Graham Potter almost managed to get away with playing a bunch of first-team players in a meaningless game in the middle of a most congested schedule with three huge games coming up over the next ten or so days in a misguided attempt to boost confidence and have us forget the 4-1 defeat at Brighton, but literally in the last minute of the night, Ben Chilwell pulled his hamstring. While nothing’s confirmed at this point, it will most likely rule him out from those remaining three games until the World Cup — and probably will rule him out of the World Cup itself as well.
So yeah, not great.
While there is no absolute foolproof way to avoid such injuries, one way to decrease their frequency is by managing workloads and not subjecting players to unnecessary strain and effort. With Chilwell still just coming back from an ACL replacement, he was already under extra attention and considerations for loading, and trying to play him three times in a week (Brighton, Zagreb, Arsenal) was a risk that backfired spectacularly just before the final whistle.
In his post-match comments, Potter admitted the risk, but played it off as one of those things that just happens in football — which is true. Also true: Chilwell didn’t have to play today. And that’s not just hindsight talking. This one feels very much like the injury equivalent of a goal conceded from a needless corner. This wasn’t necessary; this didn’t need to happen. (And even if he doesn’t get hurt, it’s still more unnecessary loading, just like the 90 minutes on Mason Mount, Trevoh Chalobah, or Jorginho.)
“[Chilwell’s] not great. Obviously, when he pulls up like that it’s a concern. Obviously, we need to scan it but it’s not positive at the moment. It’s a blow for us on an otherwise positive evening. [So] fingers crossed when we get it scanned it isn’t too bad. [He] just felt something as he was setting off. He is disappointed and upset.”
“[...] Because he didn’t play at the weekend, there was a thought he could play tonight and have enough time to recover for the weekend. So we’ve tried to manage him, but he’s never played three games in a week. He’s had to have a build-up that I think has been good for him. That’s why it’s very frustrating.
“It’s a blow for us and a blow for him. Sadly, he won’t be the only one that is affected in this period because October was incredibly challenging in terms of the games we had to play. But it is what it is.”
Adding more minutes to the legs will indeed ensure that Chilwell won’t be the only, the first, or the last one affected. It is what it is, yes, but it didn’t have to be. (And Chilwell did play at the weekend, he just didn’t start.)
So beyond that disappointment, and beyond the frustration of the lineup and the short bench, sure, it was an “otherwise positive” night. Sunshine and rainbows flying out of our butts.