By: Isidore Lewis
The unfortunate injury suffered by Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey against Stoke City last Saturday is a terrible shame for one of the best young players in the league. The injury represents a major blow to the development of a player who has up until now shown himself to be one of the brightest talents in world football.
Yet, despite suggestions to the contrary – notably from a fired-up Arsene Wenger – let us be clear that this injury was an accident: an unfortunate result of the hazards that come with the job of being a professional footballer. Or, more specifically, the hazards that come with being an Arsenal player.
Indeed, whilst Wenger believes that opposition teams deliberately set out to hurt Arsenal, more likely, it is the fast-paced nature of his team’s playing style that inevitably makes them vulnerable to physical opposition.
At first glance, statistics certainly support his accusations: Arsenal have suffered a number of serious injuries from strong challenges in recent years – to Abou Diaby, Eduardo and now Aaron Ramsey – and with 382 fouls against, Arsenal are the second most fouled team in the Premier League so far this season (intriguingly, Hull City are first). However, the reality is not as sinister as these figures suggest.
Ultimately, it is a question of probability:
The fast-paced way in which Arsenal tend to play means they typically have a lot of possession (in the match against Stoke, for example, Arsenal made 422 passes to Stoke’s 191). This means drawing opposition defenders and turning on the ball at an increased frequency. As a result of this, the number of tackles made against them is increased which ultimately increases the probability of fouls committed. In turn, this increases the eventual probability of injury.
Put another way, if Arsenal want to maintain high levels of possession and execute quick passing patterns as they do then, by nature, they must accept that this makes them a target for tackles made against them.
From the point of view of a team playing against Arsenal, a game-plan based on imposing one’s strength and putting pressure upon the opposition in this way represents a sensible approach – especially against a team that is considered weak physically and that likes to pass the ball. Assuming it is carried out honourably, such a strategy is also very much within the laws of the game.
Add to this, for example, the general fact that many footballers choose to wear small shin-pads – as opposed to the more supportive products that are available to them (presumably in favour of increased mobility on the field) – and, unfortunately for players like Ramsey, the cumulation of all these factors enhances the overall risk and probability of injury.
Having seen one of their players suffer as they did on Saturday, one sympathises with the frustrations and overall predicament of the Arsenal team and staff. Yet it is nonetheless unhelpful for a tragedy such as this to be soured by an underlying sense of accusation and blame. No doubt, some responsibility should also be put upon media channels – such as Sky Sports – for conspiring to fuel contoversy at a time when humility and reflection would have been a more appropriate tone to take.