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Injuries to Partey and Tierney highlight the pandemic’s damaging effects on football

By Alex Trad

From smaller sides punching well above their weight to officiating controversy, the first half of the 2020/21 Premier League season has been nothing short of thrilling and, at times, tiring for supporters. Amidst a global health crisis and following a hastened summer off-season, though, teams have suffered from countless injury blows in these last few months. Inspiration for this piece comes from a recent study led by The Athletic, that I came across whilst navigating through Twitter yesterday. Via Premier Injuries, the report listed each injury and suspension for every Premier League club, correct as of February 11th. At present, sides have unavailable team sheets ranging from 1 player to as many as 10, which highlight the effect of congested fixture lists on the players’ fitnesses. With less time to recover between matches, teams are finding alternative manners to curb squad fatigue and the increased risk of injury. Arsenal, for one, have seen change in their physiotherapy staff since the start of the pandemic. As early as June, the Gunners expressed interest in PSG physio Bruno Mazziotti. As per Arseblog, director Edu Gaspar had encountered Mazziotti in the past, at Corinthians and with the Brazilian national team, before the latter joined the Parisian club two seasons ago. After former head physiotherapist Chris Morgan joined Liverpool in August, Reece Jordan, Arsenal’s former head of academy physiotherapy, claimed Morgan’s position. Late last year we finally saw the arrival of Mazziotti, as interpreted via his Instagram. So, with new changes made to the backroom staff of late, are we to assume that the medical team is at fault for our countless injuries? Simply put, no, we can not. It is very clear that other factors have played a part in our injury struggles. For one, all Premier League clubs saw their pre-season reduced from 12 full weeks to roughly seven, leaving little time for players to take much-needed breaks and ease back into the rhythm. After an FA Cup success, Arsenal’s squad enjoyed shortened holiday periods, with many needing to self-isolate upon return to the UK.

Thomas Partey, in particular, arrived on deadline day last October, giving him no pre-season to work with. One month later, the Ghanain pulled up with a knock against Aston Villa, which effectively ruled him out for the following 8-10 weeks- bar an injury-stricken involvement against Spurs in December. What makes the former Atletico Madrid midfielder’s injury all the more interesting, is that in his four-year spell in the Spanish capital Partey missed just 6 games through injury. Since last October, he has missed 10 for the Gunners. Kieran Tierney, on the other hand, had a similar experience to start his Arsenal career. Prior to his brilliant performances post-Lockdown, the Scot missed 19 Arsenal games through an arm injury that kept him out for 96 days in total. And since the turn of the year, Tierney has missed 5 games through injury. Arsenal won just once of those 5 matches, which proves just how crucial the 23-year old is to Mikel Arteta’s system. His injury was indeed provoked by over-fatigue, after he completed multiple full-match displays in succession, including an 120-minute performance against Newcastle United in the FA Cup on January 9th. Fixture congestion has always been a problem for European clubs. Now, though, it has reached peak levels. In fact, before Arsenal’s match against Aston Villa last Saturday, the Gunners had played 4 matches in 10 days. With Arsenal’s Europa League Round of 32 tie against Benfica fast approaching, there seems to be no reprieve for Mikel Arteta’s side in the coming weeks.

With little lay-off time allotted to most teams, it has been a major struggle for clubs to cope with the unprecedented effect of a health crisis on modern football. Every player, coaching staff and official has been tested in various ways of their own, making for a difficult and bizarre 29th Premier League season. In the coming months, it would be a fair assumption to predict more injuries to Arsenal players. And with dozens of matches left to play from now until May, who knows what fortunes lie ahead for the Gunners? All we can hope for is that Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney make swift but precautious returns to the side, and that Arsenal’s physiotherapy team remains consistent in their regular team fitness updates, which have thus far proved confusing and varying from one week to another.

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