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Ending Arsenal’s Other Aversion to Shots


Arsenal have long been afflicted by the injury bug. Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Eduardo da Silva, and Santi Cazorla are just a few examples of injuries that prevented the Gunners from realizing their full potential on the pitch. Now, the availability of Arsenal players is being affected by an actual illness: COVID-19. To begin the season, Mikel Arteta’s team found themselves without four players ahead of their Premier League opener against Brentford because of the pandemic-causing disease. Before Arsenal took on Chelsea, Ben White found himself arguably spared from taking on Romelu Lukaku by an asymptomatic case.

Last week, Granit Xhaka became the sixth Arsenal player to test positive for COVID-19. The very next day, it was confirmed by the Swiss football federation that Xhaka had refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Funnily enough, the midfielder was already set to miss the next three games through suspension, meaning his availability will not be impacted by following the COVID protocol. But nevertheless, the rampant nature with which the coronavirus is traversing through the Arsenal squad is concerning, and begs the question of whether players have been making the smart decision of getting vaccinated against the virus.

There are a couple conceivable reasons why professional footballers wouldn’t want to take the vaccine. First, these are athletes of the highest caliber, who have given up a normal life at their young age in order to maintain immaculate physiques. They train frequently, spend days in the gym when not on the pitch, and follow strict dietary regiments. The modern footballer is supremely careful about what they do to and put in their bodies.

Along those lines, it is foreseeable that less-informed players harbor concerns about how the vaccine could affect the fitness they rely on for their livelihoods. They might believe that they are better off refraining from getting vaccinated and relying on their good health to weather a bout with COVID. After all, footballers are mostly in their late teens and 20s. They know they are likely at their physical peak, which probably leads them to believe they are impervious to the more grim effects of COVID-19.

However, neither of those beliefs behind footballers’ vaccine hesitancy are based in actual, confirmed fact. The National Health Service and the European Medicines Agency has maintained that most side effects (which include soreness at the site of injection, chills, headaches, and fatigue) are mild and normally subside after a couple of days. Despite the conspiracy theories and misinformation circulated by some, this information is secure because both organizations have encouraged the reporting of any side effects from COVID-19 vaccines. According to the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only two serious post-vaccination health problems have been found: anaphylaxis and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. The CDC maintains that both complications are rare.

More convincing, but still not conclusive, is the idea that pristine health lowers the risk of a more extreme case of COVID. While there are studies by reputable institutions such as the British Journal of Sports Medicine that suggest that routine activity lowers the risk of those infected with COVID-19 developing serious illness, it is conceded that more research is necessary in order to further support those findings. However, there are several instances of professional athletes struggling to cope with the virus. For example, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos described his battle with COVID as “surreal” and had difficulty working out. Paulo Dybala said in an interview with the Argentine Football Association that he could not even train for more than a few minutes without being short of breath. While it seems that people in the kind of shape pro footballers are in are less likely to develop severe symptoms, it has still happened to several in that stratosphere.

The vaccines have been shown to lower the occurrence of severe cases of COVID-19, even as the new Delta variant rises in prominence. According to a study released by the CDC in late August, those who were unvaccinated were shown to be 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID. Simply put, getting vaccinated lowers the risk of severe illness further than just being in good shape, and is supremely unlikely to come at the cost of a devastating health complication. But if that isn’t enough reason for any holdouts in the Arsenal squad to get vaccinated, there is an argument for it that may be more pertinent to them.

Arsenal currently find themselves at a crucial moment in the club’s history. They need to quickly return to prominence in order to avoid a prolonged stay in upper midtable. That requires the squad to be fit and ready as consistently as possible, perhaps more than ever this season. As we have seen to start the season, maximizing susceptibility to COVID-19 goes a long way toward thwarting that aim. If they wish to be as reliable as possible for their team, Arsenal players need to get the jab. And while breakthrough infections are on the rise due to the Delta variant, such infections appear to still be very rare. There is no reason outside of unfounded concerns for Gunners to remain unvaccinated as we get deeper into an important season.

With three matches in the books, six Arsenal players have already been forced to the sidelines by COVID-19, and four of them are important squad members who will play key roles this season. With the pandemic looking unlikely to end in the near future, the absences could very well rack up as the 2021-22 campaign progresses. Not only can an Arsenal player render themselves unusable for two weeks by testing positive, but they can spread the disease through the club as well, causing their teammates to have to miss matches as well. As evidenced by the absences before the Brentford match, this can quickly deplete the roster. How is the team supposed to finish in European places if regular infections within the squad force them into fielding the likes of Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny?

Elliot Smith of the ArsenalVision Podcast has often said that the best ability a footballer can have is availability. That holds especially true this year. With Arsenal learning the hard way that they cannot lean on several of their second-string players, the importance of players like Xhaka and Aubameyang is amplified. They, along with the other dozen or so key players on the roster, must be able to contribute as many minutes as they can in order for the team to have a successful season. That cannot be achieved if players refuse to get vaccinated and continue to catch and spread COVID-19.

Unvaccinated Arsenal players may have been led to believe that their fitness can be risked by getting inoculated. They may think they can withstand COVID on their own. They certainly do not seem aware of their ability to endanger others by remaining vessels for coronavirus. But by refusing to take the shot off the pitch with the same enthusiasm as they do for Arteta, unvaccinated Arsenal players are making themselves unreliable, both for their current team and to any club who might be interested in their services later on. Gunners who have not received the jab should think again and do the right thing. They owe that, not only to their teammates and others at the club, but to themselves as well.

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