Arsenal ask Premier League to call off their game at Tottenham

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Paul Currie/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Paul Currie/REX/Shutterstock
  • Arsenal heavily affected by injury, Covid and other absences

  • Premier League will meet on Saturday to consider case

Arsenal have asked the Premier League to postpone Sunday’s north London derby at Tottenham after their squad was hit by a swathe of injuries and other absences.

As many as 14 first-teamers may be unable to take part and they believe the league’s criteria for fulfilling a fixture – that a side can name a matchday squad of 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper – cannot be met.

Related: Burnley v Leicester off after Covid and injuries hit Sean Dyche’s squad

The Premier League, which earlier postponed Burnley’s game at home to Leicester on Saturday because of Covid and injuries in Sean Dyche’s squad, confirmed it had received Arsenal’s request and said: “The Premier League Board will meet tomorrow to review the application and inform both clubs and their fans of its decision.”

While Martin Ødegaard is understood to remain Arsenal’s only Covid-19 case, they have a raft of other concerns. Takehiro Tomiyasu, Emile Smith Rowe and Sead Kolasinac missed Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Liverpool with injuries, and Bukayo Saka and Cédric Soares departed early after picking up knocks. Other players are also fitness worries, with Calum Chambers thought to be among them, and the pile-up of injuries since Thursday night has swayed Arsenal to request a call-off.

Rival clubs may be unimpressed given the rest of Arsenal’s problems are rather more self-inflicted. Granit Xhaka is suspended after his red card against Liverpool while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey and Nicolas Pépé are away at the Africa Cup of Nations. They allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Folarin Balogun to depart on loan this month and were still able to name a full bench on Thursday night, even if four of their substitutes were members of a well-stocked under-21 squad.

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Should the request be granted they may be open to accusations of playing the system, but the reverse argument will be that Arsenal have been inconvenienced by what they considered a questionable postponement in the past. The semi-final first leg was originally to have been played a week previously until Liverpool requested its postponement on account of Covid-19 cases, but Jürgen Klopp later revealed many of them turned out to be false positives.

Arsenal said: “We have reluctantly taken this step but we have many players currently unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries and players away with their countries at Afcon.”

Thomas Tuchel would doubtless be among those keen to examine the authorities’ reasoning. Chelsea were refused a postponement against Wolves on 19 December despite seven Covid-19 cases in their squad and ended up drawing a game they would have expected to win.

Tuchel, asked whether some clubs were stretching the rules to the limit when citing reasons for games to be off, said: “I strongly, strongly hope that’s not the case, because otherwise I would be very, very angry. Because we are doing everything to make games happen, and we were made to play when we thought we should maybe not. So I can only strongly hope that the rules are the same for everybody.”

The Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl voiced similar frustrations in the wake of Burnley’s postponement. “They have opened the door and you cannot be surprised that someone is walking through now,” he said of the Premier League. “I cannot say anything about the Covid situation there [at Burnley] because this is normally the reason why you cancel games. You have no view, no transparency and you cannot say anything about that, the rest is speculation.”

Burnley have had four matches postponed because of Covid, although this is the first time the request has come from them. They had another fixture, against Tottenham, postponed after heavy snow, leaving them a number of games in hand on the other clubs battling to avoid relegation.

Arteta, asked earlier on Friday whether he thought the derby should be rescheduled, had said: “It’s gone the other way for us when we were ready to play a match and it was cancelled twice because the other team had issues so it can go both ways. But our intention is always to play.”

The match is a critical one for both sides in the push for a Champions League spot and there is no doubt Arsenal would rather face their rivals with a squad close to full strength, although Spurs are not untouched by injuries either and will miss the key forward Son Heung-min if the game goes ahead.

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