Morning folks and welcome to Wednesday. I started back up with my work yesterday and although I enjoy my job, there’s nothing worse than that first day back and remembering you can’t just eat, drink and be merry all the time like over the Christmas period. But the upside of this first week back for me is that it is at least a short week, being one in which we had a bank holiday at the start, so hopefully Friday comes around nice and quickly like.
From an Arsenal perspective the hope has also been that we get ourselves another game with which to focus on after the City defeat, but it appears as though that is now in doubt, after Liverpool made an application to the EFL to postpone their game with us tomorrow evening because of “an escalating number of suspected positive COVID-19 cases” as they put on their website. In their statement they also add that it is “allied to other factors impacting selection, including illness and injury”. And here is where it all starts to get a little murky and suspicious to me.
Firstly, we don’t know how their current squad situation is broken down in terms of absentees, because I think this is an important point. If a team has a squad of 25 players, two players who are regular starters with COVID, plus another four or five from the youth team/squad players who don’t usually play, but 11 first team injuries, on paper they can say that they have 18 players out and therefore can have grounds for postponement. Now, I’m not suggesting this is Liverpool at the moment, but the lack of transparency of clubs declaring their players who have it and those who are injured is adding to all of this speculation that we’re seeing online right now. Because without the right access to information, this looks like Liverpool are using a system to their advantage by saying they don’t have enough players fit and available to play.
If that were true, if they have a mass outbreak and most of their first team squad aren’t available due to contracting COVID, then of course they are justified in their request to postpone. But without giving up the information (which a friend of mine on Twitter demonstrated is possible as the NFL release the list of players who have contracted the virus) for everyone to see for their own eyes, I (and potentially you too) am being left to wonder if this is just an attempt by Liverpool to work a system designed to acknowledge self isolation protocols for the global pandemic, because they have injuries and also – most interestingly – players out at the African Cup of Nations. Because that’s also an interesting point; the schedule is such that if this game is postponed, suddenly Liverpool get Mane and Salah back for the postponed tie. Funny that, eh?
I think the problem that many of us also have is that precedent has already been set in this country and in this competition specifically. Last season Tottenham were awarded a bye when up against Leyton Orient because Orient couldn’t field a team due to an outbreak of COVID-19. On that occasion the Carabao Cup Rule 5.1 was cited. The rules in this instance are clear that the game must be played before the next round if they can rearrange the match, which Liverpool will want to do the week before the final, naturally, so they can have some of their best players back. But here’s where it gets murky, because the rules also state that if a club has enough registered players available to participate in the fixture (11 players and three subs = 14) they should be able to complete the fixture. So here is where the murkiness is, because unless Liverpool can provide sufficient evidence that they can’t cobble together 14 players, the match should go ahead. Liverpool have listed on their website a first team of 28 players. But the Carabao Cup doesn’t state that it has to be first team players. So in theory it should include youth team players registered to play in the competition too. And the problem of precedent sets in because Liverpool themselves only two years ago fielded a youth team against Aston Villa which included: Kelleher, Hoever, Boyes, Van den Berg, Gallagher, Kane, Christie-Davies, Chirivella, Elliott, Longstaff, Hall. That is an entirely rotated and youthful side who they we happy to field in December 2019 in the quarter finals of the competition.
And just to further add to the situation (albeit in a different competition, I appreciate), last season Aston Villa were knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of Liverpool after they played the Reds in a game at Villa Park with a squad comprised of under-23 and under-18 players.
So, we have:
- A precedent set for giving a team a bye that can’t fulfil a fixture (Leyton Orient)
- A precedent set in which Liverpool have fielded a completely youthful side in the competition (quarter final vs Villa, December 2019)
- A precedent set in which Aston Villa have been forced to play a game with its youth team despite a COVID outbreak (January 2020, FA Cup – caveat included that it was a different competition with different bodies who make the rulings i.e. EFL vs FA).
But what do you think will happen? Will the authorities play by their own rules and precedent set down within two years of the same competition? Or will we see yet another example of the rules being different depending on the name of the team? If Liverpool do indeed have mass breakout of COVID then that is unlucky, you have to feel for them, but the rules are rather plain and obvious to see and anything else other than playing this game tomorrow compromises the competition because the EFL don’t want to cheese off a big club, but they’re happy to do it for smaller clubs like Orient.
Let’s wait and see what happens with the ruling, although I think we all suspect it might go a certain way and that will be very disappointing.
I’ve used up 1,000 words and barely talked about Arsenal today, but this has cheesed off me, as well as many Arsenal fans. So I thought it best to get those thoughts on paper. If the game is called off then i’ll do a little bit more tomorrow, but probably focus on the news that broke that Ainsley is on his way to Roma. That’s a very interesting one and the club must have another player lined up, but more on that tomorrow.