North London derby in doubt after Arsenal squad hit by Covid and player absences

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Sunday’s north London derby is in doubt, with Arsenal looking into the possibility of appealing to the Premier League for a postponement.

The Gunners are set to make the short journey to take on neighbours Tottenham but have a host of players missing due to Covid, injury, suspension and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Martin Odegaard missed Thursday’s goalless Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg draw at Liverpool due to Covid while the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu had been ruled out through injury.

Cedric Soares was forced off early at Anfield with Bukayo Saka also taking a knock as Granit Xhaka’s first-half red card further depletes manager Mikel Arteta’s rank. And with Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all away at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Spurs clash could now be rescheduled.

The PA news agency understands plans for an application to the Premier League to have the match called off are being considered, although Arteta insists he will prepare for the game to take place after fixtures against Wolves and Liverpool were postponed in the past month at the request of the opposition.

Granit Xhaka's red card at Liverpool means he is one of several Arsenal players unavailable for the trip to Tottenham.
Granit Xhaka’s red card at Liverpool means he is one of several Arsenal players unavailable for the trip to Tottenham. (Peter Byrne/PA)

“I don’t know, it’s difficult to say that with total honesty without assessing our players,” he said when asked if he would like the game to be off.

“What is today very unlikely, tomorrow is likely to happen. It’s gone the other way for us when we were ready to play a match and it was cancelled twice because the other team had issues so it can go both ways. But our intention is always to play.”

Burnley’s match against Leicester on Saturday has already been postponed, with the Clarets having an insufficient number of players to fulfil the fixture.

The Premier League accepted a request lodged by Burnley, who were already without several players through Covid-19, injuries and Maxwel Cornet’s absence at AFCON prior to the enforced sale of Chris Wood to relegation rivals Newcastle this week.

A league statement said: “The Premier League Board accepted Burnley’s application as the club does not have the required number of players available for the match (13 outfield players and one goalkeeper), due to Covid-19 cases and injuries.”

It is the fourth Burnley match this season to be postponed due to coronavirus, but the first time the request has come from the Turf Moor club.

Burnley saw three consecutive matches – against Watford, Aston Villa and Everton – postponed last month due to Covid-19 cases within the opposition camps, while November’s fixture against Tottenham was called off at short notice due to heavy snow.

That has left Burnley with a number of games in hand on other clubs around them at the foot of the table. Sean Dyche’s side have played 17 league games this season, the fewest of any team in the top flight, and now have four matches to reschedule.

The rearranged match against Watford is due to be played on Tuesday, but must now be in doubt.

Chirs Wood File Photo
Chris Wood left Burnley for Newcastle this week (Alex Livesey/PA)

Saturday’s opponents Leicester are among the other Premier League sides to have been badly hit by Covid-19.

Though ready to play this weekend, the Foxes had been forced to postpone Tuesday’s trip to Everton, a match which had already been rearranged from December.

Burnley were without seven players due to Covid-19 during last weekend’s 2-1 FA Cup loss to Championship side Huddersfield, a match that was also missed by manager Dyche as assistant Ian Woan took charge on the day.

Dyche is now out of isolation and had been due to speak to the media on Friday, his first chance to address Wood’s abrupt exit for St James’ Park after Newcastle activated a release clause in the New Zealand international’s contract. However, that press conference was cancelled.

Pep Guardiola will be back on the touchline for Manchester City's clash with Chelsea
Pep Guardiola will be back on the touchline for Manchester City’s clash with Chelsea (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Women’s Super League fixture between Chelsea and Everton has also been postponed, with the Blues confirming: “The decision was agreed between both teams and the FA following a number of positive Covid-19 test results and injuries at Everton.”

Manchester City continue to be impacted, with manager Pep Guardiola revealing the champions have suffered further fresh cases this week.

Guardiola himself was one of 21 personnel from City’s first-team set-up, including seven senior players, who were unable to travel for last week’s FA Cup tie at Swindon.

The Spaniard and some others will return for Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Chelsea but, although Guardiola would not reveal details, the issues at the Etihad Stadium are not yet over.

Speaking at a press conference, Guardiola said: “Some people are coming (back), some are positive again. We have some new cases but they want privacy, so I cannot tell you.

“We are used to it, unfortunately, at all the clubs. We just adapt and hopefully the cases can be handled and we come back in good condition.”

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