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How Arsenal’s injuries were reduced to one third of the level of Liverpool injuries

By Tony Attwood

In the days of Mr Wenger, Arsenal was regularly mauled in the press because of the number of players the club had out injured.  Arsenal was rarely at the top of the injury league (except when one “outlet” managed to count some players twice) but the club was in the upper reaches.

Now we see the opposite effect.  Only one club had fewer injury days than Arsenal, and Arsenal’s injury figures were just one third of Liverpool’s.

If you have been reading this blog recently, you will be able to guess how it was done – it is another effect of the decision to reduce tackling by 22% in the past season – a decision which itself helped dramatically improve Arsenal’s league position as the players got used to the approach.

The man feeding the attacks into the media was Raymond Verheijen, a man utterly unqualified in the world of injury prevention and treatment but top of the list when it came to Wenger-bashing and thus beloved by the media.

“The former Wales fitness coach has repeatedly blamed the work-load on Arsenal’s players for injuries and was again critical of what he called the “old school” approach of Wenger,” screamed the Telegraph, although Verheijen never commented on the greater level of injuries of other teams.   The message was simplistic and endlessly re-run.  Because Mr Wenger trains his team as ‘marines,’ we were told, they suffer.

Verheijen worked with a few clubs but he mostly worked for national teams in his career as well as attending 3 world cups and 3 European championships. As you know national teams are the teams that take players from clubs, make them play unnecessary and meaningless games from which they suffer overload and then send them back to their clubs overplayed and undertrained, and then they get injured because they have done too much.  So he was not really the right man to be critical about clubs and their training methods.

What Verheijen never acknowledged was that more than 41% of the injuries sustained by Arsenal players were contact injuries. And that has nothing to do with training methods. But more to do with good referees.

It was this that caused Arsenal to look at the way of dealing with referees, and fitness all in one go and indeed over time Arsenal’s injury level did go down and the press began to lay off. 

But now, with Arsenal’s tackling level down to a previously unimaginable level we now find this…

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PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB’S INJURIES 2020/21 (Source: Premier Injuries)
Pos Team Days with players injured or ill Percentage of Liverpool’s days
1 Liverpool 1,032 100%
2 Crystal Palace 864 84%
3 Newcastle United 763 74%
4 Southampton 711 69%
5 Sheffield United 686 66%
6 Leicester City 683 66%
7 Burnley 673 65%
8 Manchester City 606 59%
9 Leeds United 564 55%
10 Brighton and Hove 560 54%
11 West Bromwich 557 54%
12 Everton 540 52%
13 Manchester United 496 48%
14 West Ham United 473 46%
15 Tottenham Hots 436 42%
16 Wolverhamton Wand 431 41%
17 Aston Villa 428 41%
18 Fulham 416 40%
19 Arsenal 357 34%
20 Chelsea 279 27%

So what do we make of that?  Arsenal in 19th place for days players were injured, with injuries running at 34% of the Liverpool level.

My view is that the drop in the number of Arsenal injuries (which were high, but never as high as the anti-Wenger media suggested), came about because of the way in which referees were willing to allow other teams to kick our players around the field. As for why they did this, we’ve debated this elsewhere, but it simply seems to have become a habit.

Mr Wenger rarely commented on the antics of other clubs, but the number of Arsenal injuries did decline across the years and so he clearly did have something he was working on.  Something that Mr Arteta has picked up and which we’ve been able to identify in the statistics.

And the benefit of this approach simply is this: If you cut the number of tackles made, then that in itself will not only reduce the number of free kicks given away and the number of yellow cards you get, but also cut the number of injuries.

The number of yellow cards given against the club has fallen in one season by an incredible 45%.

Team Tackles 2019/0 Tackles 2020/1 +/- Fouls 2019/0 Fouls 2020/1 +/- Yellow 2019/0 Yellow 2020/1 +/-
Arsenal 584 456 -22% 421 345 -18% 86 47 -45%

But more than that.  At the same time as Arsenal got the new approach working in full swing this past season, so Arsenal’s results improved, as we have often noted elsewhere.

Better still, as we have shown this change was achieved while making the Arsenal defence the third best in the League…

Lge pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 27 5 6 83 32 51 86
4 Chelsea 38 19 10 9 58 36 22 67
8 Arsenal 38 18 7 13 55 39 16 61

And the big benefit of course is that all this was done during a period where Arsenal rose up  the league after Christmas

Pos Club / era P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Man C post Xmas 24 20 0 4 59 20 39 60
2 Man U post Xmas 24 12 9 3 43 22 21 45
3 Arsenal post Xmas 23 13 5 5 41 21 20 44
4 Chelsea post Xmas 23 12 6 5 28 20 8 42
5 Leicester post Xmas 23 11 6 6 40 29 11 39
6 Liverpool post Xmas 23 10 5 8 30 23 7 35
7 Tottenham post Xmas 23 10 4 3 39 29 10 34

A number of these factors are all coming together.   Fouls and injuries down while rising up the league table…  Still, I am sure it must be a co-incidence, as otherwise the media would be writing about it, instead of saying we need to buy a whole set of new players.

Arsenal’s new future – the plans are revealed

7 comments to How Arsenal’s injuries were reduced to one third of the level of Liverpool injuries

  • Ben

    Is it worth considering that some of the backroom staff may not be right? Chris Morgan the physio that Liverpool pinched from Arsenal and the number of injured has flipped for the 2 clubs.

  • The Red1

    So basically if you don’t work hard, don’t tackle, play less games and settle for bottom half you’ll get less injuries. Genius!

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Let us hope and remain hopeful that Arsenal will carry those tactical game playing improvements that they had from the halfway mark in the PL campaign last season into next season’s PL campaign in full season.

    And improved on them considerably to obtain a better result in all the 3 domestic competitions they compete in them to win titles next season and win the treble.

    I’ve put Arsenal lack of success to sign Guendai this summer behind me. But I am now looking forward to read that Arsenal have discreetly signed one exquisite midfiel play maker who ticks all the boxes this summer. Taking the media unaware if it is possible. But if they find one and can afford his cost price to sign him.

    Because to fine one who has agreed to transfer to Arsenal, and whose playing club side also agreed to sell him to Arsenal are not easy incoming transfer matter to successfully conclude.

    But Arsenal happen find another this summer window and want to sign him, let the club be discreet in their conducting the transfer of the player to Arsenal without making their interest in the player known to the media to avoid seeing him hijacked from them again this summer.

    For, as a matter of facts, Arsenal showing of interest in Guendai and their wanting to sign him this summer has help to see Guendai’s selling price skied up by his Norwich City club side.

    For, ordinarily if Arsenal had not shown keen interest in Guendai to sign him this summer, the media wouldn’t have hyped his Championship football playing stats to the football public that saw his stock rise which helped Norwich to win the Championship title last season to gain promotion to the PL.

    I believe Norwich wouldn’t have been able to sell Guendai beyond £20m to Aston Villa this summer instead of the £35m that Villa reportedly paid for him.

  • What an odd thing to suggest The Red1. What I am saying is that football changes over time, so clubs need to change their strategies over time, and that is what has happened. We got it right just before Christmas and have since then been performing at a level in terms of results only second to Manchester City. Part of the approach has been to have fewer injuries (your grammar’s not too good either) but how you can take these articles to mean “settle for bottom half” is completely weird.

  • Mikey

    @ The Red1

    As you clearly believe your take on things to be better than those suggested in the article let’s just take a look at what you said.

    Firstly, “if you don’t work hard”, I assume you mean the players, the manager or both. Thus you must have been at the training ground every day to check. Somehow I doubt it.

    Then, you claim we “don’t tackle”. But we did, we made an average of 12 tackles every game. So again, a fail on your part. Yes it was a reduction in tackling but you present no rational suggestion as to why this happened, the benefits, or indeed why this might be detrimental……………..as opposed to the author who did!

    What about, “settle for bottom half”? Well given we didn’t finish in the bottom half, I can only assume you’re suggesting that Arteta or the club were targeting a bottom half finish? Although you have no evidence for what I consider a pretty odd assertion, what this would actually mean is that the club actually exceeded it’s target. Yet still you moan…….

    Finally, you try to link those three unsubstantiated and irrational statements by inferring that the author sees them as a solution to reducing injuries. Firstly, the author didn’t make those statements, you did. And secondly, what is written in the article in no way implies anything at all about hard work or targeting a specific finish in the table and it certainly doesn’t in any way whatsoever link the reduction in injuries to laziness and lack of ambition.

    So basically, you’ve strung together an array of unsustainable guesswork which you believe offers something to the debate. Genius!

    You clearly disagree with the article. Why not present a coherent argument backed by sustainable evidence which supports your conclusion. I’m sure both Tony and the readers would be happy to debate it.

  • Menace

    Mikey
    8 June 2021 at 10:10 AM

    Wow!! Good morning Mikey!! Good bye Blushing Red One!!

  • Nitram

    Mikey

    I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve responded to one of those 30 word, unsubstantiated, factually inaccurate, simply opinion based ‘I know what I see with my own eyes’ type posts, with similar requests for them to come back to me with at least a little supporting evidence, and I cant recall a single fact laden response.

    As such, despite the occasional relapse I make a concerted effort not to get involved. It’s pointless.

    As Menace suggests, obviously you wont hear a word from The Red 1, at least not yet. Oh he’ll be back at some point you can be sure of that. And he’ll be spouting the same unsubstantiated, inaccurate nonsense again. But not yet. Not why he’s going to be taken to task.

    But yet another great post none the less Mikey.