Fitness : Five subs rule : Fixture challenges


Another week, such as it is, done and dusted. There were a few small developments in the football world yesterday, first of which was the Premier League confirming that teams would be allowed use up to five substitutes in a game, with up to nine named on the bench instead of seven.

It’s worth pointing out that the number of times you can make subs has not been changed: it’s still just three plus half-time, so this will not cause extra delays or time-wasting. I have written about this before, and wondered if it’s an alteration to the rules that might become permanent having been introduced as a temporary measure, but in the very short-term I think it’s a good idea, and a sensible one.

We know that having not played competitive football for three months, it’s going to be physically challenging for the players. Not that I’m expecting anyone to shed tears for footballers or anything, but it is a reality every manager and every club is going to have to deal with. However much work they might have done on their exercise bikes or their treadmills, and however they sharpen up during training, the intensity of playing matches  is another level altogether.

Being able to use five subs will, of course, add an extra tactical element to the games – and it will be interesting to see how we cope, as it was one of the things that Mikel Arteta seemed to have a little bit of indecision over at times in his first few months in the job. Mostly though, it will also ensure that management of players who feel aches, strains, niggles and potential muscle injuries becomes a bit easier. You might have a player who can give you 70 minutes and that’s it, but due to their importance needs to start. Similarly, someone like Lucas Torreira, coming back from an injury, might be able to build his fitness with substitute appearances until he’s fully fit.

I’m also really curious to see what an impact on has on the matches overall when more fresh legs than usual are added during the second half. Will those players be able to take advantage of tired opponents, or will the changes the opposition make cancel them out? Will chance creation go up or down based on what we’ve seen previously in the season? How important might a good goalkeeper be if teams are getting an extra burst of potency in the last 15-20 minutes? We’ll find out soon enough.

I have seen some people suggest that this change, mid-season, means that we lose some sporting integrity, but I really don’t think that’s the case. You could certainly argue that football is coming back too soon, but if it is returning, applying some common sense is perfectly reasonable to me. All the clubs have agreed to it, and when you look at the way the fixtures are lining up it’s going to be very important for the physical well-being of the players.

Although not officially confirmed yet, this is what our schedule reportedly looks like:

Man City v Arsenal

Wednesday, June 17th
KO: 8pm – Sky Sports

Brighton v Arsenal

Saturday, June 20th
KO: 3pm – BT Sport

Southampton v Arsenal

Tuesday, June 23rd
KO: 6pm – Sky Sports

Sheffield United v Arsenal (FA Cup 6th round)

Saturday, June 27th

Arsenal v Norwich

Thursday, July 2nd
KO: 6pm – BT Sport

So, after more than three months without any competitive football, that’s five games in sixteen days, four of them away from home. The whole issue of home advantage adds another layer to this: without fans does it become easier for the visitors? That’s something we’ll find out in due course, but the main challenge is simply playing with that kind of frequency having had such a long break. For all the expertise, knowledge, GPS gadgets and all the rest, nobody has ever experienced this kind of down-time mid-season before, so there are bound to be some consequences. You can immediately see why the extra substitutes will be so important.

For some extra reading this morning, check out Tim’s column in which he reckons with the change from being a match-going fan to an armchair one. As I’ve said before, the only real change most of us will have to deal with is the lack of crowd noise and atmosphere, but for many not attending the games at home – and away in some cases – is a seismic change to their footballing experience.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast in which I’m joined by Arsenal’s Former Director of High Performance, Darren Burgess, to chat about all those fitness issues I’ve mentioned today. What are the challenges? What are the risks? Might there be players to benefit from the lockdown? All that and much more.

All the links you need to listen/subscribe are below. Enjoy the podcast.

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