29 July 2014

Our most-important signing won't even play a single minute..

Forget Alexis. Forget Debuchy, Ospina, or Chambers.  Ignore any reports around any other player we may or may not sign. Those players, after all, will vie for time on the pitch with other members of the squad, rotating in as necessary or deserved and, more crucially, replacing them when they're injured. Arsenal's most significant signing of the summer won't compete for time on the pitch . He won't reduce anyone to time on the bench. His job will consist entirely of keeping our players on the pitch as much as possible. Shad Forsythe, fitness coach for Germany's national team, will come in to work alongside our current fitness coach, Tony Colbert. Forsythe's name may not be as drool-inducing as some of the players we covet, but his contributions off the pitch could prove to be even more vital than any contributions any players could make on it.

After all, even before the additions of the aforementioned four, this was a squad that held firmly onto first place for 128 days, keeping Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City at arm's length until the wheels fell off. Injuries and fatigue denied us the services of player after player after player to the point that, collectively, our players missed 289 league games, far away the best (worst?) record in the Prem, more than double the number missed by Chelsea's players (109) or by City's (142). If Forsythe can reduce our injury-record even marginally, we could see a significant improvement in our fortunes.

Forsythe's speciality is in recovery, which some take to mean "getting injured but healing quickly." However, this reflects only a partial understanding of his role. "Recovery" as Forsythe practices it is a concept much broader than that, involving bloodwork, nutrition, and other treatments tailored specifically to each athlete and his or her extertion levels. In this piece he wrote for the PerformBetter! website, he explains his methods and work with the German national team. I'll boil it down a bit but encourage you to give the full article a read. What he emphasizes is a regimen that will enhance an athlete's body to recover from exertion more quickly, enabling the athlete's tissues and joints to recuperate more fully between matches, thereby reducing the risk of exhaustion, which causes some injuries and can increase the risk of other injuries.

For example, Forsythe writes:
Post workout nutrition should consist of: a mixture of carbohydrates, fats, proteins (based on the athletes body composition and exertion level), electrolytes (based on the athletes perspiring levels), and water for hydration. Cryotherapy should consist of cold water immersion (55 degrees F) for at least 5 minutes. Athletes exerting the whole body (Rugby/American Football) should be fully immersed with only the head showing while athlete primarily exerting the lower body (Cyclist/Soccer) immersion to above the waist is acceptable.
Daily treatments that include stretching, cryotherapy (that would be the cold-water immersion), self-massage, and professional massage may not sound like revolutionary techniques, but I'm sure that Forsythe's work with the German team and ours would consist of more individualized regimens. Earlier in that same article, he talks of "blood samples weekly throughout the [2006 World Cup] to monitor signs of stress and overtraining" and how team-doctors reported "the lowest markers for stress and overtraining in the history of German National Teams during a tournament and credited the results to our consistent recovery regimen." Germany may not have won the 2006 World Cup, but they did win in 2014 despite playing in the heat and humidity against an Argentinian squad theoretically more-comfortable with such conditions.

Forsythe may not be able to prevent the kind of injures that Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott suffered this season, by he may very well be able to prevent the other knocks, niggles, and strains that build up over the course of a season. How much better might Mesut have played in his first Prem season, his first away from La Liga's softer winter? Would Ramsey have suffered his thigh-strain in the first place? Could we see Diaby play an entire season? We lambasted our trainers all season for failing to prevent injuries or get players back on their feet as quickly as we were told they'd be. I'm not saying that Forsythe will set us up for an injury-free season; far from it. If he can mitigate our injury-woes in any way, though, he might just be the best addition to the squad.