It has been nearly seven weeks since an Arsenal player set foot inside the club’s London Colney training ground.
The last session they had was on Tuesday, March 10; the following day they were scheduled to take on Manchester City at the Etihad in the Premier League.
Later that evening it was announced that the match had been postponed due to several Arsenal players having previously come into contact with the Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis, who revealed he had contracted coronavirus. His side had earlier knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal’s players were then given the next two days off. On the Thursday night, just before they were scheduled to return to training, it was announced that head coach Mikel Arteta has also tested positive for Covid-19. It was an announcement that sent Arsenal and English football into total lockdown.
London Colney has remained closed to the squad ever since, but on Monday it will open its doors for Arsenal’s first-team players once again - albeit with very strict guidelines in place over how it can be used.
“Players will be permitted access to our London Colney training grounds next week,” Arsenal said in a statement on Saturday. “Access will be limited, carefully managed and social distancing will be maintained at all times.”
So how exactly are things going to work at London Colney over the coming weeks and why have Arsenal taken this decision while all other Premier League clubs are still telling their players to remain at home?
The simple fact is there has been a growing demand from the players to be allowed to return to their training base and the north London club are adamant that the guidelines they have put in place now means it is safe to do so.
Goal has learnt that only five players will be allowed inside the entire training complex at one time and they have all had their allocated time slots for the week sent to them in a rota.
There are 10 training pitches at London Colney, so there will be no issue in terms of space or social distancing - with the players who are inside kept apart at all times.
They will arrive in their training gear, go from the car park straight to their allocated training pitch and then return to their cars and drive home once their hour-long time slot has come to an end. No buildings on site will be open at all.
There will be a small number of fitness and medical coaches on site while players are training. The fitness coaches will be within earshot of the players so they can assist with their pre-planned training programme if needs be.
Each player will have their own set of footballs that only they can use while they are on the training pitch.
Opening up London Colney in a safe way has been a plan Arsenal have been working towards for some time now, with the majority of the squad having personally asked whether they would be able to return.
At home, they have been using exercise bikes, treadmills and weights to stay in shape - but a number of them have run into issues when they leaving home to try and go for a jog around their local area. Fans are constantly trying to stop them to ask for selfies despite the social distancing rules that are in place.
So Arsenal believe the plans they have drawn up ensure their players will be able to do their jobs properly, that they are adhering to the rules and that all appropriate precautions have been put in place which will allow Mikel Arteta’s squad to work in a safe and controlled way. The Premier League has been kept informed throughout.
Sources at the club are adamant this has not been done as a direct result of some of their players breaking social distancing rules at the end of last week, with Alexandre Lacazette, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe and Granit Xhaka all having to be reminded of their responsibilities after being caught out by the media during separate incidents.
However Arsenal believe those incidents only highlighted the need for the players to be given the opportunity to train at London Colney, should they want to do so.
The plan put in place is voluntary, so players don’t have to turn up in their allocated time slots if they would prefer to work from home, but Arsenal expect that the majority of the squad will take the chance now that it has been offered.