Arsenal Football Club is a highly successful English football team, having won the First Division/Premier League 13 times, the FA Cup a record 14 times, and the League Cup twice. However, despite their successes, they have not finished top of the Premier League since the 2003-04 season. This is set to change with the imminent success of the team, partly due to a massive investment in technology.
In today’s world, all sports teams do everything legally possible to gain an edge over their opponents. With teams of scientists, doctors, and nutritionists spending countless hours preparing and repairing players for each game, even a 1% gain in performance can be the difference between winning and losing. Since Arsene Wegner managed the first team, Arsenal has focused on the science behind nutrition. Wegner famously banned tomato ketchup from the club’s canteen and was ultra-strict on players consuming alcohol. More recently, Arsenal has invested in cutting-edge technology in all aspects of the business, from ticket sales to play scouting, and it looks to be paying off.
Arsenal is currently the clear favorite to win the Premier League this season. However, they have not always been the frontrunner in European football’s top-tier competition. Since finishing as runners-up to Leicester City in 2015-16, Arsenal has failed to finish higher than fifth place, resulting in missing out on qualification for the potentially lucrative UEFA Champions League. The club’s fortunes are turning, and they find themselves eight points clear at the top of the table with only ten games of the schedule remaining.
While manager Mikel Arteta and his squad of talented players are receiving plaudits for their performances on the pitch, dozens of unsung heroes work tirelessly behind the scenes. They ensure the club runs smoothly, and the coaching and medical staff have as much information as possible to assist them. Christelle Heikkila is Arsenal’s IT director, a highly intelligent woman in charge of the London club’s technology division.
Under Heikkila’s stewardship, Arsenal has installed numerous safety-based technologies, including facial recognition software that helps make the 60,704-capacity Emirates Stadium as safe as possible. However, the technology Heikkila’s team uses to help the football side of the business works wonders, although Heikkila and Arsenal are secretive about what that technology monitors and analyses.
Many sports reporters and technology news websites have attempted to squeeze information from Heikkila, but she and her team remain vague in their answers, fearful they will disclose something that their opponents can use against them. A couple of years ago, Heikkila spoke to the Standard newspaper. She revealed that Arsenal uses technology to monitor players’ performance during training and football matches and does so in minute detail. The coaching staff knows how far a player runs, how fast they run, how many twists and turns they perform, and when they head or kick the ball. Arsenal’s coaches know precisely where their players are on the field at any time and down to a centimeter or two.
The Premier League champions-elect also use complex algorithms to work out if players need additional rest. At the same time, other mathematical formulas help the recruitment team in their initial search for new talent to improve an already impressive roster of elite-level footballers. Heikkel explained in her interview, “Computers are now doing things people in the past could have only dreamt of. We are now able to collate disparate sources of data and find patterns and relationships in that data. We have huge computing power, and we now have sophisticated algorithms.”
With how Arsenal has performed for the past 18 months, it is no wonder that everyone associated with the club is embracing the technology it has at its disposal. However, it is equally obvious why that technology is being kept close to people’s chests. It obviously works, and an increasing number of teams are now playing catch up with Arsenal, not only on the pitch but in the technology race.