With a lack of especially surprising results and a few low scoring draws, this week’s Premier League controversy and drama instead involved big players and their injuries. Here we’ll take a closer look at the persistent injuries threatening to wreck Arsenal’s season, as well as some bold statements from Liverpool’s new manager regarding the mental strength of his star striker.
In perhaps the most inevitable moment of the Premier League season so far, Alexis Sanchez limped off in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at Norwich City. The dynamic Chilean has played an incredible amount of games over the last 18 months, so a fatigue-related injury isn’t especially surprising. Having taken Chile to the later stages of the World Cup in 2014 and all the way to Copa America glory last summer, as well as with a packed domestic schedule in between, it looks like he’s finally run himself into the ground.
The reason that Sanchez’ injury has caused controversy is twofold. Firstly, and most perplexingly, Arsene Wenger has spoken in recent weeks about the fact that Sanchez is in the dreaded ‘red zone’; a stage which basically means he’s exhausted, at risk of injury and needs a break.
After last week’s Champions League win over Dynamo Zagreb, Wenger was asked why, with his Arsenal side 3-0 up, he allowed Sanchez to play the full 90 minutes. His answer? “A break makes him tired.” Although this was said as a joke, it points to the fact that Wenger allows his players to play simply because they insist on doing so. Yes, Sanchez having the desire to play every minute of every game is admirable, but surely someone amongst the medical staff at Arsenal, if not the manager himself, should have come forward to protect Sanchez from his own determination.
Before the match at Norwich, Wenger mentioned that the Chilean was having slight hamstring problems, but still put him in the starting line-up. There’s no indication of the seriousness of the injury that Sanchez picked up, but pulled hamstrings normally require a few weeks rest, meaning that Arsenal will be without one of their key players going into the heavily congested Christmas period. English clubs aren’t afforded the luxury of a winter break, and squads simply need to be managed better than Wenger has shown in recent years.
This brings me to the second reason why the Sanchez injury has caused controversy. It’s simply another absentee on an already growing list, which now contains no fewer than 10 first team players, including Laurent Koscielny, Jack Wilshire, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.
Most frustrating for Arsenal fans is that this is a mystifying predicament in which Wenger’s side finds itself nearly every season. Whether it’s the methods used in pre-season training, the style with which Arsenal play or the simple fact that they are on average the smallest side in the division, a poor injury record exposes faults with the management of the squad.
In other injury news, Jurgen Klopp last week came out with some strong words for long-term absentee Daniel Sturridge. Since a stunning 2013-14 campaign alongside Luis Suarez, Sturridge has been plagued by injuries and played only a handful of games. He came on off the bench during Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Swansea at Anfield, perhaps with the words of his manager still ringing in his ear.
Klopp said that Sturridge needed to “learn the difference between serious pain and only pain.” This statement came after revelations in Steven Gerrard’s autobiography that suggested that Sturridge was perhaps unwilling to play through minor injuries, and lacked the mental strength to handle the aches and pains which plague all players throughout the season. These were strong words from Klopp, who will need Sturridge fit and firing if he wants to break into the top four in his debut season.