Arsenal have asked for Sunday’s north London derby to be postponed as an escalating number of injuries and absences have left Mikel Arteta with a threadbare squad.
The club said they had “reluctantly” decided to ask for the game to be rescheduled due to their rapidly growing number of unavailable players.
The Premier League board will meet on Saturday morning to review Arsenal’s application before making a final decision on the game, which is scheduled to be played at 4.30pm on Sunday.
Arsenal were then dealt another issue on Friday night, when the Gabonese Football Federation said that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not available to play in their Africa Cup of Nations match due to a potential heart issue after contracting Covid.
Aubameyang, along with two other players, was left out of the Gabon team after medical examinations showed possible heart complications. The federation said it “did not want to take any risks” with the fitness of three players who had recently contracted the virus.
Absences pile up for Arteta’s Arsenal
The absence of Aubameyang, along with three other players who are featuring in the Africa Cup of Nations, is one of the reasons for the shortage of senior players at Arsenal.
Arteta was already struggling to cope with numerous player absences ahead of Thursday’s League Cup semi-final against Liverpool, when he named four under-23 players on his bench.
Arsenal then lost Cedric Soares to an injury after 11 minutes, and it is understood that Bukayo Saka, Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney also picked up knocks at Anfield.
As of Friday night Arsenal have just one known Covid case in their squad, with playmaker Martin Odegaard absent from the Liverpool match following a positive test.
Takehiro Tomiyasu, Sead Kolasinac and Emile Smith Rowe were already missing from the team against Liverpool due to injury, and Arsenal then lost Granit Xhaka to a red card which ruled him out of this weekend’s match.
Premier League rules state that a match will be postponed if a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from its squad list or from “appropriately experienced under-21 players”.
Arsenal step up midfield recruitment after loans out
Arsenal’s shortage of players comes after they decided to loan Ainsley Mailtand-Niles to Roma and Folarin Balogun to Middlesbrough during this transfer window. They are in the process of recruiting a midfield replacement for Maitland-Niles in the shape of Juventus midfielder Arthur Melo, but that deal remains some way from completion.
Arteta made the point on Friday, before the news broke of Arsenal’s request to postpone the match, that his side have been on the other side of the argument this season.
Arsenal played their opening game of the campaign against Brentford without a series of players due to a Covid outbreak, and the first leg of their semi-final against Liverpool was postponed last week. It was thought that Liverpool had a number of Covid cases but manager Jurgen Klopp later said the situation was due to “a lot of false positives”.
Arteta admitted on Thursday night that it was a “possibility” that Sunday’s derby would be postponed. Speaking on Friday afternoon, before Arsenal made their request, Arteta was asked if he would like the game to be called off. “I don’t know, it’s difficult to say that with total honesty without assessing our players,” he said.
“But what is today very unlikely, tomorrow is likely to happen. 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 news of Arsenal’s request comes after Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl criticised the Premier League for “opening the door” to fixture postponements.
Hasenhuttl has been critical of the lack of transparency around match postponements and said there should be no surprise that teams are now looking to have games rearranged.
“They have opened the door and you cannot be surprised that someone is walking through,” said Hasenhuttl, in reference to the postponement of Burnley’s match against Leicester City.
“The Premier League has to handle this. This is why I say it that players and new signings should not be allowed to play in cancelled games when they haven’t been there before this game was due to be played. This is a problem they have and it’s hard to solve it in the moment.”