by Tom Goom (@tomgoom)
In recent years the press haven’t been kind to the Arsenal medical team, even going as far as to suggest players sought medical advice from other teams. This coupled with long term injuries to key players and the tendency for a “few days” to turn into a “few months” has tarnished their reputation. Arsenal have moved to remedy this recently by showing us a glimpse of their state of the art new facility and how we’re looking to improve.
Up until now it’s been very rare to see any actual scientific research that proves these Arsenal claims, but in June this year the British Journal of Sports Medicine published the UEFA study of “the 50 best European teams”. Arsenal obviously was included, Sp*rs didn’t get a mention. Injury data was analysed from 7 consecutive seasons (2001-2008). I’m a physio and spend my days rehabbing injuries and helping people return to sport. What follows is my interpretation of this research.
Firstly the research proves that, despite what we might read, we don’t have a higher injury rate. On average each player was involved in 254 hours of football over a season (213 hours training 41 match hours). In this time the “mean total injury incidence” across all 7 seasons was 8 injuries (±3.4) per 1000 hours. The “±3.4” bit indicates the variation across all teams and is surprisingly low considering the time frame and number of teams involved. It suggests there isn’t huge variation between elite European football teams. Colin Lewin has commented on UEFA research,
“There is a lot of official UEFA evidence that has been going for many years, to which we participate. This is scientific, published data and when you see this data our injury rate is approximately in the middle of the table. It is really the only reliable source of data for this sort of thing”
Over a season each player had an average of 2 injuries. Each squad had an average of 25 players meaning that over a season you’d expect 50 injuries. The season is recorded between July and May so that’s over 1 injury per week. I think that puts the frequency of injuries we see into perspective but it’s worth noting that half of these would be minor, causing absences of less than a week.
Severe injury was defined as one that caused an absence of over 28 days. The most common severe injury was hamstring strain (12%) followed by MCL injury (9%) and quadriceps strains (7%). The average team can expect 8 severe injuries per season. Data from Chelsea FC had different results, where the most common injuries were from falling on your face (89%) and rectal damage due to insertion of Nokia 3210 (12%).
From an Arsenal point of view, interesting to see the “severe injuries” data, considering the time frame, would have covered Diaby’s injury, Eduardo’s fracture and the start of Rosický’s almost unique hamstring problem. On average a player missed 37 days per season due to injury, roughly 12% of the season. I would imagine this data can be skewed by some injuries, considering for example, Rosický didn’t feature at all in 2008-2009.
There has been a lot of focus in the press on dangerous tackling and its role, undoubtedly Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey would argue its relevance and yet 43% of all injuries in this study actually occurred during training. Of the remaining 53% that occurred in matches just 21% were due to “foul play”. Overuse injuries were quite common, more so in preseason, and made up 28% of all injuries. Wilshere’s stress fracture would probably come under that description.
Re-injuries made up 12% of all injuries and resulted in a significantly longer absence. We know that all too well … Vermaelen, Diaby, Cesc, Gibbs etc. The research recommends the use of adequate testing prior to return to sport, I’m sure this is in place at Arsenal but in the past I think we have been guilty of returning players before they are ready. Whether this is the player’s desperation to play or the manager’s instruction is hard to tell.
From a physio’s perspective we know how important fatigue is, as players tire their risk of injury increases. The research supported this theory by finding an increase in injury frequency towards the end of each half and also a slight peak in injuries towards the end of the season in April. This is where strength and conditioning work is so important. Muscle strength combined with agility and good control of movement help reduce risk of injury.
There is a rumor circulating in the physio world that AW doesn’t like his team doing too much strength and conditioning work, preferring them to spend time with the ball at their feet. I know he has a reputation of total control at Arsenal but with the facilities at their disposal and the medical staff they have I can only assume that there’s little truth in this.
I think it’s fair to say we’re in safe hands with our medical team. The research proves we’re on par with the 50 top teams in Europe and with the new facilities in place things can only get better.