It was September 24th 2016, and with five minutes left to go in the first half at the Emirates stadium, Mesut Ozil left N’Golo Kante trailing in his wake before steering home Arsenal’s third in what would finish as a 3-0 victory over rivals Chelsea.
So much has happened since that day that you’d be forgiven for thinking the above was some work of fiction, Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea? Ozil freeing himself from Kante’s shackles and impacting a big game? Someone actually getting away from Kante? Oh, it all happened alright.
But it wasn’t exactly what occurred during the 90 minutes that made this day the biggest of this Premier League season. It was what happened in the aftermath.
Speaking after the game, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte lamented his side’s lack of balance:
“After today we are thinking we must work a lot because we are a great team only on paper,” said Conte.
“We have not got the balance and now is the moment to consider everything. It is incredible to concede three goals. We must have last season present in our mind to not repeat the mistakes. We must reflect a lot to find very soon the right way.”
And find the right way they did. After that 3-0 defeat, Conte turned to his more familiar three man defence, and the rest ‘they’ say, is history.
The Italian’s side would then go on a run of results that would leave them clear at the top of the table and with no real challengers, bar a late surge from a youthful, highly impressive Tottenham Hotspur side steered by Mauricio Pochettino.
Chelsea overcame Spurs thanks to winning 13 consecutive games for the first time in their history between October and December of 2016. This helped contribute to a massive points tally of 93, which was the second-highest seen in a Premier League season after Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea gathered 95 points in 2004-05.
Conte did get the better of his rivals old Chelsea team on one count however, setting the record number of league wins at 30, one more than Mourinho’s 2004-05 and 2005-06 sides.
Runners-up Tottenham meanwhile produced a stellar season that saw them threaten to, but ultimately fail to run the eventual champions close. Close they were though, given the context, which is that Spurs’ 86 points is their best-ever return in the Premier League and that eleven previous title winners have won the trophy with a points tally equal to or less than 86.
It’s the second straight season of such near misses for Spurs, meaning that despite clear progress and excitement around the club and its new stadium, they may want to start converting promise in to silverware. That is, should they hope to keep the talons of larger beasts away from their prize assets for much longer.
Which is much a similar problem that long-serving Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may face after finishing outside of the top four for the first time in his lengthy-tenure. That also meant finishing below rivals Tottenham for the first time, this all despite setting a new record high of 75 points for the team finishing 5th in the Premier League era.
Perhaps only a small morsel of comfort for a man who’s long-faced calls for his resignation. Whether he gives in after being beaten to the Champions League places by Liverpool and fellow under, but not quite as bad, achievers Manchester City remains to be seen.
Speaking of City, it all looked so rosy in the beginning, especially after Pep Guardiola’s side won their first 10 matches in all competitions, which is just one win away from the all time record for a top-division English club; 11, set by Spurs in 1960-61. But a loss of form and untimely injuries to the likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus at key points in the season saw them fade away.
It was a similar situation for Liverpool who started well, but ultimately it would be their inability to beat the smaller teams that cost them. Their record against the bottom 13 teams was P26 W15 D5 L6, while in contrast, they didn’t lose a single game against any of the remaining top seven, with the record P12 W7 D5 L0.
Elsewhere Manchester United fans are left not quite knowing how to feel after finishing sixth in Jose Mourinho’s debut season. In a campaign where Mourinho’s men embarked on a 25-game unbeaten run, there were promising signs around Old Trafford.
But too many home draws, 10, a Premier League record, meant they were never truly able to establish themselves in the Champions League places, and were at one point marooned in sixth place for 104 days on the bounce.
Down at the bottom it was finally Sunderland’s turn to slink out the back door. And they took two other teams from the north east with them in Middlesbrough and Hull.
The Black Cats spent 189 days rock bottom of the Premier League, with 110 of those coming in successive days from February 1st to the final day. Meaning they spent 67% of the season in last place.
One thing that immediately jumps out among the figures for total injuries per club(above) is the very low amount of injuries over 14 days suffered by Chelsea(12). Despite their return to form after a horrid end to Jose Mourinho’s second reign, there were always continual whispering caveats relating to how lucky they’ve been with injury and fixture scheduling, and these stats would seem to back that notion up.
It will be interesting to see how the champions cope with a potential injury crisis next year, especially when throwing Champions League football in to the mix.
If there’s an example this season of how injury or general absence from the team can derail a team then Liverpool are the perfect one.
Looking all-conquering in the early stages, Jurgen Klopp’s men were hit with an injury to Phillipe Coutinho over the winter period which led in to Sadio Mane departing for the African Cup of Nations, and Liverpool were never quite the same.
Since we’re talking about things that aren’t quite the same anymore, David Moyes. He started the season by telling everyone they weren’t very good and how they may go down. And right he was, but there lack of quality wasn’t the only contributing factor according to our figures.
The Wearside outfit mixed in some long-term blows with the highest overall amount of injuries(85), the second highest over 14 days(39) and the second largest amount of total days lost to injury(2265).
The overall second highest amount of total injuries and the overall highest amount over 14 days, both belong to the same unlucky winner.
Yes Slaven Bilic has had his fair share of injury troubles this term with West Ham United in what proved to be a transitional season for the Hammers as they moved to the London Stadium.
So transitional it was, that incredibly despite moving back to Marseille in early January, Dimitri Payet still created the most goal-scoring chances(74) for the club across the season.
Down at the Hawthorns meanwhile Tony Pulis and his medical team have seemingly stumbled upon the elixir of life, having both the lowest amount of injuries(36) as well as the lowest amount over 14 days(11).
But what makes this stat all the more remarkable is the fact that Pulis’ side made the fewest changes to their starting line up throughout the campaign with just 49.
Add on the fact that the average age of the side was the oldest of any Premier League team at 29 years and 322 days, you have a highly impressive season both on and off the pitch for the midlands club.
However, perhaps bringing all those dreaming of playing on in to their 50’s back down to earth, the second oldest team in the league at 29 years and 206 days, Watford suffered the fourth most injuries overall(77) and the 5th most minutes missed through injury(1852).
Topping the table in terms of least injuries overall were Sean Dyche and Burnley with 35. A figure that was surely crucial in the Lancashire club retaining it’s Premier League status. Proving once again you can get by on a very well-run club and a good home record, where Burnley won 33 of their 40 points.
Let’s turn our attention to individuals, as our top 10 most injured players(above) makes interesting reading.
It’s always difficult to predict how an injury will affect a team, and the real, tangible consequences are often hard to quantify. But we we can be sure Arsenal have suffered from the loss of Santi Cazorla this campaign.
Arsene Wenger has struggled to find a lasting midfield partnership this season with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin and new big money signing Granit Xhaka failing to carve out any real, feasible duo moving forwards.
Cazorla’s composure, intelligence and technique have proved transferable skills and before his injury in October in the 6-0 Champions League victory over Ludogorets, the diminutive midfielder was looking set to put behind him the previous season in which he missed seven months with knee trouble.
Erik Lamela meanwhile has suffered a somewhat strange time in English football. Perceptions of the Argentinian winger haven’t particularly shifted despite a much-improved season in 2015/16 which featured a hefty increase to his playing time and importance to the team.
While potentially underappreciated by some, the 24-year-old is a vital component in Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing game, often being the one to initiate and lead the press, an exhausting and often thankless task. Despite Tottenham’s stellar season, it’s certain having Lamela available would have added to their arsenal(if you’ll excuse the pun).
Wayne Rooney suffered a frustrating season it what may prove to be his last at Manchester United and possibly at the top level in general.
United and England’s all-time leading goal-scorer suffered a number of niggling thigh, ankle and knee injuries that ensured his Manchester swansong didn’t go exactly to the script.
There’s a familiar face atop the most frequently injured list in Steven Pienaar. Brought back to join David Moyes’ merry band of former Everton and United players, the South African unfortunately offered no revelations in terms of his troubled injury record, being struck down with nine separate injuries.
Constant changing of personal for small injuries can disrupt a defensive unit, so seeing Dejan Lovren with eight separate injuries may go some way to start explaining Liverpool’s defensive issues.
When looking at the figures for injuries per month, your eye is suddenly draw towards the figure for January.
Long have there been calls for English football to cast aside their festive programme and embrace a rest in December or January. Indeed, the winter break debate simply won’t go away when the nights start drawing in. But potentially with good reason.
The gradual and general increase in injuries building up to and then climaxing in January may indicate that as the fixture list becomes more congested towards the end of the calendar year, players are far more susceptible to injury.
The fixture log-jam at Christmas leading in to early January when the FA Cup commences for top-flight teams has always been marked as a trying time for football managers in this country and the stats seem to back that up.
We also see a drop off in February before everything ramps up for the end of the season, where we again see rising injury numbers as players become overly-fatigued.
This follows the trend of recent years, which in the previous three Premier League seasons saw either December or January as the highest month for injuries, yet lending more ammo to those who wish to see a mid-season break.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Season Review. Why not head on over to your Injury Table and take a look for yourself who’s injured?
*All PhysioRoom.com injury stats were collected from between August 1st 2016 and May 22nd 2017. Data on injuries sustained before or after these dates has not been included.
Author: Chris Coates | @Coates_17