The only place to start this morning is Arsenal’s application to the Premier League to have Sunday’s North London derby postponed. The official statement reads:
We can confirm we have made an application to the Premier League for the postponement of Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur.
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.
We will provide more information as soon as it’s available.
The Premier League board are meeting today to make a decision, and you’d imagine they’ll be doing that as early as possible. Obviously there has been a reaction, Sp*rs are said to be ‘angry’, I’m sure fans are disgruntled too, and across the media – via my Twitter timeline at least – there has been far more coverage of this application for a proposal than any of the other actual postponements which happened.
Gary Neville, having spoken about it at length on TV last night said, Tweeted, “This is not about Arsenal but all teams should be made to play from now on in the PL and EFL. Also why has the decision been delayed until today when the request was last night at 6.30pm. Fans will be setting off from all over the place and will be in limbo!”
I completely understand the last part, there’s no reason why the Premier League board couldn’t have convened last night and made a decision. On the first point though, I have to disagree. This is a mess of the Premier League’s making. They have set a precedent with previous decisions, and you can’t then shift the goalposts mid-season.
Let me be clear: I think very strongly that unless a club has an outbreak of Covid cases which affect the numbers of players available (for all the obvious reasons), the games should go ahead. Clubs have Academies, they have players who could help them fulfil the fixtures. However, the Premier League have fudged the whole Covid issue from the start. There was never any clarity as to what the threshold for a postponement was. Games were being called off and we had no idea what the rules were.
Then we were told it had to be 13 players, or whatever it is, but again there was no transparency to the decisions that were being made. Games were postponed and maybe there were some Covid cases, but often it was Covid + injuries + suspension + other absences and these applications were granted. From the very start there should have been clear guidelines around an issue that anybody with a brain could see was going to crop up again.
We have been in the clutches of a pandemic for nearly two years now. As society opened up with the benefit of vaccines etc, it was inevitable that a highly transmissible virus was going to penetrate the bubble that allowed football to carry on when everyone else was locked down. We knew of the possibility of more waves, of variants. Neville said that he should have spoken out about this three or four weeks ago, and that’s right to an extent. When you do it now, having more or less ignored all the other postponements, it doesn’t sound credible. Especially when you’re speaking into a Sky Sports microphone, the rights holders who have a vested interest in a big London derby going ahead on Sunday. And even more when you have little to say about Burnley’s game with Leicester actually being called off at the same time as our application was made.
Look at all the fixtures at the top of this page which need to be rearranged. Where was that energy for all of those? But this really isn’t about a former footballer who loved to moan having a moan in front of the camera because he loves moaning. It shouldn’t be on Gary Neville to have said something three or four weeks ago. This is a mess of the Premier League’s making, because of their ostrich like approach to Covid and the impact it might have on the football calendar. An ad-hoc/make it up as you go along approach to dealing with a pandemic isn’t smart. There should have been high level discussions about various potential scenarios and what the response would be. There should have been absolute transparency and clarity to the guidelines and the decision making process. There wasn’t, and here we are.
So while I understand the frustration – because Arsenal have had fixtures postponed on us too – we’re only doing what other teams have done. The Premier League have allowed clubs to game the system and while I’m not saying that’s right, you can’t change the rules mid-season just because a high profile Super Sunday fixture is in jeopardy.
The final thing I’ll say is this: over the last few weeks, Mikel Arteta’s messaging has been really clear. He said over and over that he wants to play the games. Let’s not forget that we had to face Man City without our manager and a number of his staff on the sideline. We have had positive Covid cases for around 8-10 players over the last few weeks (if my maths is right), and we’ve fulfilled those fixtures. So, for everyone to start clutching their pearls and heading for the fainting couches because we’ve requested a postponement is a bit much if you ask me.
As for what decision the Premier League will come to, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the bleating from Sky Sports’ shop-steward has an impact and we have to play. If that’s the case, so be it, but it won’t be forgotten how there appear to be different rules for some than others. Let’s see.
We’ll bring you the news on that decision on Arseblog News as soon as we get it. For now, enjoy your Saturday.