Thursday, May 30, 2024

Liverpool postponed, fixture congestion, and a nonsensical FA charge

We begin this morning with the postponement of the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg which the EFL ‘reluctantly’ agreed to yesterday after Liverpool reported an ‘ever-increasing number of Covid cases’.

They closed their training ground, and EFL said:

Having now fully reviewed the circumstances involved, the League has accepted Liverpool’s request after determining, albeit reluctantly, that a postponement was the only option as the Club looks to mitigate against the further risk of infection amongst its squad and staff alongside ensuring public health was protected by not travelling from Liverpool to London.

At this point I think everyone understands the impact the pandemic and the new variant is having on society and increasingly on sport. For me, at least, the frustration is the lack of transparency regarding the numbers when it comes to games being postponed. Even though Arsenal have made public the names of players who have been absent through Covid, some might feel it’s an invasion of a private health matter, which is fine, but surely it should be possible to make public the actual number of players/staff etc who have confirmed cases of Covid via a PCR test. As long as that remains opaque, fans will have questions – and let’s not forget Arsenal were made to play the opening game of the season without key players because of Covid.

When games are being called off and fans inconvenienced (in more ways than one), talk of ‘suspected’ cases isn’t really good enough. I know these are difficult times we’re living in, and there’s been an element of rolling with the punches when it comes to the pandemic, but we’re nearly at the two year mark with Covid. This isn’t a new thing anymore. Football and other sports should have thought more deeply about how to deal with new waves of infection and the impact it would have. Maintaining the integrity of the sport should have been high on that list; there should have been clear guidelines from the start as to thresholds for postponement and all the rest; and right now the lack of those things, or the vagueness around them, is feeding into the frustration fans already feel.

The Carabao Cup games have been rescheduled. The first leg taking place at Anfield next Thursday January 13th, with the second leg the following Thursday, January 20th. Between them we have a North London derby away from home, and then the Burnley game which was supposed to take place on Saturday January 22nd being moved to Sunday January 23rd. I asked why the second semi-final couldn’t have taken place on the Wednesday of that week so as not to further inconvenience all the fans who had made travel plans, trains, flights, hotels etc for the Burnley game, and was told ‘to avoid clashing with PL games’.

As yet, there are no Premier League games scheduled for that midweek, so it remains to be seen what we would have clashed with. I was subsequently very reliably informed that even without the Carabao Cup games shifting, there was a strong likelihood Burnley would have been moved anyway, discussions had started about that, so your guess as to when that would have been communicated is as good as mine. I had a lot of messages from fans whose plans for that match have been scuppered because of this. Some can salvage it at great expense, for others it’s not doable and the distances some have to travel make it impossible.

We all get the disruption a pandemic can cause, but last minute decisions which are not based on disruption demonstrate how much fans are an afterthought to those doing the scheduling. It’s worth remembering that we have two other postponed Premier League games that have to jammed into the calendar: the home game against Wolves which was due to take place on December 28th, and a trip to Chelsea which was called off because of their involvement in the Fifa Club World Cup earlier in the season.

Then we have the ludicrous FA charge leveled at Arsenal which was announced yesterday. It relates to our behaviour in the 59th minute after Gabriel was sent off. I watched this again a number of times yesterday, and from the broadcast footage, I am utterly stumped as to why we’ve been censured for this. Gabriel reacts, aghast at the red card, and is understandably upset by it. He tries to talk to the referee, Alexandre Lacazette pushes him away, and in less than 45 seconds he has walked off the pitch.

There are some Arsenal players talking to the referee. Martin Odegaard is there, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney, and Thomas Partey too. You can clearly see Lacazette gently moving Odegaard away as he looks to speak to the ref in his role as captain. Gabriel sarcastically applauds the fourth official as he goes off, but this is not a charge specific to him – it’s ‘players’. Broadcast footage cuts to the ref talking and explaining to Xhaka, Lacazette and Saka, what has happened (in his own mind at least).

This is now just 60 seconds after the red card was issued, and it’s pretty calm, all things considered. Arsenal have had a contentious penalty awarded against them and had a man sent off, but there’s no aggression towards the referee. They are simply talking to him, and as much as possible in those circumstances, protocol has been followed. The captain is doing most of it, the captain very clearly pushed away the man sent off, and the reaction is nothing more than you see week in, week out in the Premier League when teams are wound-up – perfectly understandably – by a referee’s decision. Not to mention that the referee himself didn’t book anyone else during this period, so nothing said or done in that time can have been particularly egregious.

So, why have Arsenal been charged with failing ‘to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion’?

I guarantee you, you could go through countless incidents this season and find clubs and players who have behaved worse and not been charged. Is it because Lacazette spoke about the decisions after the game? Is it because there was such furore online over the standard of officiating that the PGMOL have closed ranks to show that if you criticise one of our boys, this is what you’ll get? I’m not one for refereeing conspiracies, but as I’ve said this week  – and many times in the past – there is a necessary discussion about their accountability, the standard of the work they do, and this 100% makes that even more the case.

It can’t possibly be any more than a fine, but I hope as and when we do pay it there’s some kind of statement about it. I’ll say this though, if you’re Mikel Arteta and you’re looking to grow the seeds of the ‘us against them’ nature of how this last week has gone, this nonsense, along with postponements and fixture congestion which seems to have hit us harder than most, would really give you plenty to work with.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Despite there being nothing to preview in the end, we did a preview podcast over on Patreon, and I’ll be back here tomorrow with more on the blog and a brand new Arsecast. Until then, take it easy.

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