Leading coach Raymond Verheijen says ‘there’s a reason for Arsenal injuries’

As they face Everton, Dutchman claims Wenger’s training is outdated but Martinez knows how to manage players’ fitness

While the race for fourth place in the Premier League will be shaped at Goodison Park on Sunday, that game, and the rest of the run-in, may simply be a survival of the fittest.

Arsenal go to Everton with the fit-again Aaron Ramsey likely to be on the bench. But Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny are all out as the club face their annual problem of playing important matches without leading players.

For Everton the picture is slightly better. Darron Gibson, the only long-term absentee from the first team, is still recovering from knee surgery. But manager Roberto Martinez, famously attentive with muscle injuries and conditioning, is unlikely to risk Phil Jagielka or Kevin Mirallas, hoping to have them fully fit for the final six games.

Everton are approaching peak form now, having won their last five league games, while Arsenal who have been missing too many midfielders for too long, have taken five points from their last five games. This raises questions about the two teams’ approaches to conditioning, and Arsène Wenger said last month there would be an investigation into the issue.

When asked if Arsenal had got to the bottom of their long injury list yet, Wenger said no. “It takes a bit of time,” he admitted, “at the moment we have not come to any conclusion. Every case can be very different and you need to analyse very deeply why things happen.”

Muscle injuries – of the sort that has kept Ramsey out for the last 14 weeks – continue to plague Arsenal. Martinez believes that all muscle injuries are preventable, and while Wenger agreed, he said players could bring them on themselves through taking unsupervised medicine.

Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, says a soft-tissue injury means a mistake has been made Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, says a soft-tissue injury means a mistake has been made (AP)
“Some of them are down to the medication that the players take that you don’t even know about,” Wenger revealed. “Then you realise afterwards that they took this medication and it is not prudent. The liver does not work as well, the toxins do not go as quickly out of the body as they should, and they get tired. If you lose your hair and if you’ve taken something to make your hair grow, it might not be especially good for the rest of your body.”

Wenger, though, was not talking about specific players. Arsenal clarified afterwards that they have no players on long-term medication, although painkillers are standard, and the medical team have found no concrete link between medication and muscle injuries.

Few managers know as much about injuries as Martinez, who has a degree in physiotherapy, and who has always put emphasis on building up his players’ fitness gradually over the course of the season and not over-working them. “I always believe every injury can be avoided,” Martinez told the Daily Mail in 2012. “I don’t believe in soft-tissue injuries. If you get a soft-tissue injury in football, a mistake has been made.”

Gibson and Arouna Koné have needed knee operations this season, and Gerard Deulofeu missed eight weeks with a hamstring injury, but Everton’s record is generally good, and the squad is looking sharper than ever. Raymond Verheijen, renowned Dutch coach, told The Independent that Everton’s success was down to Martinez’s thoughtful approach.

“For Roberto Martinez, fitness is an integral part of football, like tactics and technique,” Verheijen said. “Tactics and technique are integral parts of football, so they are trained in football training by football coaches. But so is fitness, so Roberto Martinez is responsible for the fitness training of Everton.”

This means that the fitness work is specifically geared to football, and not separate from it. “Martinez defines fitness as maintaining his playing style for 90 minutes,” Verheijen explained. “So you cannot start running around the pitch, you have to start playing the playing style for more minutes in training. If you say fitness is aerobic capacity, then all of a sudden fitness becomes non-contextual and you end up in non-football exercises like running around a pitch or running uphill, and fitness becomes isolated from football.”

This is what Verheijen believes happens at other clubs, and he ascribed Arsenal’s problems to such outdated methods of conditioning. “There is a pattern at Arsenal, and it repeats itself every year, it is a no-brainer.”

Not that the problem is exclusive to Arsenal. “It is a general problem in football, if you do too much too soon, in the first few weeks of pre-season, you develop shorter-term fitness. If you do the same amount of fitness work spread over six weeks, you develop longer-term fitness that will last for 10 months.”

Wenger had his own explanation; his team have simply played more games: “Everton went out very early in the League Cup and the FA Cup, and when you play in the FA Cup you play in games which are postponed midweek, plus the Champions League as well. It is much more  difficult.”

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