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Arsenal must navigate player absences next season

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Summer competitions will disrupt training camp. AFCON will disrupt early 2022.

Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

One thing that football during COVID-times did not have to contend with was international tournaments fouling up the schedule and player availability. There were no summer 2020 international competitions to delay players returning to their clubs for training camp, and it was an off-year for the Africa Cup of Nations. That will not be the case next season.

Arsenal have four players likely to represent their country at Euro 2020 — Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney, Bernd Leno, and Bukayo Saka. The tournament runs from June 11th to July 11th, with a round of warm-up international friendlies that begins less than a week after the Premier League season ends. Read: those four will go directly from Matchday 38 to national team camp without any time off. Generally, players have 4-5 weeks of vacation guaranteed in their contracts. As we’ve seen in the past, depending on how far their respective countries advance in the tournament, that group will probably not be available when the Premier League season kicks off on August 14th because they’ll be just getting back into training with the club.

Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Magalhaes are in an arguably worse position as far as Arsenal are concerned. Both have been called into camp for Brazil’s summer Olympic team (reminder men’s Olympic soccer is U-24 with 3 overage players). Obviously, that’s great for the players, but less so for the club. That tournament doesn’t end until August 7th, one week before the Premier League season begins. The “good” news for Arsenal’s Brazilian pair is that they’ll have had their vacation before the Olympics and should be able to rejoin the club after whatever additional time off Mikel Arteta gives them. But they’re going to miss the start of the season.

Lucas Torreira, if he’s still an Arsenal player come next season, will be in a similar boat with Uruguay competing in Copa America 2021. And if Arsenal sign any national team players this summer, it’ll be the same for them.

The national team players will definitely miss out on Arsenal’s mid-July training trip to Scotland with scheduled friendlies against Rangers and a yet-to-be announced club. They will miss out on some or all of training camp, some of which may take place in the United States. And they will not be available for the reported charity friendlies against Chelsea and Tottenham in early August.

The other Premier League teams will have to deal with similar disruption and player availability issues. But not having key players available for training camp will be particularly harmful for Mikel Arteta, who has yet to have a normal training camp or season as a manager. It’s tough to teach / work on a new system and new habits if a handful of projected starters aren’t able to attend the lessons.

Next season is also an Africa Cup of Nations year, so the top African players in the Premier League will be unavailable from early January 2022 through the start of February. AFCON wasn’t a big issue for Arsenal in 2019 because the competition only took fringe contributors Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi away from the club. This season, however, AFCON will see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pépé, and Mohamed Elneny all miss time. Obviously, the first three will be big misses for the Gunners, no disrespect meant to Mo Elneny.

That the season will be disrupted and players will miss time is weirdly reassuring — it’s a sign that football and the world are moving back towards some semblance of normal. Yes, Arsenal and other clubs will be inconvenienced, and it may affect the Gunners more than some of their competition, but that’s football. Mikel Arteta should be used to disruption and oddities by now.