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controversy Time for the Premier League to end the farce as Arsenal succeed in getting Spurs game postponed

The Gunners, who played out a goalless draw with Liverpool on Thursday, made an application to the Premier League on Friday due to a host of players being unavailable.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. REUTERS/Craig Brough

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. REUTERS/Craig Brough

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. REUTERS/Craig Brough

Arsenal have succeeded in their appeal to get Sunday's north London derby at Tottenham postponed, in a move that has sparked widespread debate across the game.

The Gunners, who played out a goalless draw with Liverpool on Thursday, made an application to the Premier League on Friday due to a host of players being unavailable.

A mixture of coronavirus, injuries, suspension and players being away at the African Cup of Nations led to Arsenal “reluctantly” taking the step to ask for a postponement.

“Following a request from Arsenal FC, the Premier League Board met today and regrettably agreed to postpone the club’s away fixture against Tottenham Hotspur, due to be played at 4:30pm on Sunday 16 January,” a Premier League statement read.

“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.

“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.”

An Arsenal statement added: “We are disappointed to announce that Sunday’s north London derby at Tottenham Hotspur has been postponed.

“We know how much this match means to our fans around the world, but the Premier League has made the decision to postpone the match, due to many players across our squad currently being unavailable as a result of Covid-19, existing and recent injuries, in addition to players away with their countries at AFCON.”

Martin Odegaard was absent for the Gunners’ Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Liverpool due to Covid-19 while Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu were missing due to injuries.

Granit Xhaka received a red card during the 0-0 draw, ruling him out of Sunday’s match, and Cedric Soares suffered an injury with Arsenal already without Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to their international commitments.

Mikel Arteta said on Friday that Arsenal’s “intention is always to play” but Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Folarin Balogun have left on loan this month to join Roma and Middlesbrough respectively while the club’s Under-23s were able to play out a 1-1 draw with West Ham in Premier League 2 on the same day.

Even though Arsenal have an entire under-23 squad to pick from, the Premier League have opted to grant their wish to cancel the game, amid claims that they have minimal Covid cases in their camp.

It is a move that will draw criticism, with former Manchester United defender Gary Neville among those insisting clubs need to be pushed into playing matches unless they have a big Covid outbreak.

"I honestly believe that all teams, not just in the Premier League but the EFL now, must be made to play their fixtures," Neville told Sky Sports.

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"If it was purely down to Covid in extraordinary circumstances where there was 10 or 15 players out, but we're now talking about teams for the last few weeks where there's no doubt they've been calling games off based upon whether they think they've got the best squad or team to win a game. It's got to stop.

"That's not a dig at Arsenal - I should've spoken about this three or four weeks ago.

"Manchester United and other teams have got 30 to 40 players in their squad - I'm not having they can't get 13 to 16 players together.

"For me, it [Arsenal's request] should be rejected. Without knowing the exact detail, unless there is an absolute load of Covid cases coming today at Arsenal, I feel having played last night at Liverpool, it has to stop now this and we have to make teams play."

Arsenal are likely to have all their African players available for selection when the game is rescheduled, while they will also be able to pick experienced midfielder Granit Xhaka as his suspension will have been played out.

Not for the first time, it seems Premier League clubs are pushing the notion that they cannot fulfil fixtures to breaking point, with this latest cancelation certain to intensify the debate around this issue.

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