Arsenal’s home match against Wolves on December 28th has been postponed because of the combination of COVID cases and injuries have left Bruno Lage’s side without the minimum 13 outfield players + one keeper available. Wolves had not had any new cases since positive tests forced the postponement of their Boxing Day match against Liverpool, but they do not have enough players out of isolation.
It’s tough to say whether the postponement is a good or a bad thing for Arsenal. Not having to play a rested side (Wolves haven’t played since the 19th) on 48 hours rest is good, especially with Arsenal having no natural right backs available because of COVID cases in the squad (Chambers, Tomiyasu, Maitland-Niles, and Cedric are have all tested positive). That said, Wolves are in middling to poor form and playing an injury-depleted roster and would likely have proven a comfortable three points for the Gunners at the Emirates. Later in the season with January additions, a healthy roster, and potentially in better form, Wolves could prove a more difficult task.
Arsenal are in good form right now, and you’d hope that momentum would carry over into the Wolves match on Tuesday. The Gunners may not be in great form whenever the match ends up rescheduled. Or maybe even with that momentum, a tired and rotated Arsenal squad drops points against Wolves that they’d pick up under better circumstances. It also gives Arsenal time for the COVID-positive players to clear protocol and miss fewer matches in isolation.
At some point, it becomes silly to play the “what if” game. This is the hand the clubs, the Premier League, and the world have been dealt. We’ve all got to do the best we can under tough circumstances.
The health and safety of the players, which includes containing COVID-19 outbreaks at clubs, is rightly the top priority in the postponements that have hit the Premier League hard. It took the league too long to define and lay out what their rules for postponements would be, but I think they’re trying to do their best and keep players, staff, and fans safe.
Sidenote #1: I don’t think that clubs should be allowed to use players purchased during the January window in rescheduled matches originally set to take place before the transfer period opened. I’d make an exception for when an added player would make the difference between having the requisite number of players to avoid a second postponement, but beyond that, it feels like a fairness issue.
Sidenote #2: I don’t love that the Premier League policy for match postponement accounts for player injuries too. I have no problem with postponing matches if you’ve got a COVID outbreak at the club. But injuries are part of the sport. You don’t always have your first choice XI available. Sometimes you have to play squad players or call up U23s to fill in. Of course, at some number of players out it becomes untenable. The Premier League has decided that point is 13 + 1 players with the call-up standards they’ve set. The rules are the same for everybody, so that’s what the clubs have to deal with.
Sidenote #3: “we care about health and safety” is a bit of a tough sell when you look at the fixture congestion in December, especially during the Christmas period. Forcing players to play three matches in a week or five matches in 15 days or whatever nonsense it is doesn’t read as “I’m concerned about our players,” at least not for me.
As of posting, 15 matches have been delayed since Brighton vs. Tottenham was postponed on December 12th. The Premier League, with its comparatively player vaccination rate, has been affected the most of all the leagues in Europe.
Wolves announced early in the season that their squad and coaching staff are fully vaccinated. For my money, their current outbreak is a strong sign that the Omicron variant is no joke. Wolves’ outbreak is also a reminder to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as you can. There have been no reports of Wolves players suffering serious illness from COVID nor any hospitalizations. The vaccines work. They save lives.