England continues to pay the price of playing through the winter

While Italy, Spain and France took a break, clubs in the English league played on – at some cost to most parties concerned

Try telling Arsène Wenger and Theo Walcott that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Arsenal, despite having won all four of their matches between Boxing Day and 4 January, sustained six injuries to first-team players during a period in which some argue no football should be played at all.

The problem of losing players at this time is widespread across the Premier League. Arsenal are the club that have been most hit in recent weeks but a total 44 players in the top flight were forced out during the winter slog as the strain of the fixture schedule took its toll.

The statistic is damning evidence that playing four matches in the space of nine hectic days can have a hugely detrimental effect, both physically and mentally. As the rest of Europe enjoys an annual footballing hiatus, Premier League squads are stretched to their limits.

Perhaps Walcott's injury sustained last weekend against Tottenham in the FA Cup cannot be blamed directly on the fixture pile-up. While the majority of knocks and strains during this period are muscle-related, as players overstretch and overwork themselves, Walcott's knee ligament damage was the result of a tackle on Danny Rose.

However, his injury, which rules the forward out for six months and means he will yet again miss out on a World Cup, is symbolic of the risk faced by all clubs in English football at this time.

Only two Premier League sides escaped the nine days that followed Boxing Day without reports of fresh injuries. Ironically Manchester City, who arguably have the strongest and deepest squad in the division, were one of those while Crystal Palace also emerged unscathed. Spurs were just behind Arsenal after picking up four injuries between 26 December and 4 January, while six clubs saw three of their players forced out during that time.

Fifteen of the 44 players injured are eligible for England. Roy Hodgson will now be coming to terms with the news that he will have to do without Walcott in Brazil this summer, with the risk that more could join him on the sidelines before the end of the season.

Hodgson is just one of many recent England managers who have called for a winter break. Last year, he said: "It would be lovely to think that one day we could all get together and say: 'England is important.'"

Hodgson lost almost a fifth of his entire squad to injury before Euro 2012, while at the end of December more than half of his potential starting players were out of action. In July last year, Fabio Capello said: "In my opinion the football played in the first half of the English season is much better than in the second half. It's like when you're driving a car: if you stop halfway to put fuel in then you'll definitely get where you want to go, but if you don't then there's always the chance you'll be running on empty before you reach your goal."

In Spain and Italy, both La Liga and Serie A took two weeks out from 22 December before resuming while in Germany the Bundesliga clubs are able to enjoy a month off to recharge their batteries. In France, players are granted three weeks away.

The calls for a winter break at this time of the season feel like Groundhog Day, with the clear benefits for such a period often countered with the argument that the festive schedule is an integral part of English football's tradition.

There have never been any concrete talks to establish a winter break, although it remains to be seen if the FA's commission looking into the future of English football decides it is paramount to the national team's future success. Even then, there would need to be a lengthy negotiation process with the Premier League as to how and when it would actually be staged.

In reality, the prospect is extremely unlikely. The Premier League benefits from increased exposure when other European leagues shut down for Christmas and the fact that England is committed to the FA Cup and League Cup means options are limited. There is also nothing to stop clubs using a break for commercial benefits, with Real Madrid playing a friendly match against Paris Saint-Germain in Doha at the beginning of January.

The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, said recently: "Unless someone is prepared to give something up, it is pretty hard. We are not inclined to reduce the number of clubs in the Premier League – if you were running a theatre and had 380 nights that you wanted to sell, why would you throw 60 or 70 of those nights away? As for the FA, they don't want to give up replays in the FA Cup, so we all sit down and we all look at each other."

That may prove to be little consolation for Arsenal. Bayern Munich, their opponents in the Champions League second round in February, will have gone 41 days without a league fixture when they return to action against Borussia Mönchengladbach. During that time, Arsenal will have played eight times in all.

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