Premier League call off north London derby due to ‘Covid, injuries and Afcon’

Arsenal‘s request to have their match against Tottenham on Sunday postponed has been successful after the Premier League deemed that Mikel Arteta had insufficient first-team players available for the match.

The north London derby had been due to take place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, however, it has become the 20th top-flight game to be called off this season instead.

A Premier League statement, released 26 hours before the game was scheduled to kick-off, read: “With Arsenal having fewer than the required number of players available for the match (13 outfield players and one goalkeeper), the Board accepted the club’s application.

“The decision is a result of a combination of Covid-19, existing and recent injuries and players on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. All clubs are able to apply for a postponement if Covid-19 infections are a factor in their request.

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“The League apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused to supporters who would have attended or watched the game – we are fully aware that postponements disappoint clubs and fans.”

Mikel Arteta only had 12 outfield first-team players available for the game after a number of players, including Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney, suffered knocks and Granit Xhaka was sent off during Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield.

The Gunners also have four players away at the Africa Cup of Nations – Thomas Partey (Ghana), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast) and Pierre-Emerick-Aubameyang, while Martin Odegaard tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week.

However, pundits and rival fans have been quick to point out that Arsenal loaned out two first-team players – Ainsley Maitland-Niles who joined Roma and Folarin Balogun who moved to Middlesbrough – last week.

The Premier League makes decisions over Covid-related postponements on a case by case basis.

Gary Neville: This has got to stop

Speaking on Friday Night Football after Arsenal had lodged their request with the Premier League, Gary Neville stated that games should be only be called off in “extraordinary circumstances”.

“I honestly believe that all teams, not just in the Premier League but in the EFL, must be made to play fixtures,” he began. “[Folarin] Balogun has gone on loan, [Ainsley] Maitland-Niles has gone on loan, [Granit] Xhaka’s got a red card. That’s not the fault of anybody else. We can’t be calling fixtures off.

“If it was purely down to Covid and extraordinary circumstances where there were 10 or 15 players out… but we’re now talking about teams for the last few weeks where there’s no doubt that they’ve been calling games off based on whether they think they have the best squad or team to win a game. It’s got to stop.

“I have to say that’s not a dig at Arsenal, I should have spoken [about this] a few weeks ago. Manchester United, other teams, have got 30-40 players in their squad. I’m not having that they can’t get 14, 15, 16 players together.”

Jamie Carragher added: “Gary’s right, this is about the Premier League as a whole, this is not having a dig at Arsenal. Every club has done this. No other league in Europe is doing this, certainly in those big leagues [France, Germany, Italy and Spain].”

Premier League rules regarding ‘appropriately experienced players’

The latest postponement has brought the Premier League’s rules into sharp focus, including what constitutes an “appropriately experienced” player given a club must have at least 13 outfield players who fit that criteria for a match to proceed as planned.

According to the Premier League’s criteria, “appropriately experienced Under-21 players” are those who have “played for the club, another Premier League or EFL club, or an overseas club in the current season”. Youngsters who have only featured in the FA Cup 3rd round, are not deemed to be appropriately experienced.

Charlie Patino, Arsenal’s exciting 18-year-old playmaker, would have counted towards their 12 first-team players as he made his debut in the Carabao Cup quarter-final win against Sunderland last month.

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Regardless of the Premier League’s rules, Carragher believes that Premier League clubs should show more faith in their young players if first-team stars are unavailable.

“Bayern Munich played a 16-year-old in their last game, that tells you exactly where they are. Why can’t we do that? Why can’t our young players be given an opportunity in these circumstances? Everyone’s in the same boat.

“If it’s an outbreak of Covid that’s decimated a squad then I can understand. But players being at the Afcon tournament or just normal injuries, that’s got nothing to do with it. You’ve got U23 squads, younger players as well, this is an opportunity where they might get their chance.”

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