1715 (50%)
Gerrard 2850 (83%)
Mascherano 2755 (81%)
Reina 3420 (100%)
Looking at the key player availability league, Chelsea got 10,449 total minutes (76%), Man Utd 9,296 (68%). Arsenal bring up the rear at 8,029 (58%) while Liverpool are unlikely leaders at 10,740 (78%) despite Torres injury problems.
So while Chelsea and Liverpool had to make do without (on average) one in 4 of their very best players in each league game, and Man Utd (1 in 3). Arsenal had over 40% (ie 2 in 5) of them missing from every game.
Of course the injuries were bound to catch up with them in the end. While the above analysis is of the Premier league, the quarter final of the CL gave a typical indication of how injuries affected the team. In the first home leg against Barcelona 9 of the above 11 Arsenal first team started (RvP still injured and Denilson on the bench). Although Gallas, Fabregas, Arshavin and Song were injured in the game, Arsenal still managed a 2-2 draw.
In the return match with all of Arsenal’s top 4 (above) were injured and Arshavin (top 5) Arsenal struggled and lost 4-1.
For the run in to the EPL only RvP returned from long term injury, and to the above long list Vermaelen was added. In light of such injuries throughout the season, for us to be contenders and then only trail away at the end of the season was quite a remarkable achievement. Some years you just have to accept that you are not going to win it with the injuries you have – 2009/10 was one of those years.
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