We should be playing the first of a two-legged semi final in the League Cup against Liverpool this evening. But for reasons that – as I mentioned yesterday – are increasingly murky, it has been postponed to 20th January, in two week’s from today. The EFL – chaired by Merseyside-born former Liverpool Chairman Rick Parry – decided that Liverpool’s case that was put to them this week warranted a postponement of this fixture because of “COVID, illness and injuries”. As I said yesterday, now we know the outcome, for me there is only one way this becomes less murky and this is to see more transparency from Liverpool, from all football clubs to be fair, because it is starting to seem like clubs are playing the system to their own advantage. This incident is not the only incident, as Southampton have also asked for more transparency in their instance of playing Newcastle.
So, with the lack of transparency, here’s what we know so far:
- Liverpool have three confirmed cases of COVID in their playing staff (Matip, Alisson and Firmino) and two confirmed cases in their coaching staff (Klopp and assistant Lijnders)
- Liverpool have three confirmed injuries to players (Eliott, Phillips, Origi) – I know this may not be the definitive list as it is not directly from Liverpool, but as they are not providing an update on who is missing we have to go on what we can find – here
- Leyton Orient had their match postponed last year because they were unable to fulfil the fixture with 18 players out due to COVID
- Aston Villa were forced to name a youth team in the fourth round of the FA Cup due to an outbreak of COVID
- In the third and fourth round of this year’s Carabao Cup Liverpool featured a team of rotated youngsters and squad players – only Origi listed above featured
- Liverpool have closed their training ground for the last two days due to the outbreak.
Do you know what makes all of this speculation go away? Transparency. If Liverpool make an announcement that 15 staff members have all suddenly contracted COVID – playing staff really – then personally I would say fair enough and you have to appreciate that it is an extraordinary circumstance and the game was right to be called off. But as we know it all we have seen is ‘suspected COVID’ plastered all over Liverpool’s website.
But here’s a couple of kickers for you; firstly, Liverpool’s game against Shrewsbury is due to go ahead on Saturday. If that does go ahead, then any sane individual can surely question why one football match could not go ahead and yet three days later another football match can go ahead. If that game on Sunday goes ahead then as far as I am concerned it is a tacit admission from Liverpool that they have fiddled the rules here. If it is cancelled then you have to say ‘fair enough’ and perhaps this outbreak was as bad as they have suggested, without disclosing this information publicly.
The second kicker? If Arsenal now have an outbreak of COVID and cannot fulfil one of those games, given the fact that the schedule is so compacted, we could be forced to forfeit the competition and we would be kicked out.
Justice? I don’t think so.
As I say – I am happy to say “fair enough” if we get some clarity over Liverpool’s situation, but unless we get that then I’m afraid this will just look like more games from them and makes a mockery of the competition itself.
I’ll leave it at that though because I said a fair ol’ piece on it yesterday too. Instead, let’s also laugh at the FA trying to stick the knife in further by charging Arsenal with a count of failing to control their players, citing the 59th minute of the game against Man City. That is the moment Gabriel gets sent off. I would encourage you to look at the video clips of that minute. Honestly, it is a heated discussion the likes of which you see every time a decision that big (red card, penalty) goes against a team. I look forward to seeing the FA charge every team from now on based on that yardstick. Because their coffers will get very deep in fines indeed if they do, given what happens every week in the Premier League. What I’d like to hear from the FA is a little bit more of that transparency of their criteria for this, as well as explaining why this incident has been singled out and other incidents – I bet there are a couple this weekend – will get ignored in referees match reports.
But we move on. We all know it’s a joke and we just have to deal with it. Let’s move on to the fact that we have Ainsley Maitland-Niles on his way to Roma for a season-long loan. That’s a weird one, I have to say, mainly because of the timing. With Partey, Elneny and now Maitland-Niles unavailable, with Azeez at Portsmouth on loan, our first team squad midfield comprises of Sambi Lokonga and Granit Xhaka. You could count Odegaard in there but he has underwhelmed in the midfield two and why would we take him away from the good work he has done in the front four? You could include Calum Chambers but he’s hardly played since the start of the season. You could include Ben White as he’s played there before in his time but again why would you take him out of a defence that is working? Plus we have the Granit Xhaka at left back in the Europa League that proves it isn’t a good idea because you then have two problems to deal with in terms of player positions instead of one.
I can only assume that Arsenal are now moving heaven and earth to get a new player in asap. They’d be mad not to. We are so short and we have some incredibly hard games coming up. I suspect that because of today’s postponement we will see a slightly stronger team on Sunday against Forest, but even if Arteta wanted to rotate his side, in midfield it’s not like he can do too much. Perhaps he could play Odegaard in there and then play Smith Rowe in front of him, but it’s not really a longer term solution and certainly against Premier League opponents. Perhaps we will get some hints from Arteta as to what he plans to do when he does his press conference ahead of the Forest game (assuming that goes ahead). I suspect that will now take place tomorrow for the manager.
Until we hear from him and from Arsenal, I guess we just have to wait and see how everything unfolds.
Catch you all tomorrow.