In the midst of Arsenal’s rotten luck with injuries post-lockdown, Mikel Arteta is overseeing the return of two potentially key players from injury nightmares of their own.
Both Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding suffered anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the 2018/19 season. Both returned early in the 2019/20 campaign only to receive unwanted setbacks but now, with the Gunners’ defensive corps running thin, the pair have been thrust back into action and with that, has come the expectation to perform.
With Arsenal as a whole off the boil, neither have been immune to criticism. However, with the road to recovery, especially from ACL injuries, not a journey very well known to the public, a better understanding of the troubles each player has faced may help put their situations into perspective.
“There’s a conception that when a player is cleared to return, it’s like a switch that now they are 100 per cent ready,” sports scientist Dr. Rajpal Brar DPT told football.london .
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“People ask ‘why do they get cleared to play then?’ but health is not binary, you’re not healthy or unhealthy, it’s a spectrum, a process.”
For both Bellerin and Holding, there have been roadblocks along that path to becoming more healthy.
The former seemed to be back and ready to help steer Arsenal back into the right direction as one of Unai Emery’s five captains, only to suffer a hamstring injury in early December. Upon his return a flare up of a thigh injury in February put further strain on the Spaniard’s return.
As for Holding, bruises to his knee in late 2019 as well as the emergence of Shkdoran Mustafi and David Luiz in central defence left him somewhat in the cold pre-lockdown.
Despite these setbacks, what needs to be made clear is that neither are at the stage of their intial recovery times to where they would be considered to be ‘back to normal’. Following the three-month layoff and the fixture schedule being condensed so heavily post-lockdown, there may be an adverse effect on the pair.
“What people don’t realise is that the research shows it can take up to two years after an anterior cruciate ligament rupture to see side-to-side symmetry, meaning that the injured leg is equal to the uninjured leg,” Brar continued.
“Medically, what they look at is it [the injured leg] within 10 per cent, is it 90 per cent of the uninjured leg? That means that there’s no asymmetry. It could take up to two years to get to that point so it’s an extended process.
“Now with Bellerin and Holding, you have the COVID-19 delay. I thought it actually hurt Bellerin because he was finally getting some consistent games – even though he had a little adductor groin issue which was pretty minor – I thought it really hurt his rhythm and confidence.
“You want consistency of games but you also want them to…