Hello Gooners, this is a post I have long looked forward to publishing, as fellow Arsenal fan Jake Schuster (who is a Boston-born MSc Sports Nutrition student currently studying at Loughborough University, with experience working with elite and professional level athletes in four different countries) and I managed to have a chat; getting in-depth about Arsenal and the many injury issues that have beset the club since the turn of the century.
With many Arsenal fans lauding the signing of Shad Forsythe as Arsenal’s best piece of business this summer, we have looked at the injury issues surrounding the side, and which new approaches Forsythe offers to help cure these seemingly deep-set problems.
Arsenal fans have seen, amongst others in the current squad, Lukas Podolski, Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby blighted by injuries that at times have seemed never-ending, as well injuries to ex-players like Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, who both suffered with chronic problems during their Arsenal tenure. And not forgetting the shocking leg injuries sustained by Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo da Silva, where in both cases, the Arsenal medical team’s prompt actions not only saved the player’s careers, but their seriously injured limb too, as well as Bacary Sagna, who suffered two leg breaks in quick succession.
Jake can of course be found on Twitter – @CoolHandJakeGS – he is a massive Gooner and I think he is quite simply a must-follow…despite him being a fan of Kings of Leon sound-alikes Creedence Clearwater Revival… I really could talk to him all day (but the high court restraining order states firmly that I can’t).
Jake also blogs (brilliantly) at http://www.WelltraveledWellness.com about nomadic lifestyles, nutrition, fitness, travel and sport, amongst other topics. I strongly suggest that you ‘Favourite’ or bookmark his website as well.
I hope you enjoy the read, and please share it if you have liked it, or leave a comment below. Many thanks.
GC – Jake, when Arsene Wenger first arrived from Japan, he introduced a dietary regime and fitness programme that several players – such as Lee Dixon and Tony Adams – attribute to their longer-than-average (at the time) careers. He had players get their wisdom teeth removed to prevent affiliated issues too. Fast forward to now – Arsenal have suffered for at least six to seven years with frequent injuries, often long term, across all the outfield playing positions, what do you think has changed?
JS – The sports science landscape in English football has seen a dramatic biphasic change since Arsene Wenger landed on these shores a decade and a half ago. At first he was miles ahead of anyone, but now other teams have caught up, and this makes Arsenal look disadvantaged by default. The technology that is used to screen players for injuries is standardised among most professional football clubs now, as are the methods of injury rehab. Arsenal *DO* screen players with wellness questionnaires every day, among many other methods.
When Wenger entered England the approach to managing athletes was completely different. Now, a healthy and fit lifestyle is a prerequisite to being a professional athlete, and even third-tier football teams have highly qualified performance coaches monitoring everything the athletes do. I don’t think the new infrastructures in English football have been in place long enough to know if players are still having longer careers under Wenger than with other managers, but it is fair to say that Arsenal have seen their fair share of injuries over the past half-decade. Perhaps some of this is a consequence of playing style and the type of footballer (small, slight, quick) most commonly brought into the squad. Then again, one look at Tomas Rosicky this season shows us that longevity is still an option for a skilful player! In general, my observation is that lack of squad depth and Gary Lewin leaving have both instigated and magnified any injuries issues among the Arsenal players.
Other top clubs have seen plenty of long-term injuries -think about Michael Essien (at Chelsea) – but have had the depth to mitigate the effect of injuries on team success as well as to allow players to return to playing at their own pace. Perhaps this season we are seeing the positive consequences of a having a relatively deep squad, as most injury absences among the first XI have been short ones with minimal deleterious effects.
Even amateur bloggers have seen this pattern of injuries at Arsenal, I wonder at times ‘why can’t the club?’ Or specifically, as they surely can see their injury records from over the years, why haven’t we seen any improvements? Fans instead still see or hear of set-back after set-back for players that we are told are only out for ‘three weeks’ initially. It seems Arsenal’s medical team are indeed missing (now England team physio) Gary Lewin’s valuable input.
Have Arsenal been guilty of playing younger players – like Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott – too often and too early in their physical development?
Perhaps there have been instances where fans are left wondering if a player who was keen to return to or stay on the field continued on when he shouldn’t have. I’d say the Sports Science team at Arsenal have been brilliant in that regard of late, managing Oxlade-Chamberlain well last year and keeping Wilshere fit this season, as well as obviously nurturing Ramsey back to (and beyond) full fitness. It’s easy to second-guess decisions in hindsight, but Sports Scientists are humans and it is impossible to know with certainty what will happen with an athlete’s injury status every time. Young players especially often heal quickly and want to play every week, it’s hard to keep them down!
Additionally, thought paradigms with regards to how much to train/play athletes have only recently caught up to ideas behind how to train, and there are new trends in the sports sciences to closely monitor over-training statuses, stress levels, sleep, hydration, etc. These ideas and technologies are now being used by Arsenal to keep players on the field, and they simply weren’t around when Wenger showed up in 1998 and was able to blow away the competition simply by enforcing healthy lifestyles and good nutrition! It’s a constant evolution, and you can see that Arsenal are working to stay at the forefront.
The medical team are clearly doing a great job with the ‘freak injuries’ Arsenal players have endured in recent seasons – how they dealt with the breaks suffered by Rami Shaaban, Eduardo Da Silva and Aaron Ramsey saved their careers – are these bone injuries easier to deal with than muscular injuries? Can they be more preventable at all?
Bone injuries are far more straightforward from a therapeutic perspective. The healing, re-strengthening, and rehabilitation process as whole is actually (relatively) simple. With muscular injuries, the variation in the response of the athlete is massive. Bone injuries are usually a ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ scenario, making them largely unpreventable. Well…maybe Stoke getting relegated would help!
How different is English sport’s general approach to sports science and sporting injuries – especially prevention – compared to mainland Europe’s approach?
In my experience Continental Europeans are more likely to be open-minded about approaches and techniques that would be considered, in English speaking countries, to be ‘alternative’. While the ‘Dutch Skunk’ jumping into a pile of horse placentae was a step too far, concepts such as meditation, gluten-free diets, and Eastern Medicine>Western Pharmaceuticals treatments are slow to develop in England. Even various soft-tissue (massage) techniques which have been used in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia for decades are still thought of as ‘niche’ in the English-speaking world. What is used to improve athletes is often simply the best of what is known and felt comfortable with, not necessarily what works best. It should be known, though, that around the world scientists and sports teams alike want to know how to track and prevent injuries in football: I’m currently applying for a PhD split between Sydney, Oslo, and Germany to develop a new screening system for football injuries!
So Jake, what are your hopes for Arsenal this season; with new signings, and of course, the addition of Forsythe to the club?
I think Arsenal will win the league and get to the Champions League semi finals, but bow out of the FA cup at the quarter final stage. I think Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain are big wild cards…it could be a lost season for both, or one (or both) could give the team a huge boost in the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see how they each integrate with Mesut Ozil and perhaps take some scoring load off of Olivier Giroud. Personally (I feel alone in this) I think ‘Prinz Poldi’ will come back with a flourish and play a big role in the stretch run this year. He can score goals, and I think people falsely say he can’t play centre-forward. He was far from fit (ankle?!) last year when played upfront, and I’d bet he does a job for a stretch when Giroud inevitably goes down for a period of time. I think Arsenal still need to buy an additional striker in January and really believe they will, and that will propel them to the EPL title! It took Arsene Wenger some time to put together a third-evolution Arsenal team, but that team appears to be gelling and thriving this year, and I believe they will now rise to and stay at the top of European football for years to come!
Shad Forsythe is *if given proper control and 1yr of patience while his methods are integrated* Arsenal’s biggest signing of the decade.
There are far too many outstanding practitioners to call someone ‘the best strength and conditioning coach in the world’ but he has been the lead sports scientist for the most physically dominant, athletic and, robust team in world football since 2004. Let’s not forget that Forsythe guided the US Women’s National team to Olympic Gold in Athens before hooking up with Jurgen Klinsmann in Deutschland. He followed the man to Bayern after the 2006 World Cup as well, so Shad knows his way around a club setup too!
Integration of Sports Medicine (physio, surgery, rehab etc), Physical Performance (strength and conditioning, (under/over) training status monitoring, nutrition, wellness, etc) and Sport Coaching (team manager, assistant coaches, position and youth coaches) staffs is possible the most important factor determining the effectiveness and performance of any group of athletes. This is especially the case in field/games sports like football, where a large group of athletes needs to be carefully monitored by a relatively small number of staff members. Communication, cooperation, organization, and above all trust are required by all parties involved.
While Arsenal’s staff have always had the best of intentions and strong individual qualifications, the system has not up until now shown itself to be greater than the sum of its parts. This was evidenced with younger players taking to the pitch when not completely ready, individuals seeking out personal coaches outside of the club, and the overall injury rates combined with lack of physical presence on the pitch in the Post-Invincibles Era.
Shad Forsythe has an outstanding track record of working within truly elite set-ups bringing out the very best in players while earning the utmost trust of top-tier Managers. As a practitioner who’s worked with elite athletes in seven countries I personally can say that the level of trust and control granted to you by the head coach/manager means everything. Wenger is notoriously insular about his staff, and he would not have brought in an outsider whom he was not prepared to explicitly trust and rely on.
Excellent, cheers Jake, it seems then that the issues stem from other teams catching up with the fitness/nutritional techniques that Wenger trail blazed with when he first arrived, or perhaps – in my view – Arsenal have been falling behind a bit in terms of their approach to sports science/data analysis, as well as from having a small squad with Wenger’s favourite XI, plus having to cope after suffering from some freak injuries that sometimes cannot be accounted for.
Let us hope that these issues don’t derail this promising season! With Arsenal still being linked to flying forward Marco Reus (Dortmund) and midfield battler William Carvalho (Sporting) this window, plus, surely a defensive replacement for departing captain Thomas Vermaelen, Arsene Wenger clearly wants to build a side that can genuinely challenge for the one top club trophy he hasn’t managed to win, yet…and with Mr Forsythe hopefully working his magic behind the scenes…who knows, eh?!
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Jake for the chat!
Greg Cross and Jake Schuster