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Arsenal may seek North London Derby postponement

The Gunners are right on the threshold of not having enough players available.


UPDATE: Arsenal have officially requested that the North London Derby be postponed with an official decision to be made tomorrow, per the Daily Mail.

UPDATE #2: Arsenal have released a statement, and the Premier League have confirmed receipt of the club’s request. From Arsenal:

We have reluctantly taken this step but we have many players currently unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries and players away with their countries at AFCON. PL will make a decision tomorrow.

UPDATE #3: Per reports, Kieran Tierney, Calum Chambers, and Bukayo Saka (in addition to Cedric who had to be substituted off early in the first half) all picked up knocks against Liverpool. By my count Arsenal have 9 fully fit, senior outfield players, 2 keepers, and Charlie Patino, who I believe counts as an eligible player for getting to 13 + 1.

Arsenal are currently in discussions with the Premier League about postponing Sunday’s North London Derby at Tottenham, according to Nick Ames of the The Guardian. The Gunners are quite close to not being able to meet the 13 available players + 1 keeper threshold that was announced as one of the standards for postponement in early December. But that threshold is not the be-all, end-all for determining whether a match will be pushed back. It is one of six factors that are all weighed on a case-by-case basis.

  1. The impact of COVID-19 infections on a club’s squad, as well as injuries, illness and those isolating, and the number of players available on the squad list and any Under-21 players with appropriate experience. Where a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players, the match will be postponed.
  2. The status of any COVID-19 outbreak within a club, including the number of individuals affected, the sequence and source of infections and their proximity to the match in question.
  3. A club’s ability to safely prepare its players in the lead-up to a match
  4. Medical advice as to whether there is any unacceptable risk to the health and safety of players and staff by playing the match.
  5. Any advice from UK Health Security Agency and other public bodies.
  6. Any other exceptional circumstances.

As we know, Arsenal have four players currently at AFCON. Add to that injuries, including ones that may have been picked up against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, and the known COVID-positives, and Arsenal are a player or two away from not having enough eligible senior players to play the match. Here are the current absences:

  1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — AFCON
  2. Thomas Partey — AFCON
  3. Nicolas Pépé — AFCON
  4. Mohamed Elneny — AFCON
  5. Martin Ødegaard — COVID-19
  6. Emile Smith Rowe — groin
  7. Takehiro Tomiyasu — calf
  8. Sead Kolasinac — hamstring
  9. Cedric Soares — hip (?) picked up against Liverpool
  10. Bukayo Saka — status unknown, walked off gingerly against Liverpool

Plus, as we have seen with other squads, positive COVID cases don’t usually happen in isolation. If someone has tested positive, either player or staff, there are likely more positive tests coming down the line. We know that Martin Ødegaard recently tested positive, and there have been other cases among the players and staff. It’s not unlikely there will be another positive test or two between now and Sunday.

Although it is not clear how Granit Xhaka’s suspension factors into the count of eligible players, he is not available to face Tottenham either. And Pablo Mari, who currently counts towards the required total, could be headed to Udinese on loan any day.

By my count of just the players listed on the first team roster on, the Gunners do not have enough senior players to meet the requirements, assuming that Bukayo Saka is available but Tomiyasu, ESR, Kolasinac, and Cedric are not. My understanding is that Charlie Patino, because he started against Nottingham Forest, does count as an eligible under-21 player that would be counted towards the required 13 + 1 total. So Arsenal are right on the edge of having enough players. If Bukayo Saka or anybody else can’t play, I don’t think they meet the threshold.

We’ll put aside any discussion of whether it might be better to face Spurs with Heung-min Son and Eric Dier unavailable because that’s not really relevant to whether Arsenal can meet the minimum roster requirements. But for what it’s worth, I think Arsenal would be better off to face Spurs sometime later this season with both squads closer to full availability.

I would not be surprised in the slightest if the North London Derby is postponed.