We need to talk about Shad

sport1Arsenal recently received the news that Mesut Özil will be unable to play for the club until 2015, in all likelihood, having suffered a partial tear of a ligament in his left knee. Özil becomes the latest in a string of high-profile injuries for the Gunners in the opening stages of the season, a situation which has put the spotlight on the medical team, and in particular on Shad Forsythe, the man brought in to prevent this doomsday scenario from materialising.

When Shad Forsythe was announced as Arsenal’s new “head of athletic performance development” this summer, many thought he would be the fitness guru to herald in a new age of injury-less good fortune at the Emirates. Having just nursed the German national team to World Cup victory, Forsythe’s appointment was seen not just as a sensible decision, a step taken to address Arsenal’s systemic injury problems, but even as something of a coup, in line with a new Wenger-Gazidis policy of bringing in top talent both on and off the pitch.

Equal parts Mannschaft-esque efficacy and Shaft-esque strut – we here at Trinity News like to imagine that Wenger spent a good portion of his summer sitting in his office with a smirk on his face and Isaac Hayes on in the background (“Who’s the man gonna fix all Arsenal’s injury woes? Shad!”) – Forsythe was meant to signal the end of the running joke that the Arsenal injury list has become in recent times. Unfortunately for Forsythe and for Arsenal, at this admittedly early stage in their relationship, the club seems to be struggling more than ever to keep players out of the treatment room.

Arsenal now find themselves without a host of first-team players who have sustained injuries since the start of the season: besides Özil, Mikel Arteta, the club captain and Aaron Ramsey are both out with muscle problems. Mathieu Debuchy required surgery after ankle ligament damage in September. Olivier Giroud managed to fracture his ankle by being hit by a football (as ridiculous as it sounds) and Laurent Koscielny, like Özil, has been sent back from international duty with France due to injury. Arsenal are now down to the bare bones in defence and are short-staffed in central midfield. When Abou Diaby is being considered as a potential solution to an injury crisis you are, to say the least, tempting fate.


Despite Arsenal’s new-found willingness to indulge the demands of the fans by, at long last, “spending some f***ingmoney”, Wenger remains at heart a parsimonious manager. To put it another way, Wenger is to thriftiness what Harry Redknapp is to the dubious art of wheeler-dealerism- in spite of his assertions to the contrary. His ever-present obstinacy when it comes to paying more than what he deems market-value for a player has not diminished – in the sense that few would consider £42m for Mesut Özil (in a summer which saw Gareth Bale sold for over double that figure) or upwards of £30 for Alexis Sánchez as bad deals considering their quality. But how is this relevant to the injury list? The fact that players of higher value inevitably command higher weekly wages of course has implications for the fitness department. Forsythe’s appointment can be seen in a financial context as much as a sporting one, given that every week that a high-profile player is ineligible due to injury is a week that Arsenal have paid hundreds of thousands of pounds without receiving any services from that player on the pitch in return.  With Özil’s wages estimated at £140,000 per week, three months out of action equates to roughly £1.7m down the drain.

Are Forsythe’s methods to blame? Too hard on a squad unaccustomed to a higher level of intensity? The muscle injuries, the sudden, stark brittleness of players resulting in serious injuries… Is this all his fault?


Questions may be asked about the new methods being implemented, yet to see Forsythe as responsible – or at least, wholly responsible – for the current crisis would be foolish. Arsenal’s injury history over the last few seasons would suggest that there is some other enigma at work. Robin van Persie was famously injury-prone, Cesc Fabregas once broke his leg taking a penalty for Arsenal and players such as Walcott and Diaby are returning from long-standing, pre-Shad injuries; even last season, injuries to Walcott, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Özil derailed a potential title assault.

It is possible that the current problems are down to Shad Forsythe. It is possible that there is something in Arsenal’s recruitment policy which favours technically gifted but fragile, lightweight players – a familiar accusation. It is possible that there is something in the water at London Colney. There is clearly something going on, and it does need to be analysed and addressed, but it is too early to decide what role the new “head of athletic performance development”  has played, if any. Only time will tell what effect Forsythe will have on the yearly Arsenal injury crisis phenomenon. So, even though we do need to talk about Shad, it may be more appropriate to do it at the end of the season.