Professional athletes get injured a lot.
I’m not just talking about the Abou Diabys of this world. Not the Jack Wilsheres or the Tomas Rosickys. Even the most Teflon-coated footballers succumb eventually.
For an Average Joe like you or I – an Average Helen if you will – we tend to have the odd injury but nothing too serious. Certainly in my case all my injuries have come as a result of sudden collisions.
The first was with the floor from some height during an overenthusiastic party, imparting a broken wrist. The second was with a netball post, and the pursuant fracture and ligament damage still causes the occasional twinge. Other than that, there’s not really been much of note.
No hamstring tears, no cruciate ligaments, and definitely no metatarsals. If Premier League players are temperamental but finely tunes F1 cars (presumably Lewis Hamilton’s rather Nico Rosberg’s) that means they will break down now and then. You and me? We’re more like the Toyota Hilux pickup truck which was essentially certified indestructible on Top Gear.
Exhibit A – Santi Cazorla
Santi Cazorla missed a grand total of 35 days to injury between the summers of 2010 and 2015. To put that into perspective, that meant missing seven games in five seasons. Seven. In five. It’s basically Leicester City levels of unprecedented fitness (true? False?). Average Santi was apparently Teflon coated.
In the last two seasons – and clearly there’s some distance still to go in the current one – our pint sized playmaker has missed 278 days and more pertinently 52 games.
It just goes to show, even our most resilient players eventually pick up knocks here and there.
So where am I going with this? You already knew that professional footballers get injured. (I hope! Otherwise, you clearly haven’t supported Arsenal for that long…)
I wanted to touch upon something that had been concerning me for some time.
This isn’t about whether we have injuries, how many, or how bad they are. It’s about setting up your side to cope.
I’ve always wanted to get GCSE English into a column…
“a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.”
A bit like how Macbeth is completely undone by his ambition, how Hamlet cannot make a decision to save his life and how Othello cannot control his jealousy.
Or how Arsenal’s first XI includes players who have no like-for-like replacement.
High performance inevitably causes injuries. And injuries mandate changes to the team. It is essentially impossible to field the same team all the time.
Our hamartia, our fatal flaw, is that when injuries inevitably occur, it has a vastly detrimental impact on performances and results.
It certainly feels that, even if that isn’t unique to Arsenal, it affects us significantly worse than our rivals.
Our best lineup can beat anyone. There is ying and yang all over the pitch, and it culminates in a style of football which is scintillating, exhilarating, and above all, devastating.
It’s the style of football that gave us those fantastic team goals from the injury-prone Wilshere and Rosicky (coincidence?!), and some of our best performances during the Invincibles era.
But as soon as even a small part is missing (or in need of a little maintenance and repair) we have problems.
This season we’ve coped a little better than in recent years. We’ve lost some of our more important players for not insignificant stretches, and if the performances have suffered, the same cannot be said for the results, at least to he same degree.
Our team balance still rests on a knife edge though.
We’ve seen (and talked to death about) the impact of Santi’s absence, but you also wonder how we’d cope without Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez or Laurent Koscielny for any kind of stretch.
I wrote last week about how the loss of Hector Bellerin has been a wake up call. Even something as simple as our full back balance has been affected, with the usual tactic of one explosive and one conservative wide defender no longer an option.
At what point do we have to question the wisdom in designing a team to be so susceptible to injuries, when injuries are unavoidable in 21st century sport?
I love watching a team that can play 10/10 football on its day.
But if that day doesn’t come along very often, and the rest of the time we’re offering up 5/10 or 6/10 fare, with a knock-on impact on results, isn’t there a better balance to be struck?
Maybe, just maybe, we’d be better off sacrificing those perfect performances for more consistent 8/10s and 9/10s?
Margin for error
All I know is, in a month where we have seen tepid, lacklustre displays against Spurs, United and PSG with our first team, plus a dismal (if largely inconsequential) elimination from the League Cup, it might be nice if making a change or two didn’t seem to have such a disruptive effect.
We’ve worked hard to reduce injuries, with much made of the arrival of the likes of Shad Forsyth, and we’re no longer perennial champions of the Injury League. (You guessed it, we’re 4th!)
But although the frequency of injuries seems to have reduced, we’re still struggling for consistency when we do lose players.
There has to be another way, a way to give us just a little more margin for error.
A way to overcome our Shakespearean-style hamartia.
Arsene’s an intelligent man, I’m sure he’ll figure it out…