Arsenal’s Injuries From A Fitness Professionals POV

By Dom (@ozgooner49)

Let’s take a look at what seems to be a very confusing, misunderstood and contentious issue among fans. I have spent some time addressing some of the more frequent questions I receive through twitter and things I see as common confusion.

What is the difference between impact and soft tissue injury?

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what these two terms mean. I’ll start by explaining the ‘impact injury’. Basically football is a contact sport where players are sliding into tackles, clashing various body parts and doing so at high speed. It is part and parcel of the game that you get “knocks” such as bruising of ankle and knee joints or muscles and injuries as extreme as ruptured ACLs and broken bones.

These types of injuries are ones that are slightly more accepted by fitness and medical staff but that doesn’t make them any easier to recover from. Soft tissue injuries are the cause of a muscle being stretched under load and the tension becomes too much to the point of a tear/strain of the muscle. These are the injuries that are seen as avoidable and down to a poor lack of fitness management (also the ones arm-chair experts want the whole club sacked over).

However, a soft tissue injury can also be unavoidable. Here’s a quick example — an athlete here in Australia was out of the game (Aussie rules) for around 6 months and in his first game back, tore a hamstring. Of course the initial reaction from fans was to criticize the team and management of the player.

However, on review of the GPS data it showed he was pushed slightly in the back as he was stumbling forward which caused him to momentarily travel 2x as fast as his body naturally could travel, of course something was going to give and it happened to be his hamstring. He could have been completely fit and healthy; it was still going to result in injury. That’s some food for thought perhaps!

Why does Arsenal seem to have more soft tissue injuries than other teams?

This summation is based on my experience with sports athletes. Arsenal plays a very high percentage game, so this allows for several scenarios. The players draw more knocks and tackles because they have the ball more often but it also requires much more energy. The players have to pass and move constantly, that type of system relies upon it; constant short bursts of explosive speed and power to run into space to receive the ball.

This type of play promotes more fatigue of fast twitch fibres which in turn makes the players more susceptible to soft tissue injuries. If the ball is turned over the players then have to turn and sprint to help defend because they are so high up the pitch. This is another explosive effort for the players to give hence why we’ve seen players struggling to track back (Arteta, Sagna, etc.) which has resulted in many a counter attacking goals being conceded (more pace and power runners in the summer please)!

Lastly, squad depth; Arsenal simply don’t have the depth of player to rotate so fatigue builds in the players.

Why do the players have set backs after being injured and returning?

The best explanation I can give for this comes down to one thing and that’s imbalances in biomechanics. If anyone has ever twisted their ankle before or hurt their leg in any capacity you will attest to this. You develop a limp and start compensating for the injury by putting more of the load on other joints. So for example, when trying to rehab a left ankle injury the right leg is doing more work throughout the day.

This puts extra strain on that side, so even though scans come back all clear for a player to resume full training, it’s quite common to pick up strains and problems with the other side or other muscles because of the biomechanics changes over the period of rehabilitation. One case in point is Sergio Aguero. Having just come back from a calf strain, he tore his hamstring in his first game back.

What can we do to prevent this happening?

Personally, I am a big believer in injury prevention through the means of specific training for different types of athletes such as doing yoga to increase core strength and flexibility because generally, a more flexible muscle is less susceptible to injury. Squad rotation is another obvious answer. HOWEVER, here is something that I haven’t heard spoken about before and that’s the difference in athletes.

I could give two players the exact same strength and conditioning program and running program and one could break down after a week, the other excel and get excellent results. Why? Well everyone is different. I’ll use Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere as examples. Ramsey is a powerful runner, a player that thrives on working his marker into the ground with lung busting runs into dangerous areas but he is they type of athlete that can handle that kind of movement.

Jack is built differently, has a completely different running style and so far has not been able to handle the same work load. This brings me to my next very interesting point about squad rotation. The common opinion is that a player needs to be rested after a certain amount of game time but an athlete like Sagna, Ramsey or Jenkinson can actually suffer from this and here’s the reason why — they are elite running athletes.

These players get up and down the pitch for 90 mins without too many problems. If they were to be rested for a period of time, they would lose match fitness, something that is nearly impossible to recreate in training. Having lost match fitness, putting them back into the team actually has a negative effect.

They go in less fit than before they were rested, so the intensity of a match day game can leave them heavy legged and again susceptible to injury. This really ought to make you think about the fine lines training staff deal with on a daily basis.

What technology is used and can be utilised?

There is a constant flow and tussle for the latest and greatest when it comes to sports science technology at sporting clubs. GPS tracking systems now see the effort and distance covered by players to identify potential fatigue and injury.

There are statisticians that full time role is to analyse the data to see what players need less or more work. It is fair to say that if the club is even 5 years behind the times they might as well be in a different century, that’s the speed at which this industry travels and if you don’t keep up you are very, very easily left behind.

So, time for a conclusion. It’s a lot to take in isn’t it? Yet, I don’t think anyone is any the wiser over what to do about the situation. If I had the answers I’d be two things; very rich and very busy. I would be pursued by every major sports team around the globe. These are not problems specific to Arsenal.

The club spend so much time and energy and us as supporters invest so much emotionally into this great club that when a player is struck with injury we must know who is to blame! Just have a look at the management of certain players for other teams this year. Kompany limped out of training with a knee injury and the next day played versus Liverpool; City took a huge gamble.

Van Judas got a pain killer injection (cortisone) to play against Arsenal only to miss the next month. The game has never been more demanding on the human body. It is faster than ever which means the players are stretched more and more to the breaking point. This gives a good account as to why late 90’s early 00’s teams got away with using fewer players throughout the season.
Personally, I would start with looking at our style of play and bringing in a few players that are powerful athletes, more robust to endure the style Arsenal deploy. Squad depth looks to already be a priority with players like Rosicky being kept at the club, he’s someone the manager can confidently use when needed and give a first team player a rest if needed.

Hopefully, with a few additions in the summer and a safe World Cup for our current players we could go some way to rectifying the situation. Make no mistake about it; the club is more than aware of how damaging it is not to have their best players fit.

Let’s just all cross our fingers and hope Arsenal are doing everything possible to get ahead of the pack with methods and technology to give the lads the best chance possible to play a full season.

You can follow him on twitter : Dom (@ozgooner49)

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