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Wenger And Age Concern Revisited

Some years back now, in the midst of claims of inconsistency in Wenger's policy towards players over the age of 30 I set out to explain here the thinking and practice behind the policy of awarding one year contracts to players once they'd reached the age of 32. In part that policy was based on the sports science at the time which showed the rate of athletic deterioration increased from around that age.

With that in mind a piece in the current Arsenal magazine caught my attention as it suggests Wenger's thinking may have evolved following improvements in preparation, health awareness and the medical environment in prolonging a player's effectiveness beyond this boundary.

'Football has changed,' Wenger argues, 'I believe that the players are better prepared now, and they last longer because they take care of their health much better. The medical environment is much better than it was 10 or 15 years ago and the individualised injury-prevention training is much better than it was before. So I think everybody lasts longer today because he is better prepared.'

As a result he suggested that we could see the average age in premier league teams move upwards as their bodies can take more and for longer. 'For a defensive player it has always been easier to extend their career,' Arsene claimed '..but today we see players like Rosicky who was born in 1980 and is still very sharp and has a good change of pace. Why? Because he takes complete care of his body and because he`s looked after much better than before.'

I can't help but wonder whether 'individualised injury-prevention training' and this greater awareness among players themselves of signs that their bodies may not be 100% may explain why players who might have played with a 'niggle' a while back are no longer taking chances, or are not allowed to take the chance, that a more significant injury could result. Similarly bringing players back if they are not 100% fit seems to be a practice which belongs to the past too.

'Today I know more about any player than I did 10 years ago.' Wenger told the Arsenal magazine. 'You know how much they run, what their heart rate is, what they eat - all objective information.' The key he felt is to focus on what experience and observation tells him are the most important pieces of this plethora of objective information to make the right decisions for the player and the team.

Does this mean Wenger, assuming he confounds the demands of some and stays beyond the summer, is less likely to use younger players? Not necessarily it seems though he thinks it's easier to do so in attacking roles than roles where there's a greater demand for more reading of the game, such as those areas calling for greater defensive awareness.

'With attacking play, you focus more on your own game so usually it is exceptional offensive [young] talent that you can give a chance to.' Arsene explained while further explaining that the game has changed to the extent that more experience is definitely needed nowadays.

In any football enterprise with finite resources it makes sense to invest in the future and develop talent without having to rely only on buying at the top of the market for a fully developed player. In a competitive environment which has made it possible for some to do exactly that and recruit a whole squad of disproportionately rewarded experienced players the risks in that development process becomes harder to cover - but it's still the only sustainable path.

We'll still see players like Ox, Gnabry and Zelalem finding their way into the side but it seems we may see some more mature talent like Rosicky sticking around a little longer too.

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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday March 26 2014

Time: 2:29PM

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"I can't help but wonder whether 'individualised injury-prevention training' and this greater awareness among players themselves of signs that their bodies may not be 100% may explain why players who might have played with a 'niggle' a while back are no longer taking chances, or are not allowed to take the chance, that a more significant injury could result. Similarly bringing players back if they are not 100% fit seems to be a practice which belongs to the past too."

This is something that I do not see within the Arsenal squad. Wenger has admitted on many occasions to playing a player who might not be 100%, or playing him too much. And players like Jack Wilshere & Mesut Ozil are now long-ish term casualties for playing on whilst injured. Sounds to me like Wenger needs to practise what he preaches and lay down the law with the players.
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26/03/2014 17:03:00

Didn't Jack get injured playing for England? I thought we were treating Jack fairly cautiously this season. Mesut pulled a hamstring and foolishly played on but Wenger took him off at half time as soon as he was aware he had a real problem. Other than that we've been pretty cautious with most of our injuries this season it seems to me, Gibbs for example, but inevitably there'll be some pressure to take more of a risk if a ready alternative isn't available.
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26/03/2014 17:09:00

I think in the last two seasons, the bias looks to have shifted to bringing in experience to allow the young players grow alongside them; or insisting on experience in certain departments of the team, like central defence, while giving a chance to youth in the offensive areas. It is a prudent approach to things. As to having players "playing too much", you won't find too many players complain about being reckoned as 1 steamers at the detriment of another, especially if there is consensus about the difference in quality between contending players. Oscar didn't give a hoot about Mata, for instance. Drop Ronaldo or Messi a few times and they sulk or the fans revolt. When Ramsey was doing so well, not many would name our line up without his name, for a crucial game. The Manager cannot win with the fans.
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27/03/2014 04:32:00

1st teamers*
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27/03/2014 04:34:00

Jack was injured playing for England, but it was in a friendly. Wilshere gets 99.9% of his footballing education at Arsenal and he should have been taught not to risk further injury when playing on with a problem, especially in a pointless game which isn't even for his club. No injury in the history of the world ever got better with vigous exercise.
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27/03/2014 07:12:00

But Jack's injury was an impact injury - a hairline crack in a bone in his foot following a tackle by Aggar - it could happen at any time - even in training.
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27/03/2014 07:26:00

Of course it could, but you don't carry on playing if you have a constant pain in your foot. I'm not blaming the injury on the player or club, I'm blaming the possibility of the length of his lay off being prolonged by playing on on the player.
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27/03/2014 07:57:00

I guess as it was a friendly there was no need to take the risk but it's a question of the degree of pain I guess. In hindsight it would have been better for him to have come off straight away but difficult to say whether it aggravated this type of injury and not a situation the club had any control over. In relation to the article though the point is that the recovery time for such injuries can seem to be extended and in terms of extending their careers greater caution appears to play a role in the decision as to when to allow them to come back. In the past it might have been when they felt very little or no pain but now it's as much about scientific assessment of tissue or bone repair.
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27/03/2014 08:20:00

Oh I'm not disputing the rest of the article, Tomas Rosicky is proof that players are not only lasting longer, but have the ability to come back from injury problems that last years. I think most of us had completely written off him ever playing for Arsenal again (Has Stillman bore his arse on the town hall steps yet?) let alone becoming a pivotal player. I'm just making the point that the club needs to practise what they preach and teach the players not to be "warriors" and fight through the pain. Pain is there for a reason, it's the body's way of telling us there's something wrong. With impact injuries you can give it a few minutes to see if it was just the initial knock that was the cause of the pain, but giving it a full half is irresponsible. In Ozil's case where it's a muscle problem there's no point in carrying on, it's not going to get any better and it will only get worse. They need to be told they're not letting the team down by coming off the pitch, even after just two minutes, they need to care better care of themselves.
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27/03/2014 09:11:00

Jack has played on before with an injury and caused more long term damage . Agree that it's very unlikely that coming off immediately after the tackle in the England game would have saved anything but Jack's not a doctor and he didn't know what type of injury he had. He just felt pain and kept playing which is frankly stupid and irresponsible.

Thomas R seems to have cleared up some of his injury issues and become a key player for us. Considering the amount of football he's missed over the years I think it's makes sense to assume that his body probably has an impact age of a far younger footballer!

Galway Gooner
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27/03/2014 12:36:00

It would be interesting to see how the evolution in the policy toward older, long-lasting players fares against a potential evolution in the market place for such players. It seems like at present the 'last' balloon payment in contract terms is set somewhere around age 28. With the new normal where playing lifespan is extended the comparative advantage clubs have over older players are going to be gone. Cue Sagna; it appears he holds all the cards. A rather remarkable prospect for a player with a history of two leg fractures.
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27/03/2014 23:02:00


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