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Arsenal abusing the rules? Why North London Derby postponement fury is laughable

10:30 GMT 16/01/2022
Mikel Arteta
The Gunners saw their request to cancel their latest Premier League outing granted, but the decision has sparked controversy

The North London Derby.

It’s a day that Arsenal and Spurs fans wait all year for. But they are going to have to wait a little longer for the second meeting of the season between the two sides after Sunday’s highly-anticipated clash was called off after Arsenal requested a postponement.

It's a request that was granted after a Premier League board meeting on Saturday, with the official announcement coming around 24 hours before the game was due to kick off.

“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,” a statement from the Premier League said.

“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.”

It’s a decision that has generated plenty of anger, with fans, pundits and members of the media all having their say and taking aim at Arsenal.

“Abusing the rules,” former Spurs midfielder Jamie O’Hara fumed on social media.

“Sent players on loan a week ago then ask for games to get called off.

“Disgrace from the Premier League, meant to set the standard for every other league and it’s a shambles.”

O’Hara wasn’t the only ex-Spurs player to be spitting feathers.

Micky Hazard blasted: “Premier League, how weak are you? Shocking decision.

“Forget about fans who have travelled at great expense from afar, paid for flights and hotels, because they chose to loan their players out.

“I hope the fans get together and sue you for their losses. You deserve nothing less.”

Clearly, both O’Hara and Hazard have a vested interest given their allegiances, but plenty of others have joined in by painting Arsenal as the villains in this story.

But it’s not Arsenal who should be being blamed for this increasingly messy situation. It’s the Premier League.

They are the ones who set the rules, so why are Arsenal now being hammered for following them?

It’s not like they have done it time and time again. In fact, this is the first time they have had a game called off during the pandemic at their own request.

When they have tried previously, such as ahead of the Brentford game on the opening weekend of the season, they had their request rejected and were forced to play with a severely depleted squad who had had their preparations massively disrupted by a major Covid outbreak at London Colney.

Arsenal are not a club who have ever tried to cheat the system, as so many seem to be suggesting.

Throughout the past few months, they have done all they could to ensure games go ahead, while clubs all around them have been requesting games to be called off left, right and centre.

Since December 21, Arsenal have had 12 first-team players suffering from Covid - as well as countless members of the coaching staff.

Not once did they moan, even when Mikel Arteta had to sit out the game against Manchester City on New Year’s Day due to a positive test.

But the fact is, on this occasion, they just didn’t have enough players to go ahead with the game against Spurs, according to the rules set by the Premier League.

Were all the players missing due to Covid? No. Far from it. Of all the players who were absent, only Martin Odegaard and an unnamed player, who tested positive on Saturday after the club’s latest round of testing, would have been missing because of the virus.

But that doesn’t matter. The rules are clear and are the same for everyone.

The fact is that until the Premier League changes its stance when it comes to postponements, this sort of thing is going to keep happening.

“What started out as postponements due to a pandemic has now become about clubs not having their best team,” Gary Neville tweeted after Saturday’s announcement.

“The Premier League must stop this now, draw a line in the sand and say all games go ahead unless you have an exceptional amount of CV cases. It’s wrong.”

Neville is absolutely right.

It is time for the Premier League to step in. Injuries and players being on international duty should not be a reason for matches being postponed. Clubs should only be allowed to make requests due to Covid and nothing else.

There’s no doubt that Arsenal have used the current system to their advantage.

But they are not the villains here. Just as Liverpool weren’t when they clearly did the exact same thing to get the first leg of their League Cup semi-final against Arsenal called off less than a fortnight ago.

Did Arsenal complain then? No. Did they issue any statement on their website at the time when their plans were thrown into disarray at the last minute? No. Just as they didn’t when a hugely injury-hit Wolves had their game at the Emirates called off just after Christmas.

They just accepted it and got on with it because the rules are there in black and white.

Should they be changed? Absolutely! Hopefully this could be the situation that leads to that change.

But for now, the likes of O’Hara and Hazard really need to look elsewhere when it comes to pointing the finger of blame.

And let’s not pretend their anger is anything to do with protecting the league’s integrity. It’s down to the fact they have just missed the chance to see Spurs take on an Arsenal side with half a squad missing.

It’s self-interest, nothing else.

“All OK for Liverpool on Thursday," Jamie Carragher sarcastically tweeted, when Arsenal confirmed that Sunday’s game would no longer go ahead.

Clearly Carragher - whose paymasters at Sky were most likely fuming at having their big game of the weekend called off at the last minute - had forgotten why Arsenal are having to play this coming Thursday night in the first place.

It is, of course, because Liverpool, with so many players out through injury and away at Afcon, conveniently managed to beat lottery-type odds to uncover a big batch of false positive Covid cases, leading to the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final being rearranged.

It was switched to Anfield last week, a game that saw Arsenal pick up injuries to Cedric Soares, Calum Chambers, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney. Had that not happened, they would have been fine to take on Spurs on Sunday.

So it’s all well and good to have ex-players and pundits lining up to take potshots at Arsenal, but let’s not pretend they have acted any differently to anyone else.

This isn’t an Arsenal problem, it’s a Premier League problem - and until they change the rules that everyone can follow, this is going to keep happening.