A lot has been said about the lack of bodies to Arsenal in January when it was apparent that injuries where starting to take their toll. Although the club made a mistake by not going into the market in a more aggressive manner, there are a lot of misconceptions about the squad as a whole.
To give you an example of what I mean, I constantly read about how Arsenal have a thin squad. That’s just not accurate. The bodies are there, they are just not all in the right areas. Another issue is the personal opinion of supporters as it pertains to different players. Just because you don’t like a player, doesn’t mean he’s not useful. My opinion is that the Gunners lack the quality much more than the quantity that so many like to point to. A brief breakdown of position by position:
GK – Szczesny, Fabianski, Viviano
FB – Gibbs, Sagna, Monreal, Jenkinson. Area of need due to experience.
CB – Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen. Area of need.
MF – Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Chamberlain, Gnabry, Arteta, Flamini
FWD – Giroud, Podolski, Bendtner, Sanogo. Definite area of need.
Other – Ryo, Akpom, Zelalem, Bellerin, Olsson, Hayden, Källström, Eisfeld. Most of these players, bar Källström, took part only in FA Cup or league cup action. Ryo and Akpom took part in 1 league match each.
Forgotten Souls – Diaby, Park
In total, 25 players took part in league matches. Two of those players having only one appearance. If you compare that to The Invincibles season, where 22 players took part and two of those also had just one appearance each, you will see that it is indeed the quality of the second and third choice players rather than the quantity of bodies available. Why Arsenal have the amount of injuries or why the quality isn’t there in certain areas is an altogether different subject, which has been written about ad nauseam.
So now that we’ve dispelled part of the “thin” myth, let’s take a look at how injuries have impacted the run at the Premiership title and how similar injuries would have impacted the top three clubs in front of Arsenal.
Arsenal key injuries since January; AM – Özil, CM – Ramsey, CM – Wilshere, RW – Walcott.
There is no point in trying to deny it, having these four players as part of the group instead of on the sidelines would have made all the difference. That’s not to say that it would have eradicated the losses to City, Chelsea or Liverpool, but it certainly would have made the difference in matches versus Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, Everton. Points are points. Arsenal would have had more now with this group intact, or at the very least available for more of those matches, than without. It’s a fact, not an opinion.
Let’s see the output of the equivalent players of the top 3 and who would have backed them up at their respective clubs.
AM – Coutinho, CM – Gerrard, CM – Henderson, RW – Sterling
31 goals & 31 assists. Having a look at the squad, there are very little options after the starting XI. They’ve been fortunate to have limited injuries.
AM – Oscar, CM – Ramires, LM/LW – Hazard, LM/LW – Schürrle
30 goals & 19 assists. Having sold Mata & de Bruyne, the backups to these positions would be the likes of Willian, Salah, Lampard. As we have seen a few times this year, even WITH the above four healthy, Chelsea have fallen to some pedestrian teams.
AM – Silva, CM – Yaya, AM/LM – Nasri, RW – Navas
35 goals & 30 assists. Backups here would include Jovetic, Fernandinho, Milner. Needless to say, once you get past the first XI, the creative aspect of this team changes.
If you look at the different teams above there are certain things that stick out. Liverpool are by in large living on the output of their attack and their luck with injuries. Chelsea have a good attack, but no striker. They have good options in midfield and a solid defense. City has a plethora of striking options, but when either Silva or Yaya are not on the pitch, they are different team. Likewise, when Aguero has been injured, they’ve been less than stellar.
NO team could have withstood the injuries to key players Arsenal have been dealt this year. Whilst some may have depth at certain areas, all the teams in front of us have an area of weakness as mentioned. Had the areas where those team have strengths been hit with injuries as Arsenal have, we would be having a different discussion.
Let’s put this into perspective. Thanks to the folks at injuryleague.com we know that Arsenal lead the EPL in the Injury League table by a huge 80 matches on second place team. They lead Liverpool, who is the closest top four rival in the Injury League table by a margin of 111 matches. The next closest top four rival is City who Arsenal lead by a margin of 133 matches. Finally, they lead Chelsea who is second bottom in the Injury League table, buy a margin of 168 matches. injuryleague.com calculate the table as such – One player injured for one week = one point. You can see that table below.
To put things further into context, you have the percentage of matches the key players have missed for the club. Theo Walcott has missed 75% of Arsenal’s matches. Oxlade- Chamberlain – 58%. Lukas Podolski – 47%. Aaron Ramsey – 47%. Jack Wilshere – 39%. Mesut Özil – 25%. You can see those and other percentages below.
Now, are injuries the ONLY reason why Arsenal faltered? No. The lack of quality backup options is definitely an issue, but as explained earlier, you’d be hard pressed to find a team above AFC with the sort of backups at every position like most pretend they have. They have just been lucky enough not to deal with so many injuries to so many key players. To add insult to injury, pardon the pun, most of these injuries have been at the same time, which makes dealing with them tougher.
Training methods definitely need to be looked at. There has to be something that makes Arsenal more susceptible to injury than other clubs, this has been a trend for some time now. If it is not the training methods or having players rush back from injury, then the club must educate the players to stop if they feel anything close to a problem. Beyond that, the type of player purchased may need to change. Arsenal may have to forego smaller, technical players for stronger, bigger athletes. All of this is conjecture, but “it” needs to be fixed, no matter what “it” is.
Although I expect the team to end the year in the top four and end the trophy drought with an FA Cup win, the league was a missed opportunity. As a supporter I felt the club had more than enough, even with obvious missing pieces, to make a run at the title. Lack of addressing the injury issue in the January window hampered the run and further injuries decimated it. What we can hope for is that the issues that have caused these injuries are addressed and that the areas clearly lacking talent are reinforced. If this doesn’t happen, Arsenal will be repeating another season as Injury League Champions and I for one don’t want any part of that trophy!