Our very own JULES WHEELER was given a first-look, guided tour of the Arsenal’s new state-of-the-art medical centre. Read her exclusive insight into just how manager Arsene Wenger has shaped the institution as he bids to gain insight into managing our players’ fitness and how to better cope with the injuries that have blighted us in recent seasons…physio Colin Lewin and club doctor Gary O’Driscoll were her guides.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the first people invited to the opening of Arsenal’s new medical centre at London Colney. There are 3 training pitches. The first is housed in the training centre. It is called a 3G pitch. It’s a new development in synthetic turf.
It provides better control and rubber grip. This obviously helps to prevent injuries. This is mainly used by the reserves, youth and ladies team. There are 2 heated pitches available for the first team. The next stop was the doctor’s room. Inside there is a revolutionary GPS system, called ‘Edge10’, that was installed about 18 months ago. It provides a medical database of every player profile. This will include any immunisations, scans, fitness, nutrition strength and conditioning, acceleration/deceleration body loads, weight, minutes on the pitch etc. It all contributes towards comparing data so any injuries can be treated faster and more accurately.
As it is relatively new to Arsenal, it will take a while to work out the average data for any given player. That is through no fault of the medical team, just that it will take time to assess players over duration and build up the database. It’s truly a great piece of kit! Arsene Wenger sent the medical team all over the world to research the most advanced ways to treat AND prevent injuries. There is also a locked cupboard which contains all the players’ medication.
They are monitered and administrated very carefully by club doctor, Gary O’Driscoll, who is ensuring there will be no repeat of the Kolo Toure situation that happened at Manchester City. It is especially important for the new players as any medication they may already be taking might not be allowed by UK ruling. It gets sent away to be approved. UEFA randomly drug test at the training ground about once a year and 3-4 times a year directly after matches. The FA test twice a year at the training ground and about 4 times a year directly after matches.
Generally, Colin Lewin said that ‘the English game is very clean, very well tested and there is no problem with performance enhancement drugs’. An interesting piece of information was a chart provided directly by UEFA, which shows that Arsenal are well below the average for muscle strains, training injuries and severe injuries involving Champions League games. This was based on p/1000 hours of training and matches. There are certain clubs who participate in sharing their information with UEFA. It’s all confidential and the medical team only get to see the information concerning their respective clubs. The other clubs on the graph are marked as ‘x’.
It gives an indication of how Arsenal compare to other clubs. Next to the doctors room is a football analysis room which has a lot of specialised equipment to provide very in depth information to the medical team to maximise the performance of the team to obtain the best results possible. The main rehabilitation room has an assortment of state-of-the-art equipment, including a screening machine to ensure that players can be monitored regularly for any sign of injury.
It also means that medicals can be carried out on site, which was especially useful at the end of the transfer window this August! One of the most impressive machines was the antigravity treadmill. Whilst air is being pumped through it, the players are able to run on it without putting any pressure or strain on joints. This was something that Thomas Vermaelen recently benefitted from on his recent return from injury. There is also an isokinetic machine which all the players get put onto at the start of the season. This is a weight-training device that produces a movement at a constant velocity. It was also interesting to know that Arsene Wenger has introduced a range of alternative therapies too.
There is a yoga teacher who comes in once a week, an osteopath (who also does reflexology) once a week and a nutritionist who is in twice a week. They also have acupuncture of needed. The players are not forced to participate in this unless they need to lose/put on weight. On average, they burn between 10-15,000 calories a week. The windows are heat-sensitive. They automatically open and close to ensure that the room maintains an optimum temperature. The pool area next door contains 3 pools. There is a plunge pool which is kept at 7 degrees Celsius.
The players use this to minimise bruising, reduce swelling, dead legs etc. They are advised to be in there for 2-5 minutes only. The second pool has a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. This is used for warming the muscles and stretching. The third pool is the largest. It has a floor which can be elevated to suit the needs of an injury. It can be raised so the water level is shallow, if for example, to treat an ankle injury. It can be lowered if more depth is needed, for example, a knee injury.
I was also told that Arsene Wenger has made plans, for the next generation of players to benefit, to extend the pool area and build an additional semi-circle shaped pool which begins with a cold temperature at one end, then gradually increases in temperature as it continues so at the other end, it is warm. Jets will also pump out water through this. The dressing rooms are luxurious but practical. There are a range of nutrition bars in the centre table for the players to help themselves to.
There is a ‘hydration chart’ on the front door. It ‘names and shames’ players who do not drink enough water. They are tested and given the required additional amount. This ensures that they do not suffer cramps and strains due to dehydration. The players are educated in nutrition and after every training session, they are given recovery drinks in the form of milkshakes (chocolate or strawberry) to drink. For any injured players, there is a special whey protein shake to drink. All the shakes are tailored to the individual players liking. For example, some may like them at room temperature; some may prefer it to come straight from the fridge.
Each player has his own preference taken into account. There are 3 full time masseurs, a couple in the dressing room and one in the physio room, on hand to provide massages before and after training for any players that need or wish to have one. They are sports massages so can be quite painful and not relaxing at all! Next door, is the physio room. It has a list of injuries and numerous beds for players to be treated.
All the players are subjected to a full screening test at the start of every season and obviously any new players who are brought in. This assesses any weaknesses that they might have and helps the medical team to adapt programmes to improve these weaknesses. In the last 2-3 years, there has been more structure for the players in their diets, training etc. An advantage to having this all kept ‘in-house’ is that players won’t seek help elsewhere. This new building has everything contained under the one roof. As far as the medical team are concerned, prevention is certainly better than curing an injury. There is a large gym, which the players are encouraged to use. There is always a physio or doctor in there in case any players have questions.
Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen and Thomas Rosicky usually have to be told to leave as they put in a tremendous amount of work and make the extra effort! I think that is showing on the pitch, particularly this season. The more experienced players are also encouraged to ‘buddy up’ with a younger player to help with their training and support them. They can be given specially-designed programs to suit their needs. Apparently, a lot of players like to work on their abs in the months leading up to the summer!!!
I know that there are a lot of people out there who blame the medical team for a lot of our injuries. Having visited the medical centre today and seeing just how much effort is put into ensuring the players get the best treatment and facilities available, I can say that undoubtedly, they do their best for the players. They didn’t shirk away from any questions that were asked and gave frank and insightful answers to all of them. They told me that last year was an awful year for injuries and that there were 7 fractures. Generally, there would be 1-3 fractures.
There were also LESS recurring injuries this year. There are some websites which claim to ‘log’ players’ injuries but the statistics from these are often misleading. The players do train hard. This is to ensure that they are able to cope very well in the last 10 minutes of a game and provide as much effort then as they do in the first 10. Obviously, there is a slight increased risk of injury with the hard training but I can assure you that absolutely EVERYTHING is done to ensure that Arsenal field the best possible team. Colin Lewin observes the first team train the day before a match. He then has a meeting with Arsene Wenger, all the coaching staff to discuss players and risk assessment. All the data that has been collected is analysed and this can play a small part in making decisions when choosing the team.
I was so impressed with what I saw today. The technology is so advanced and Arsenal is at the forefront of all this. However, they will not be satisfied with this and Arsene Wenger is constantly looking for new ways to progress and constantly e.mails Gary and Colin, with new ideas and equipment that he feels will aid the players. I don’t think people realise just how instrumental Arsene is to the way that the club has evolved.
He is at the ground every day and visits each department every day. I was told that after the Marseille match in France, they returned to Colney about 3.30am. Gary had to check Aaron Ramsey’s leg. When he left at 4.15am, Arsene was still in his office watching the game again and dissecting it bit by bit! His dedication to this club is unquestionable.