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What sprint mechanics do Arsenal's top short-burst players have in common? | Sports Scientist provides insight

A key quality for footballers - and really any sport that involves competitive, close vicinity play spread across a larger field - is acceleration, specifically across the first 5 and 10 meters. That ability can unlock so many options for a footballer because you can create separation if a defender comes too close and as a result of that, defenders will also be more weary and conservative and give more space. In either scenario, that burst is creating space whether directly or indirectly.The importance of acceleration and short burst is why footballer strength and conditioning along with sports science has placed a greater emphasis on measuring it and then training it. Further, we also have a much better understanding of what key mechanics and components make up good and great short-distance sprinters and accelerators.To that point of testing short meter burst, Arsenal’s increasingly brilliant media team gave us a look into the sports science team testing that acceleration for numerous players. Based on that video and my understanding of sprinting mechanics, there are some really interesting takeaways.The first major takeaway was looking at key similarities between two of the team’s fastest short burst players in Gabonese star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Scottish left-back Kieran Tierney.Let's take a look at two frames of each’s respective sprint. First Tierney and then Aubameyang.There’s four key things to really pay attention to during what’s called this “drive” phase:1 - Firstly, notice the torso lean on both Tierney and Aubameyang. Each is notable leaning forward (termed trunk flexion). This creates a more aerodynamic shape along with lowering the center of gravity to improve balance and overall mechanics (and it frankly just looks quite cool)2 - Secondly, notice their lead leg; specifically, look how each is driving that knee and hip upwards. This drive - mainly hip flexion - creates significant torque and horizontal force to create that powerful momentum which is needed to be an elite short burst player and accelerator3 - Thirdly, notice the back leg; specifically, how both Kieran and Auba’s back leg are nearly straight with the hip extending back (hip extension), the knee straightening (knee extension) and the ankle extending (ankle plantar flexion). This position is termed “triple extension” and is a key mechanic that many mechanics coaches and sprint coaches look at to help generate that powerful forward propulsion.4 - Last but not least, note each player’s arms. Not only are they driving hard with those arms but they are coordinated with their opposite leg (this called “contralateral arm swing”). This powerful, counterbalanced motion is key in generating acceleration force for elite level sprinters.I really wish we had footage of Nuno Tavares as well to compare here because his short meter burst is also brilliant. I haven’t seen his testing metrics but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the fastest on the team in that regard.However, we work with what we’re given. So let's take the examples of Tierney and Aubameyang and compare them to some other players. Firstly, central midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga.Advert InsertedBefore I go into detail, what differences do you see here on the four metrics I mentioned above?Three things immediately stick out to me. One, he’s more upright than Tierney and especially Aubameyang. Second, his knee and hip drive is significantly lower (notice how low the knee is). Thirdly, look at how the lower body is almost twisting inwards here (if you don’t see it, look at the angle of the knee).For an even more exaggerated example of that, look at this first step acceleration from central midfielder Martin Ødegaard.Martin’s entire lower body - from the hips to the knees to the ankles - are nearly pointing to the right. His left knee drive is almost at a 45-degree angle!Why is this important? Acceleration and short distance burst are all about straight-line efficiency and horizontal propulsion. These rotations from Sambi and Ødegaard creates noise in that movement and create multiple vectors going in different directions rather than everything moving in that straight-line, thus impacting speed.That being said, these mechanics and components are just principles and not the end-all be-all of speed. There’s plenty of examples of fast short burst players who don’t have ideal mechanics because each person has a different movement pattern and comfort level.However, what this type of analysis can do is potentially help players who have short burst deficits by picking out major outliers in their mechanics or simply helping them with “low hanging fruit” changes. For example, telling Ødegaard here to imagine he’s kicking his knee through someone’s stomach in front of him (called “external cueing”) to generate that mechanic and potentially help with acceleration.Hopefully, you enjoyed this piece because I had a blast writing it. Until next time.Fin. COYG.Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement expert, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA and online based physiotherapy and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, is an avid Gooner since 1995, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts a variety of Gunners’ related content).