Arsenal - Signs of Improvement?
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Signs of Improvement?

My timing for this piece may be a bit skewiff following hot on the heels of the announcement that Arsene is casting his net into the transfer ocean given injuries to his two most experienced centre backs. The superstitious amongst you will probably be unknotting your hankies and pressing hot needles into my voodoo doll for possibly jinxing a pleasant situation. But I feel it is worth saying. Arsenal have, as the world and his wife knows, suffered more brutally from injuries than the Great Britain Base Jumping Squad over the last few years.

The reasons for this have been debated ad nauseam and I shan`t expand on them all again here, suffice to say that athletes who are tuned to a higher pitch, are also more likely to go twang! I`ve played eight a side football on a weekly basis for my work team for two years and I have never seen anyone pull a hamstring or a groin muscle, despite the only preceding exercise of any of our weeks being the five minute warm up pre match. Arsenal are conversely the fittest team in the league, conjuring countless late goals due to our energy and endurance when other teams are flagging. But this comes at the price of a few muscular boo boos and ouchies. (Meathead centre halves that leap into tackles at 1,000mph don`t help our cause much either). The ongoing situation became farcical to the point that every May seemed to be punctuated by the wail of "what ifs" with regard our injury situation. Discussion around the situation created more heat than light as the Arsenal forums buzzed with well aimed pot shots at the medical department. I certainly came to a stage where I suspected them of incompetence. (Allowing Robin van Persie 3 weeks to trail around the Eastern block looking for goose fat and unicorn piss to soak his ankle in before they even bothered to look at the injury for themselves has to be an all time low for our medical team).

The situation came to a point where the nation`s journalists shone their spotlight onto the Arsenal medics and demanded answers from the manager. An ever loquacious Arsene promised "a thorough review of the medical department." So, with over half of the season gone, and whisper it quietly, has anyone else noticed we`ve suffered a lot less in the injury department thus far? Whether or not this is down to anything tangible that has been done on the medical side is open to speculation, but I believe there to be circumstantial evidence to show this not to be the case. This is most glaringly apparent in our PR around injuries. I am sure Arsene will forever be haunted by his utterance in January 2008 that Tomas Rosicky`s hamstring injury would be a case of "days not weeks." Such an error is understandable, diagnosis in the early stages of injury is a precarious undertaking, the full symptoms are not always instantly apparent. (See Frank Lampard`s groin injury in August, the initial prognosis of which was a two week absence). But the error with Rosicky was compounded by the constantly bullish medical updates, declaring he would "definitely" be back by September 2008. Tomas did not reappear until September 2009.

This season we have an unfortunate, yet instructive parallel. Thomas Vermaelen`s achilles injury has perplexed all and sundry. However, if you scan Wenger`s media pronouncements since it became clear that this was more than a matter of days in the treatment room, he has been cautious in his utterings. Either refusing all out to set a comeback date, or else on the few occasions he has, he has peppered the prognosis with cautious adjectives. Likewise, when Michael Essien used Abou Diaby`s ankle as a bouncy castle, the manager did not set a time maxim for his recovery. Of course this does not necessarily dictate that the medical team are doing anything different in their treatment, but it shows thought has gone into the media missives in order to quell supporter frustration with the injury situation. It`s an almost Orwellian tack we have taken. It shows some semblance of thought has gone into it; which is important in an age where fans demand instant information on every facet of the club. However, there are hints of change in the fitness treatment of players, which may explain the fall in injuries. The squad has been utilised more effectively for a start. The recovery of Robin van Persie has been treated with the most velvet of kid gloves. Lest we forget he made his return from injury on November 7 and he has still yet to play back to back matches. Indeed, he has only started four games in that time. Marouane Chamakh ahs carried the burden in his absence, but now Bendtner and van Persie are back to fitness, Chamakh has been afforded more of a breather in recent weeks. In short, we don`t look to be overloading players to the same extent we have in previous seasons. Even now, we are currently down to two fit centre halves for 3 weeks, the manager is eager to make a defensive purchase. Last season, Gallas and Vermaelen were partnered together for nearly every game up until March, before they both promptly fell apart and spent the run in on the treatment table. Arsene seems to appreciate that the reason we seem to get a lot of injuries around spring time has been due to overloading in the past.

Aaron Ramsey`s rehabilitation appears to have taken a different approach with his shirt term loan spell at Nottingham Forest. Diaby and Eduardo`s recoveries were hampered by persistent muscular injuries; whether or not that fate will befall Aaron remains to be seen, but we look to be taking a different course given the lessons learned from the aforementioned. Perhaps it is too early to commend the medical team yet, we play something like 12 games before the end of February, which will see our resources stretched. How we handle the squad in that time will be a good test for the manager. Having written this, I`m certain that Koscielny will probably trip getting off the coach tonight and land on Johan Djourou and Alex Song, causing a domino effect which results in three sprained ankles and a couple of strained tear ducts. However, I and many others were keen to chide the club doctors and physios when the injury situation was in some tumult, so it stands to reason that it is just as likely that an improvement in this situation is down to them also.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday January 12 2011

Time: 10:20AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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"Goose fat and Unicorn *****" Sounds like a great recipe for my roast potatoes. Good piece, Vermaelen aside we've faired a lot better this year, the fact that van Persie, Cesc, Walcott and Rosicky haven't suffered too much is testament to that, because those guys seem to always be injured.
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12/01/2011 10:27:00

What is it with North London and injuries hey! I doubt any club in the country can boast a longer injury list than both our teams have had over the last few years!!! Bloody frustrating!
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12/01/2011 10:42:00

It's funny to think that speaking in as vague terms as possible can be seen as a PR improvement. In the absence of rational analysis I guess it works for some. Its ok to talk to supporters but don't tell them anything that can be challenged later I guess. It helps that we have a generally deeper, more physically mature squad this season which has enabled the club to be more cautious with some players - notably RvP and Cesc's suspect hamstrings. The flip side is that players like Bendtner, Denilson and Walcott are struggling to get as much playing time as they might wish. As the current threat to our CB complement shows it doesn't take much for sentiment to change though and we have still had players like RvP, Diaby, Vermaelen and Ramsey out for long periods this season. We've just been a little luckier overall and while you would hope and expect that the club would always look to improve treatment regimes the only real change other than a change in fortune seems to be in the way the club has to talk to its supporters.
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12/01/2011 12:13:00

That forms part of what I'm getting at, the club promised a review of the way they deal with these things and that seems to be one of the notable changes. Dealing with injuries is a tricky business because it is unpredictable as to when players will be back. You simply don't know how they're going to react in the recovery process. I'd argue that the path they are taking now is the correct one on that score. I think, though I may be wrong, that in the past they made a conscious effort to sound positive and therefore always gave the earliest comeback times, when doing so is something of a fool's errand. Better to be cautious with the unpredictable. It's all speculation really because we don't know what goes on in the treatment room, but there has undeniably been a different approach with Ramsey and I see a much more gentle re-introduction for RvP when in the past, I think we'd have thrown him straight back in at the deep end after 1 or 2 sub appearances.
Little Dutch
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12/01/2011 12:20:00

It's also notable that over the last few years recurring injuries have been, well, recurring. I counted 9 times last season that a player was injured again less than 180 minutes after his comeback. Diaby is the only player to befall that so far this year. (Cesc has had a recurring hamstring problem, but he's not broken down immediately at any point, it's always been at least 3 games between injuries. That also suggests the injury is a tricky one to handle).
Little Dutch
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12/01/2011 12:23:00

The injuries have fallen a little more kindly but at one point earlier in the season we were still only one injury to Chamakh away from having a striker 'crisis' with RvP and Bendtner out at the same time. As I say I think the squad this season is a little more physically mature and the injuries we've had so far haven't been focussed too much in one area. It is unpredictable and for that reason impossible to cover every potential outcome. It has to come down primarily to luck in the end.
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12/01/2011 12:37:00

I have to say I have trouble settling on the fact that a regular injury list of 8+ players pretty much constantly for a period of about five years amounts to bad fortune. I do understand the random element where injuries are concerned and how they can vary year on year, but the numbers and the similarity of the injuries was just too big over too long a period to amount to bad luck.
Little Dutch
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12/01/2011 12:43:00

I don't think it has been as long as 5 years - 2 or 3 seasons maybe which is still bad enough. I can understand the need to feel that there are some other forces at work but when you consider the injuries individually and rationally then luck, or the lack of it, is the only possible explanation.
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12/01/2011 12:54:00

2006-07 saw Henry, RvP, Gallas, Diaby and Senderos miss at least 3 months of the season a piece, Rosicky had four hamstring injuries and we finished the season playing Diaby alongside Baptista upfront. 2007-08 injuries were well documented come the business end of proceedings. 2005-06 saw us go through nine left backs! With Cole, Campbell, Ljungberg, van Persie (surprise), Cygan and Clichy all missing large chunks of the season too. In 04-05 Fabregas played 42 games as a 17 year old due to fitness problems with central midfielders (Edu, Gilberto and Vieira all in and out due to injury) and Philippe Senderos played more than 20 games despite being 19 at the time, though the injury situation was slightly better in 2004-05. Since 2005-06, the injury situation has been gargantuan on a pretty constant basis.
Little Dutch
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12/01/2011 13:08:00

Very relevant piece (not sure about the timing though and hope you have not spoken too soon). I have also made a mental note of the fact that we didn't have to rush any of the injured players back, but how much that is down to the improvements in the treatment room, as against the good levels displayed by the "stand-in" players may, perhaps, be debated. The Squad players started off very well, having gone through full pre-seasons and held their own and, I feel, made it easy for the manager to introduce returnee players gently and tactfully. But still, it is a good thing and it is almost unlike Arsenal of recent years.

The hell with superstition; It's out in the open now. However, should our players start dropping off injured from today, we know from where the Jinx came. :-)
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12/01/2011 13:13:00

The physioroom web site shows our playing days lost up to and including the 2006/2007 as more or less average or at times less than average for the PL (06-07 1072 days against PL average 1136). They haven't produced figures for subsequent years but the clubs own statement last season claimed that other than traumatic injuries which are entirely random of course our injury record compared fairly equally to clubs with the same playing demands. We just notice them more because it's the team we support. It's more noticeable when, as often seems to be the case, it affects one position in the team (such as your left back example) more than another - or as also seems to be the case injuries occur at the most critical times and to the key players. As I said if you look at each injury individually and rationally, as unsatisfactory an explanation as it is, misfortune is the only one.
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12/01/2011 13:30:00

Everybody's right. Ferguson might be the best man on the football side of things but in terms of the overall progress of the club on all fronts, Arsene is miles ahead of him
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12/01/2011 15:22:00

My bad. Posted in the wrong article
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12/01/2011 15:23:00

RVP started against Birmingham and Man Citeh I think.
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12/01/2011 17:47:00

So how about the repeat injuries? The quite staggering amount of times a player comes back and is promptly injured again? Plus, the media in general- who cover all clubs- seem to have noticed we have suffered more injuries than other teams with the possible exception of Everton.
Little Dutch
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13/01/2011 08:24:00

I think it is fairly clear to most people that we have had an extraordinary run of injuries over the last few years but this season so far seems to be a little better (I wince when I say that). It was interesting that Rosicky said that he has changed the way he trains to avoid reoccurrence of his injury and, after Wenger’s comments; I suspect that this has been the case for the whole squad.
Sir Henry
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13/01/2011 14:57:00


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