Monday, January 17, 2022

Arteta’s positive Covid test + Maitland-Niles/Roma

Morning all, hope everyone’s all right.

Let’s start with the big news that Mikel Arteta has tested positive for Covid and will now miss the Man City game as he is isolating. It’s obviously far from ideal, and I have to say managers missing games because of this virus is a sidebar to the whole situation we haven’t really given too much thought to.

In the past, we’ve seen managers miss games through illness, so I don’t know why this should feel any different to that, but it does – to me at least. Patrick Vieira and Steven Gerrard have missed Crystal Palace and Aston Villa fixtures of late, and it doesn’t sit right with me. One manager testing positive for Covid isn’t as much of a blow as six players, for example, but they are important figures. You have a squad of 25 but only one manager/head coach. Yes, they have assistants, and I’m sure Steve Round and Albert Stuivenberg are capable of standing in for one game, but it’s another thing which chips away at the integrity of the competition for me.

The issue with Arteta isn’t simply about not being at the Emirates on Saturday to be on the sideline for 90 minutes. Given this announcement came on Wednesday, he’ll be out of training on Thursday and Friday, key preparation days for the weekend game. It doesn’t make it impossible to implement his game plan, his organisation, his team selection and all the rest, but it’s a layer of complication he, and everyone else I’m sure, could do without – especially given the opposition.

The other aspect of this is that surely the manager has been in close contact with almost all of the players and staff during this period, so there’s a very real possibility of further transmission and more positive cases, which might then put the game in some doubt. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Pablo Mari, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Cedric, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers, and Takehiro Tomiyasu test positive for Covid and miss games because of that. Thankfully we’ve been able to cope, but if we had a clutch of new cases which ruled out a core of more important players, I don’t think we would.

As ever in these weird times we live in, things can move fast. Right now, there’s no suggestion the game could be off, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went that way. There was a press conference due today at 1.30 but that has been rescheduled to the same time tomorrow, perhaps to see what the lie of the land is. What’s clear is that given the sharp rise in positive Covid cases across society in general, the disruption to the fixture list in the Premier League is likely to continue for some time yet.

Let’s see what happens, and best wishes to Arteta whose symptoms are described as ‘mild’.

Elsewhere, transfer rumours will start to take hold as we head towards the January window – although as I noted recently, I suspect this will be the most complicated mid-season transfer market ever with clubs less willing to do business as the outside influence on player availability because of Covid has an impact on squads and decision making.

There’s a lot of chatter about Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Roma, and while that does make some sense on a surface level, it’s surely not something that could happen until the very end of the month at least. Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are off to AFCON, leaving us with just Granit Xhaka, Lokonga and Maitland-Niles as recognised central midfield options. With two cup semi-finals, an FA Cup game, a North London derby, and the visit of Burnley to deal with between January 1st and 22nd, it’s impossible to see any logic in that deal happening during that period.

Afterwards, perhaps. Despite the fact he’s played and started a few games this season, he still has just 263 minutes of Premier League action from the 1710 we’ve played. He’s out of contract in 2023, and if there’s money on the table from anywhere, it’s probably going to be considered. His presence in the squad has been useful: when Partey/Xhaka were absent, he stepped in and did pretty well, so there was some sense in having him as an option, and there may be some sense in maintaining that until the end of this campaign. The only way I could understand us sanctioning a January deal is if we were going to bring someone else in.

Speaking last week, Arteta said of January additions:

If you can tweak what you need to in that period, which is not easy, it would be really helpful. We are working on that to see the necessities we can have, and whether we can find the right solutions to that.

An Odegaard style loan next month would be lovely, but those are hard to find. You could just as easily end up with a Denis Suarez situation, and Josh Kroenke needs to ensure that Edu doesn’t fire up his Kia connection again and do something stupid like Coutinho (🎶and then he went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like Cout-iiii-nhoooooo🎶). It will be a big challenge to find the right addition, but unless we do, we can’t let anyone go, even if they are somewhat down the current pecking order. Injuries and suspensions are a reality we’ll have to face, so it’s got to play a part in our decision making.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. Back tomorrow, until then stay safe and stay healthy.

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