Let’s start with the news that our Carabao Cup semi-final opposition is Liverpool, after they beat Leicester last night. On paper, it means a game at home and a game away, but the suggestion is it might a single game is still out there. Jurgen Klopp seems in favour:
I think we can all understand why. I don’t know if that managers’ meeting with the PL tomorrow is in any way relevant though, and if I were in charge of Man United, West Ham or Sp*rs (I wouldn’t be, of course, because I am not a complete twat), then I’d be very keen for both Arsenal and Liverpool to play two legs in January when the schedule is already pretty hectic.
I don’t know what the decision making process regarding the possibility of playing the semis over one game would be. I suspect it’s a bit more complicated than we might think. The broadcasters would have to give up a game, there might be financial implications too in that regard, not to mention some stuff about the sponsors not getting as much exposure/air-time as they have paid for. Still, these are fairly extraordinary circumstances and one might hope that the vested interests make a decision with the welfare of players and fans first, before any monetary considerations.
[pause for laughter].
It was interesting to read Jordan Henderson’s interview with the BBC where he made it quite clear what he thinks:
I am concerned that nobody really takes player welfare seriously. I think decisions get made – of course we want to play, as footballers we want to get out there and play – but I am worried about player welfare and I don’t think anybody does take that seriously enough, especially in this period, when Covid is here. At the minute I don’t feel the players get the respect they deserve in terms of having somebody being able to speak for them independently and having the power to say actually this isn’t right for player welfare.
He was backed by his own manager, as you would expect, but Mikel Arteta was asked about it at his press conference yesterday, and said:
Without the players, we can do nothing, so we have to really listen to the players because they are the ones that have to be there. When they start to say something like that, I think we have to really really listen with open ears because we don’t want to damage the product and the incredible league that we have.
As it stands, Arsenal had four players missing from the last game through illness. We have two games in 48 hours on Sunday then Tuesday, and after that we lose another four players when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe go to the AFCON. In fact, we might lose them between games. I asked the club yesterday if they had clarity on those departures, and the answer was no because the various FAs have their own dates etc. I suspect this might be a case of not giving away any team news before the Norwich and Wolves games, but if you add a couple of fatigue based injuries on top of that, a suspension here or there, and the very real possibility of more Covid cases, you could see very easily how a squad could become depleted.
Does that then make an impact on January plans? Does it make a possible arrival more pressing? Might it affect the situation with regards to Folarin Balogun, for example, who is earmarked for a loan, but if numbers dwindle, do we need to hang onto him just in case – at least until the end of the month? I guess it’ll all come out in the wash, but there might be decisions which look odd that could be explained quite simply by the extraordinary circumstances we’re living in.
And on the possibility of games being played behind closed doors again, Arteta said:
We will play like we have to play, what I’m saying is that obviously nobody wants to go back to where we were because we’ve already experienced it and it’s not something we enjoyed a lot, but if we have to carry on doing that, of course, we will. Football is all about sharing it with people and having fans around the stadiums and when it is not, it is a completely different sport and the competition gets lost. It is not the same.
When you consider how good our home form has been this season, it would be a shame, because there is a very real connection between the fans and this team. So, let’s wait and see what happens over the festive period, and keep fingers crossed that people stay safe and healthy and this kind of edict doesn’t come down from England’s wildest party house, 10 Downing Street.
Finally, some chatter about Aubameyang and Arsenal being open to offers for him in January. Arteta wouldn’t be drawn on the captain’s potential participation against Norwich, but it doesn’t look likely. Then he’s off to AFCON. Whether that’s a time to build bridges or for the chasm to grow ever wider remains to be seen. The issue is, where could he go? I sort of laughed off the idea of Barcelona, but they seem to have won the lottery and are now about to pay £45m for Ferran Torres from Man City, so maybe they can stretch for Aubameyang to replace the recently retired Sergio Aguero? I dunno.
What would be very clear though is that if he did go, and we didn’t replace him, we’d have a significant problem on our hands for the final part of the season. There simply isn’t enough depth and quality in that position to sanction his departure without bringing someone else in. It’s all too complicated for my brain this morning, so I’m going to leave it there.
There’s a brand new Arsecast to listen to below, catch you tomorrow.