So Arsenal invited Le Grove and a number of other bloggers to attend a tour of the new medical facilities at London Colney. They added an extra layer of excitement by allowing us access to club doctor Gary O’Driscoll and Club Physio Colin Lewin. There was no tour group of 50. There were two of us (How strange, I actually recognised Jules from the Arsenal catalogue, catch her here). We were escorted around the training ground by Tom from PR, who, just for the record is a massive Arsenal fan as well.
I have no idea how to structure the article, so I’ll just churn out all the information I gathered and hope that I can communicate what an interesting couple of hours it was.
Firstly, the question everyone is dying to know. Do Arsenal have a corporate team? Yes they do. They play 11 aside football and yes, Ivan puts on a pair of Nike Mecurials and mixes it with the rest of them. I didn’t find out what position he played, but good to know he’s not too senior to muck in with the lads.
We were firstly shown around the indoor pitch. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on Arsenal.com, it’s huge, it has to 3/4 pitches and it’s astro turfed. The 1st team players rarely play in it due to the adverse reaction the hard 3G turf can have on the muscles. It’s mainly for the kids. It’s an impressive structure and quite creepy when there’s only 4 of you… if I could get out of this room without a hit on my life, I felt I’d be ok for the day.
Colin got stuck straight into some of the things that irked him, top of his list was using injury analysis site, Physio Room. He thinks the league tables are a nonsense, 1) because they take return dates from newspapers 2) because they don’t take into account the size of squads. Wigan being judged on 20 players is skewed when Arsenal are racking up points for 45. It also doesn’t take into account that we play in Europe. If you’re playing 60+ games versus 40, you’ll obviously feature higher in the league table as you have more pressure on your squad.
I pointed out early on that whenever we’ve spoken about injuries at Arsenal, we usually point out it’s not the medical staff who put the players there… he agreed by saying you don’t blame the paramedics for an accident on the M1, but equally, he said they have a part to play in it and that it’s a team effort to get players fit.
Steve Bould walked past and said good night.
I asked why our injury record was so much better last year in comparison to years gone past. This answer was quite interesting and definitely opened my eyes to the blurred grey lines when analysing injuries.
Colin said 2 years ago we had a shocking season when it came to injuries. He said averagely, you expect 1-2 fractures in a year. They had 7. When 7 players suffer fractures, you reduce the squad by 7 players, then you put more strain on less players, which results in fatigue, which equates to more soft tissue injuries.
So broken legs has a knock on effect for more than just the player suffering.
We took a wander into Gary O’Driscoll’s office. He’s a softly spoken Irishman, very intelligent and very passionate about what he’s doing at the club. He’s been there three years. Colin has been there since 1995, again, very sharp and very knowledgable about the whole rehab process from start to finish. Both were keen all day to stress they don’t know everything and the job is a constant learning process.
Arsene Wenger sits in the office opposite him Gary, so he has to keep his desk tidy. They have a computer system they operate called Edge10. It’s a little bit like the screen you’d operate in Championship Manager. It’s like a football ERP (Think SAP or SagePay). It has all the players medical records, their status, their nutritional info, medication, Prozone stats and their GPS data. A fascinating system any Arsenal fan would love to rummage around with for a few hours!
I asked how GPS had impacted on the club. They both became pretty animated. Gary said the club were just scratching the surface with what they could do with the system. It measures everything and it gives them a fantastic array of data sets to measure fatigue, body loading and distance run. Gary went on…
‘At the moment, using the system is an art form, we want to turn it into a science’
That was really interesting. They’ve been using the system for 2 years (not the season and a bit originally reported) and they have built up some fantastic data, but they have to dig around in it to work out which parameters mean what.
It’s a game of trial and error. You form a baseline for a player and you can work out when they max out. When it really comes in handy is when a player gets injured and the new data is built into the system. It helps you manage recuperation more efficiently.
They’re basically player profiling and it takes a while to maximise the benefits. It doesn’t take 18 months though. It takes about 2 months to build a workable player baseline, then the more data you add, the better you understand what’s going on. The club are bringing on two graduates to help take understanding to the next level.
I asked how football stacked up against rugby. The candid answer was that it’s still a few years behind. They’ve been using sports science for longer, mainly due to the nature of the game. It’s more about impact and their was more pressure to use it.
Gary said the system worked in different ways for the different sports, so the learnings he had from egg chasing haven’t been a massive help for football. Different parameters have to be defined. That’s not to say they haven’t been to see how it operates with the rugby clubs, last year Gary went over to meet with the then European Champions Leinster for a few meetings.
We were also shown some Champions League data that showed a study of all the Champions League clubs over the past year. Arsenal were mid-table when it came to injuries per 1000 hours trained and played.
I asked if much knowledge was shared between clubs and apparently there is without giving away too many secrets. Arsenal have good relations with the Spurs and Chelsea medical teams and they all speak to each other. It’s a bit of community. It wouldn’t really be in the spirit of medicine if they didn’t share info that helped support the well being of people.
He said that the facilities and the way the club do things in the medical area is well backed by the players. Yossi Benayoun rates what is going on at Arsenal and Per Mertesacker and Santos are said to be very trusting of staff even at this early stage.
The topic of drugs came up. The staff at Arsenal are very keen to ensure no one does a ‘Kolo’ (stealing his wifes diet pills and keeping it secret) and ingest something they shouldn’t. Testing is rigorous. I asked if they thought the sport was clean. They were both categoric. Yes it us.
- There is 1 spot inspection by UEFA at training
- They are tested at 3 games by UEFA
- The FA do 4 random tests
- The Premier League do 4
The reason Ryo has been out is a double ankle knock…
The topic of Diaby and Gibbs was raised. There are high hopes that Gibbs will find fitness as he’s still developing skeletally. Diaby is just a bit of a
nightmare due to the horror injury he had all those years ago. He doesn’t suffer from recurring injuries though… which they were keen to stress.
I asked if being exposed to lots of games young had an affect on players as they got older. Colin said it was a tough question to answer as there were too many variables but he said it was dependent on the player.
He said Jack was merely unlucky and Gary said that the Cesc injury wasn’t down to scar tissue on his hamstring, it was a far more complex problem, he never actually had a grade 2 or 3 tear.. I asked what they thought about the Barca surgeon piping up. Gary said they were disappointed but firstly the surgeon wasn’t on the pay role as an official employee of Barca, secondly, they’re having the same issues. Colin said they all loved Cesc… which was nice.
I also didn’t shirk asking the question about over training. Colin said that over training can lead to fatigue injuries, but that is weighted against the back drop of it also giving us an advantage in the last 10. An advantage we’ve used to great effect. He said it’s a dilemma all teams face. Ultimately, it’s the managers call and ultra fit players is Wenger’s preference.
GPS can help inform decisions about fatigue though. The manager still makes the final decision call on who plays. Tech isn’t advanced enough to take on that role yet. I guess you also have to consider what the risk of dropping a fatigued Robin against United in an Champions League Semi Final would do. The grey blurred line… rest a player, lose a game. Play a player, win a game, pick up an injury. What do you do?
When Freddie Ljungberg said he never used the Arsenal gym… he lied. Chamberlain will probably end up being the strongest player on the team if early signs are anything to go by!
Weight issues with players can go both ways. If they are over played they can lose it, if they aren’t watched, some can pack it on. If the boss says to a player you need to bulk, that is what has to happen. No questions.
The windows in the rehab gym open automatically to regulate temperature.
In the players dressing room, Theo is the DJ. Players are given exact nutritional instructions. They have tailored programs and are told what they can and cannot eat. Fit players are given recovery drinks after the game, injured players are given protein shakes so they don’t waste away. I tried a bit of Kieran Gibbs shake that he left… not bad stuff!
The players are also given weekly hydration tests. If they fail, they are given the special fluids to get them back on top. Again, another precautionary method to stop muscle fatigue. Last year, players weren’t good at completing this task, this year they’re far more on top of the game.
It sounds like Gary has done a good job building process into the players lives. The medical team do all they can so the players don’t need to think about preventative methods to improve their fitness…
- There are 3 full time massage chaps, players can opt in and put their name on the boards. The medical staff write who needs what and the staff get to work. Some prankster had written ‘ugly’ next to Frimpong’s name.
- Tales of outsourced fitness coaches for Robin and Cesc are wide of the mark. All fitness is done in house. Cesc did bring his trainer over for a few weeks, but it was nothing sinister. Robin didn’t. He did however rub horse placenta into his ankle. Not that it worked… That said, the club don’t mind if players want to do their own things… as long as they’re informed of what they’re doing.
- The club have put a new plunge pool in the training ground. You can cool it to 3 degrees. Some players spend 3-4minutes in there. Imagine the state of your chap after that?
- The floor in the pool moves up and down depending on what excercises they’re doing in a warm down. The coaches can see into the pool to check they’re doing it properly…
- I asked what injury Colin was most proud of rehabilitating, highlighting the Aaron one. He said he was happy with that, but it was pretty standard. They’re trained into the ground to deal with those. He said the Gibbs broken foot was a nasty one and he was happy with how that was turned around.
- 60% of the Arsenal squad have their ankles strapped before training.
- Jack is in almost everyday now. They’re keeping an eye on his injury. Hopefully he’ll be back and playing by February. The same goes for Sagna. Don’t expect miracles.
- The clubs gym is pretty cool. They have some pretty crazy machines that use air compression as the weights.
- Typical training sessions last 1 hour.
- Colin thinks we should have a winter break, we lose out to foreign clubs in the Champions League because of it. We also suffer as a nation come the international championships.
- He said it was really difficult working when the results were so poor. The whole club was affected. The positivity is back though and the players and management are buzzing. He said the players are a great bunch of lads.
- He grew up a West Ham fan, but after being with us so long, he’d cheer an Arsenal goal against his home team.
- Looking forward he wants to improve how they use GPS, work on better preventative actions, he reckons genetics will play are part in player assessment in the future (but we’re no where near now, despite what you’ve read in the press) and most important to him is making sure he’s always on top of the staffing levels.
- Arsenal are throwing a conference where they’ll bring in the best speakers in world in sport. Doctors, scientists and people in the medical hardware industry will come and talk to people from different sports hosted by Arsenal.
- Gazidis has been a very supportive CEO when it comes to investing in technology and people.
- The number of injuries so far this year are up, but the severity is down. Treatment is easy, preventing injuries is the hard bit!
- He is happy to take the blame for recurring injuries. He’ll accept part of the blame for Vermaelen and is happy to be shot down when his team deserve is, but he wants people to understand that they can’t be blamed for everything.
- Arsenal have flight best practice for the players. They supply them with compression socks and advise them on how to sleep and how to hydrate effectively.
- Fans have to accept African and South American players who get back on Friday will not play on a Saturday.
- Medical staff have fought to move internationals to Fridays and Tuesdays to increase recovery time so players can play for their clubs.
- They don’t get to see the youngsters play… but they all knew Jack was going to be a superstar!
It was an excellent 90 minutes. I hope the write up has done the day justice and I hope you feel more informed about the effort that goes into the fitness of the players. Gary and Colin were a credit to the club. I think what shone through is how much they give a crap. They both seemed genuinely aggrieved that they were being given a rough ride in the media and by the fans when they have been doing everything they can to make things better.
The backroom sounds like it’s moving to another level, even compared to last year. We’re now keeping injury prone players fitter for longer. Arteta has done well so far and we haven’t seen a breakdown of Yossi or Robin. I’m sure the injuries will happen, they always do, but at least we’re now seeing the benefits of greater technology integration and a more process driven injury prevention program.
All in all, a great day. Well played to Arsenal for letting me have access to two staff members, I applaud the transparency. Also, a big thanks to the AST for suggesting this to the board. Again, another reason to sign up to a very worthwhile supporters trust.
Right… I’m out all day. See you in the comments later!