Furious Tottenham demand 'consistency' from Premier League after north London derby postponed

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Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte - GETTY IMAGES
Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte - GETTY IMAGES

Furious Tottenham demanded more "clarity and consistency" from the Premier League on Saturday night after Arsenal got the north London derby postponed with just one known Covid case.

A second case is understood to have been recorded by Arsenal, but after the postponement application.

The Premier League is now facing mounting pressure to toughen up on cancellation bids as supporters groups and pundits including Gary Neville also attacked recent decisions.

Arsenal told the league they were limited to 12 available outfield players, with Cedric Soares, Bukayo Saka, Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney injured and Granit Xhaka suspended.

However, critics pointed to the club fielding an Under-23s team against West Ham on Friday and also questioned why the club had allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles to join Roma on loan a week ago.

Spurs expressed open dismay at the postponement, saying they were "extremely surprised". With the match called off 24 hours from kick-off, Tottenham will send food deliveries to the local food banks "to avoid unacceptable waste".

To highlight inconsistencies, the club highlighted how "we ourselves" were disqualified from the European Conference League after failing to field a team against Rennes in December due to a Covid outbreak. Tottenham had then had an application rejected to call off their fixture against Leicester.

Sunday's North London derby was the 21st top-flight game to be postponed this season because of Covid. "The original intention of the guidance was to deal with player availability directly affected by Covid cases, resulting in depleted squads that when taken together with injuries would result in the club being unable to field a team," Tottenham said. "We do not believe it was the intent to deal with player availability unrelated to Covid. We may now be seeing the unintended consequences of this rule."

Martin Odegaard was the only known positive Covid case at Arsenal when they played Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Thursday. However, after an application to postpone the game had already been filed, Arsenal were on Saturday understood to have recorded a second positive case within the squad.

"It is important to have clarity and consistency on the application of the rule," Tottenham added. "Yet again fans have seen their plans disrupted at unacceptably short notice. We shall once again send food deliveries to the local food banks to avoid unacceptable waste. We are sincerely sorry for our fans - some of whom will have travelled great distances."

Under Premier League rules, teams must fulfil fixtures if they have 13 outfield and a goalkeeper available. It was the second postponed fixture for Arsenal after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg had also been delayed by a week due to an outbreak at Liverpool.

Tottenham Supporters Trust said in a statement that the postponement "just over 24 hours before kick-off once again raises questions about football’s attitude to fans, and the integrity of competition".

Neville branded the situation "wrong" as he added his voice to calls for an immediate overhaul in the Premier League's approach to considering cancellations. "What started out as postponements due to a pandemic has now become about clubs not having their best team," he tweeted. "The Premier League must stop this now, draw a line in the sand and say all games go ahead unless you have an exceptional amount of CV [Covid] cases."

The current transfer window should in theory ease the burden on playing squads but the Premier League is understood to be unlikely to make any immediate changes in its protocols due to potential counter-challenges involved in changing rules mid-season.
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel, who had a postponement request rejected prior to Christmas over an injury outbreak in his squad, suggested he was unhappy at inconsistencies. "It's much better for me not to answer that question," he said on the postponement after his side's defeat to Manchester City. "I tell you it's much better if I don't answer."

As well as injuries, Arsenal also have four players at the Africa Cup of Nations. As a result, the Premier League board said it had "regrettably agreed to postpone the club’s away fixture against Tottenham".

"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," a statement said. "All clubs are able to apply for a postponement if Covid-19 infections are a factor in their request. The league apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused to supporters who would have attended or watched the game - we are fully aware that postponements disappoint clubs and fans."

An Arsenal statement read that the club was "disappointed". "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," staff added.

The Tottenham Supporters' Trust added: "There are now significant issues around ticketing for the Club and fans to resolve. While our remit doesn’t extend to on-pitch matters, we have to express some surprise at the justification given by the Premier League for the decision reached. Postponing this match appears to be as a result of squad management decisions and injuries rather than Covid-19. We will update with more information on ticketing and other practicalities as soon as is possible."

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