All football fans think their team has more injuries to key players than any other side in the league.
In Arsenal’s case this was pretty much the case – at one time.
The Injury League, a sister site to the Daily Cannon, was created to illustrate how much that was true. By giving points to players on a weekly basis, the Injury League became the annual treatment room contest that no one wants to win. Arsenal led, won, or was a close second in the Injury League for several years – until very recently.
The 13/14 campaign was rather strange in that we led the Premier League for several weeks after it was completely derailed through injuries by week 25. Following this, Arsène Wenger set out to fix the injury problem. He may very well be in the process of accomplishing that, although fans may not recognise it from the recent injuries to key players.
The following chart illustrates the gradual improvements showing all the Injury League points (each essentially constituting a man-week of injury time) from each injured player between August and November for the past four seasons. A blank indicates seasons where the player was either not in the team, was on loan, or otherwise made no appearance.
As well, the number of injured players during this initial period of the season declined from a peak of 23 in 2013, to only 14 in 2015. Of those 14 players, six have only had minor issues, where they were able to bounce back within around three weeks.
The remaining eight can be assessed as two players with non-recurring, one-time injuries; and six players with generally recurring injuries as follows:
Tomáš Rosický: Rosický picked up a knee cartilage problem during the Czech match with Iceland over the summer, which required surgery in mid-June. At 35 years of age the man is timeless with the exception of this extended injury, which will keep him out at least until after New Year’s Day. He’s had a few injuries in his career, but nothing that specifically indicates a chronic recurring problem.
Francis Coquelin: Coquelin had a minor knee issue earlier in the season, which kept him out for a week or so. He recently picked up a severely strained medial collateral ligament. It won’t require surgery, which is good, but will need a significant amount of time to heal. Coquelin has for the most part been injury-free, and should bounce back from this pretty well in mid-February.
Mikel Arteta: Towards the end of last season and continuing into this season, Arteta has undergone a series of niggly muscular strains: Two calf strains, a thigh strain, and a sprained ankle. Although muscular injuries are typically from repetition, these seem to come almost after each appearance. I’m trying my best not to say it’s just a factor of getting older, but that’s really what it seems.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Ox is currently returning from a hamstring/thigh muscle problem. Between that and the iliopsoas problem he had last year, he seems to have recurring issues with upper hip and leg muscular strains. It could indicate over training or simply the mechanics of how he runs. You tend to use those muscles more with a long, open stride. He may just be prone to working that to the point where it just doesn’t want to go anymore.
Aaron Ramsey: Like Ox, Aaron Ramsey is just returning from a hamstring issue. Also like Ox, these seem to recur rather often and regular. Ramsey tends to run a little differently than Ox, in that he likes to run, stop, and change direction a lot – things that tend to put pressure on your knees and lower leg muscles – so there must be something else causing this to recur that often.
Theo Walcott: With the exception of the anterior cruciate ligament damage he suffered during the FA Cup match against Spurs and the mysterious abdominal strain a couple of years back, Theo seems to be particularly prone to host of recurring calf and thigh strain issues. Currently back in recovery training, he’s now estimated to fully return in early December.
Danny Welbeck: Although new to Arsenal as of last year, Welbeck actually has a history of knee issues, going back to 2009. There was a minor setback following the surgery performed in early September that was supposed to correct it and is now expected to return mid-January.
Jack Wilshere: Wilshere seems to break something on a regular basis. It’s been reported that he’s required no less than six separate surgeries to correct knee, ankle and other fractures in the last four years. Although not a completely reckless player, he does have an extremely aggressive style that gets him into heavy kicking and tackling situations. This may not improve until he develops techniques to avoid these situations (e.g., dribbling around opponents instead of trying to go through them), but it also raises the question ‘should he even try‘. Wilshere is due to return mid-December from his latest, a hairline leg fracture that was discovered during pre-season.
Of the six players with recurring injuries only three really consist of potential training issues that could improve muscular over-use. One is probably age-driven and one, perhaps two are driven by physical limitations.
So, are we really in the midst of an injury crisis?
Probably not, as injuries happen to all teams and never at a good time. Key players are beginning to return and there is coverage for those that will still be out for some time.
That said, Arsenal could continue to find ways to improve on some of the more repeatable soft-tissue injuries (hamstring, thigh/quadriceps and calf strains) through better training and instruction.