AISA visit the Arsenal Medical Centre
AISA was invited, along with a handful of other supporter organisations, to visit the Club's new medical facility at London Colney. With all kinds of rumours surrounding Arsenal's medical set-up this was the Club's opportunity to showcase its state-of-the-art facilities and to provide supporters with a factual responses to speculation and gossip.
AISA vice-chair, Lois Langton, was impressed by what she saw and heard describing Arsenal doctor, Gary O'Driscoll, and physio, Colin Lewin as "open, honest and engaging as they showed us around the medical centre".
Lois added "The set-up was impressive, both in terms of the amenities available to the players and the care afforded to them. Both the doctor and physio are whole-heartedly committed to ensuring the team's well-being using forward-thinking techniques."
In advance of the visit, AISA members had provided a varied and informed range of questions which formed the basis of many of the topics discussed, and below is Lois' detailed report.
* Adjacent to the medical centre is a giant indoor astroturf pitch – see attached photograph. This is rarely used by the 1st team. Even during adverse weather conditions, the under-soil heating enables the team to train on the outdoor pitches. The minimal use of the astroturf pitch means that the risk of injury to the players from the hardened surface is likewise minimal.
* Prevention is better than cure: the players take a variety of nutrients and supplements, provided by the medical team and all tailored to meet each player's specific needs. A nutritionist comes in once a week. The new players all endorse the idea of looking after their bodies and health and are good role models in that respect to the younger team members. The importance of squaring any medication with the Club first is a message which is repeatedly spelt out to the players. The risks are otherwise potentially immense. Just ask Kolo Toure!
* Through an innovative system called Edge 10, the Club is able to collate and access data on every aspect of the players' well-being. It provides the medical team with a comprehensive medical library on each individual player. A brief overview here will not do it justice. The Club is at the forefront of using science to help in its analysis and understanding of players' bodies.
* The popular notion that abounds that "Arsenal players are always injured" is understandably a source of frustration for the Club particularly when the stats prove such claims wrong. A chart showing injuries per 1000 hours trained/played of players at Champions League clubs over the past year puts Arsenal mid-table. There is no evidence that Arsenal players suffer any more injuries than those at comparable clubs.
* Generally speaking, players who are injured whilst out on loan remain at the loan Club. The Arsenal medical team have weekly or fortnightly updates to enable progress to be monitored. First-team players from overseas who suffer medium or long-term injuries are allowed to spend part of their recovery period back in their home country. The medical team stays in constant contact with such players, including visiting them, and set them a prescriptive programme which must be followed.
* The Club doesn’t object to the players trying their own methods to help speed up their recovery as long as the players run it past the medical team first. A couple of years ago, Robin van Persie experimented with rubbing horse placenta into his injured ankle. Bizarre but, from the Club's point of view, it was not going to cause any damage. It didn't appear to bring any benefits!
* There is a good relationship, from a medical perspective, between most Clubs, and clubs do share information about players' medical histories when transfers are being negotiated.
* There is often much speculation that the Arsenal players are "over trained". The view was that, whilst the players do train hard, they are amongst the fittest in the League which helps explain why they have such a good goal-scoring record in the last 10 minutes of matches.
* Fatigue levels are constantly monitored and are an area increasingly open to scientific analysis. A fatigued player is more prone to injury and that is why players are often rested or substituted. Resting a player such as van Persie for the Marseille match is ultimately a decision for Arsene Wenger to make. Clearly if Robin had played and scored, we might have won the game, but would that be viewed as the right decision if he had got injured and missed the next two Premiership games?
* Hydration is vitally important to prevent muscle fatigue. The players have weekly hydration tests and there is a chart pinned up in the dressing room showing the results. The players are very competitive over who is in the lead!
* A much-asked question concerns the modern-day footballers' boots and whether there is a link between lightweight boots and seemingly increasing numbers of foot-related injuries. The Club does feed input into the main boot manufacturers and the current styles of boots don’t appear to offer the protection that medical teams would like to see.
* In addition to conventional medical approaches, the players also have the benefit of a host of alternative treatments and benefits. As well as yoga sessions, the players have regular access to a podiatrist, psychologist and nutritionist. The masseurs also form an important part of the medical set-up and the Club now has three full-time masseurs. Massages are an important part of both day-to-day training and the players' pre- and post-match routines.
* The new medical facility contains a dedicated gym area that enables players returning from injury to focus on their recovery and rehabilitation. An anti-gravity treadmill features NASA-patented technology which helps decrease ground reaction forces in walking and running. It is paramount to a player's optimal recovery. Thomas Vermaelen used it regularly in his recent return from injury.
* Elsewhere within the training complex, there's a swimming pool with a movable floor (which adjusts according to the type of exercises being carried out and by which players), a new plunge pool (which cools down to about 3 degrees) and a Jacuzzi.
* The one player whose injury history generated the most questions was Abou Diaby. It is too often readily assumed that he is injury prone but, in 2 minutes, Colin Lewin succinctly explained how the injuries that he has suffered over the past 5 years all emanate from the appalling injury he sustained against Sunderland back in 2006.
* Whilst Aaron Ramsey's injury was horrific, his was not an ankle injury and that is the crucial difference. Abou Diaby suffered damage to the ankle joint which not only caused a loss of mobility in the ankle but also affected other areas. All the injuries that he has had over the past few years have been on that same right-hand side. Last season, a heavy tackle from Bolton's Paul Robinson on the same ankle caused it to flare up again. In the summer, Abou underwent surgery to remove a piece of bone from his right ankle to give it more range. His body is now adapting to that increased range but that in turn has caused calf and knee problems.
* At the start of the season, there were also suggestions in the media that Jack Wilshere's injury had been misdiagnosed. Arsenal deny this; they knew he had a serious injury but there were risks associated with what would be a serious operation. Therefore, they decided to rest his ankle to see if that made a difference. After 3 weeks, the ankle had not improved and so the only option then was for surgery.
* Robin van Persie has avoided serious injury this season. When asked why he has historically suffered so many injuries, Colin Lewin said that it is in large part down to a combination of tiredness and bad luck; this season, he hasn’t had a certain Italian defender smash into his leg in an international friendly!
* When asked what changes they would both like to see in football, both Gary O'Driscoll and Colin Lewin said that a winter break would have a positive impact on players' performances, as would playing Premiership games on a Friday evening ahead of a Champions' League match on a Tuesday. Both welcomed the changes to international fixtures which now see Internationals played on Fridays and Tuesdays as players have more recovery time before returning to Club duties.
We spent nearly three hours at the training ground and I felt it was an informative and worthwhile visit. Both Gary and Colin are passionate about the work they do and their commitment to their work is clear to see. With the financial investment that the Board has given to supporting medical advancements at the Club I certainly feel the players are in safe hands.
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