Here we all are, nearing the end of the season, and there are a lot of “what if”s floating around. What if so-and-so hadn’t been injured at that crucial moment? What if Arsenal’s preferred starting XI had been fit for most of the matches? There’s obviously no use in dwelling on these questions, but if you’ve ever wondered about the extent of our first team’s injuries like I have, here’s a visual depiction of it:
(Only Premier League matches have been included in this analysis in order to simplify it. Click to make it larger!)
The text below the image should all be self-explanatory, but here are some more things to note: The first international break was between matches #3 and 4. Stoke City at home was match #27. Note the extra blank spaces (injuries) after those two matches. The only match where Arsenal’s preferred starting XI all started and the result wasn’t a win (#21) was Manchester City at home. The Carling Cup final took place after the 27th match, the second leg against Barcelona after the 28th match.
If you bring in the statistics, it gets more interesting:
(Ignore the roughness of this chart; it was 4 am and I grew a bit lazy after how tedious the first image was.)
Van Persie has only been available for one match fewer than Fabregas this entire season; 21 compared with 22. If you look at the first image, too, his injury was for the most part a single, six-match injury. He took a while to recover from it and was mainly substituted in from the bench – but once he did, he went on a goal-scoring spree and also scored his first hat trick for the club. Fabregas on the other hand has had sporadic injuries throughout the season. It’s been much more difficult for him to recover from an injury and then begin playing to the best of his ability again, because once he does, he aggravates his injury and is out once more. If we decide that van Persie is a luxury player and that he should be sold because he’s injured too often, shouldn’t we say the same of Fabregas as well? (I’m sure that some people do, but that isn’t the point here.)
Walcott and – surprisingly – Nasri are next tied for most injury prone, but these statistics don’t include Vermaelen and Djourou as single entities (either one or the other has been available for 27/30 matches this season; how thoughtful of them) or anyone outside of the primary starting XI.
The last column is especially interesting, though these numbers – and most statistics – should be taken with a grain of salt. Whenever Fabregas starts, Arsenal win 72% of their matches. This is only slightly higher than Song’s percentage (71%) and, obviously, lower than the 76% whenever either Djourou or Vermaelen start. I think we’ve all noticed a greater number of goals conceded whenever Djourou hasn’t started. We don’t need statistics to tell us that.
It is slightly bizarre that Nasri and Arshavin have such low percentages (50%) in comparison with the 60s that van Persie, Walcott, Wilshere, and the first choice keeper all have, but I suppose they’ve both had slightly bizarre form this year. I think the proper phrase is “moments of brilliance”.
And yes, Clichy and Sagna’s statistics are also in the 50s, but they’ve played most of the matches this season so that’s close to Arsenal’s overall winning statistic. 56%. A bit sad, isn’t it? Only 5.6 out of every 10 matches played. Clichy’s resilience is impressive, though; he hasn’t been injured so far this season (knock on wood) and has started the most matches by far: 28 out of a possible 30.
What do the eye-catching image and all of these numbers really mean? To be honest, I don’t know. A lot of the time, numbers and statistics don’t capture the nuances of the game. However, without quantifying it, one thing that I’ve noticed is this: Arsenal were much better at winning matches without 2+ of the preferred starting line-up closer to the beginning of the season.
Well, okay, let’s quantify it. The first ten wins of the season were accomplished with at least 2 players missing, either benched or out injured. The team even managed one with 7 players from the preferred starting XI out. 3, 2, 7, 4, 3, 4, 3, 2, 4, 4 players missing – in that order. In the last four wins, only one player was out. The three before that, none. The past three draws have had 4, 6, and 4 players out respectively. It’s clearer now that I’ve laid it out numerically, but I can’t begin to guess at why this decline happened. Perhaps the rest of the players have grown complacent over what is needed to win a match without key players, or the “B” team players have lost fitness due to lost matches, or the entire team is still exhausted from the crowded fixture list. Perhaps it’s a mental thing. Who knows?
The facts are these, though: the injuries this season have hurt Arsenal, certainly, especially Fabregas’s intermittent presence and the issue with the team’s defence – but the team does have the capability of winning with less than full force playing. Any team vying for the title should, after all. Arsenal can even win with Almunia in goal and with both Djourou and Vermaelen not playing. (No, really, I don’t jest. It’s true!) It’s up to the players to realize this, though, where values of “realize” equal both “recognize” and “make happen”.
On the flip side, and to put a positive swing on things at the end of this article, look at all of the injuries that have happened to the starting XI – and this isn’t even including Rosicky’s bizarre health, Bendtner’s groin issue at the start of the season, Diaby and Denilson’s reoccuring injuries, or poor Gibbs. Think about how many matches certain players have played if you include the FA Cup, the Carling Cup, and the Champions League.
Now think about Arsenal’s current position in the table. Second. It’s not first, but at least it isn’t third – and hopefully it won’t be. Chelsea would probably pay 50 million Euros to be second in the league. (Oh wait.) Impressed yet?