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The major benefit for Arsenal that arises from not being in Europe

By Tony Attwood

Much has been made of the fact that Arsenal are not in Europe this year for the first time in a long time.   Nothing has been made of the fact that Arsenal holds the UK record for the number of consecutive years in European competition, nor that Arsenal are second only to Real Madrid for the most consecutive years in European competition among the whole of Europe.

But that’s what we expect.  Other English clubs have dropped out of Europe in recent years, including Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham etc all without any fuss.   And it now seems there is evidence of a benefit of having an occasional year out of Europe.

This is highlighted in an article from Law in sport which stresses the “amount of back-to-back matches in elite men’s professional football has increased over the last three years, with some footballers spending 70 to 80 percent of their playing time in a two-game-a-week rhythm, according to a new FIFPRO report.

The report being mentioned is the FIFPRO Player Workload Monitoring platform and it measures what it calls “match congestion” by looking at the overload for players who are called upon to play twice a week.   It has also issued warnings about what it calls “energy-sapping travel” and the constant erosion of the amount of time players have away from football in the summer.

The research looks at the workload of several hundred players between the summer of 2018 and August 2021.

The survey reveals that national-team players played “on average 67 percent of their minutes on the pitch in back-to-back matches in 2020-21, up from 61 percent the previous two seasons.  It is important to note it is the cumulative exposure to matches that constitutes a risk for a player’s health, performance and career longevity.”

This reminds us very much of Arsene Wenger’s famous comment, for which he was seriously reprimanded and fined by Fifa, in which he noted that international football managers were like car thieves who not only took one’s car, but also returned it totally wrecked with the instruction to have it repaired and ready for next time.

There is a particular emphasis in the report on “Long-distance, international trips” noting that even with the reduction of these during the pandemic they are still putting pressure on player health and performance, due to repeatedly moving across time zones and playing in different climates.

This resonates with earlier research we have quoted in which American elite sports people have been shown to suffer through travelling across time zones to play games.

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The report then notes that “Medical research recommends that off-season and in-season breaks need protection and effective regulatory enforcement in order for players to completely wind down, without any professional commitments. FIFPRO recommends that every player should have at least 28 days for off-season and 14 days for an in-season break.

This is of course massively more than many players get now as “45 percent of off-season breaks were shorter than 28 days and 30 percent of in-season breaks lasted less than 14 days.”

Now of course Uefa and Fifa are not going to give up their demands on players, but there is a spot of hope eventually, because with this report, the next players who are injured after playing without an adequate break will have the chance to go to an industrial tribunal and cite the FIFPRO report.

What needs to happen is that the overall season needs to be reduced by up to eight games – and that could easily be done by cutting out the foreign internationals, which in turn would cut out the problems of travel time.

An alternative would be for players to be forced to have a break after a set number of consecutive back-to-back matches. 

And indeed that is what Arsenal have got this season.  No Europa and no Champions League games.  And although it is true that last season we used our reserves in the first six games of the Europa League we then went on and played eight more matches, mostly using the first team.

FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer Hoffmann said, “The data shows we must release pressure on players at the top end of the game and this report provides new research why we need regulation and enforcement mechanisms to protect players. These are the type of solutions that must be at the top of the agenda whenever we discuss the development of the match calendar. It’s time to make player health and performance a priority.”

And it should be noted that the data is based on players being on the pitch for 45 minutes or more twice with less than five days recovery in between.  So this season without the Europa really can be doing our players good.

Arsenal last missed out on Europe in 1995/96.  The following season we came third, and the season after that won the League.

Previous FIFPRO Player Workload Monitoring Flash Reports were published in May for men’s football and in June for women’s football.

The original article can be found here.

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