Spurs 'extremely surprised' at decision and call for 'clarity and consistency' in the rules; Gunners have a host of players missing with Covid, injury, suspension and AFCON; Premier League says all clubs can apply for postponements "if COVID infections are a factor"
Sunday 16 January 2022 06:15, UK
The north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal on Sunday has been postponed - leaving Spurs 'extremely surprised' at the decision and seeking clarification on the rules.
The Premier League has accepted Arsenal's request to call off the match after the Gunners claimed they had "many players currently unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries and players away with their countries at AFCON".
In a statement on Saturday, Tottenham said: "We are extremely surprised that this application has been approved.
"We ourselves were disqualified from the European Conference League after a significant number of COVID cases meant we needed to reschedule a fixture and our application to move our Leicester fixture was not approved - only for it to be subsequently postponed when Leicester applied.
"The original intention of the guidance - here - 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.
"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. It is important to have clarity and consistency on the application of the rule."
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville reacted to the Premier League's decision by tweeting: "Game off. What started out as postponements due to a pandemic has now become about clubs not having their best team.
"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 cases. It's wrong."
A statement released by the Premier League on Saturday afternoon read: "Following a request from Arsenal, the Premier League board met today and regrettably agreed to postpone the club's away fixture against Tottenham.
"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.
All clubs are able to apply for a postponement if COVID-19 infections are a factor in their request
"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."
The Premier League also confirmed that "all clubs are able to apply for a postponement if COVID-19 infections are a factor in their request", but did not specify if the number of cases was taken into account.
On Friday, Mikel Arteta insisted Arsenal's "intention is always to play".
Gunners midfielder Martin Odegaard missed Thursday's goalless Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg draw at Liverpool due to Covid, while 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, while Granit Xhaka's first-half red card would have ruled him out of the Tottenham game.
Meanwhile, Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are all away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
It is the third time this season Tottenham have had a Premier League fixture postponed due to Covid, while it is the second match Arsenal have had called off - but the first at their reqeust.
We regret to announce that Sunday's north London derby against Arsenal has been postponed.
This follows an application from Arsenal to the Premier League on the basis of a combination of COVID, existing and recent injuries and players on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.
We are extremely surprised that this application has been approved.
We ourselves were disqualified from the European Conference League after a significant number of COVID cases meant we needed to reschedule a fixture and our application to move our Leicester fixture was not approved - only for it to be subsequently postponed when Leicester applied.
The original intention of the guidance - here - 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.
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. It is important to have clarity and consistency on the application of the rule.
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.
Gary Neville has said the Premier League must force teams to fulfil their fixtures after Arsenal requested to postpone the derby, while Jamie Carragher believes clubs are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on Friday Night Football, Neville said: "I honestly believe that all teams, not just in the Premier League but the EFL now, must be made to play their fixtures.
"Folarin Balogun and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have gone on loan, Granit Xhaka's got a red card - that's not the fault of anybody else. We can't be calling fixtures off.
"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.
"For me, it [Arsenal's request] should be rejected."
Carragher said: "No other league in Europe is doing this, certainly not in those big leagues. Bayern Munich played a 16-year-old in their last game and that tells you exactly where they are. Why can't we do that? Why can't the young players be given an opportunity in these circumstances?
"You've got U23 squads and younger players, and this is an opportunity where they can get a chance.
"I know there's a lot riding on Premier League games but at this moment, there's no doubt teams up and down this country are taking advantage of the situation."
Brighton vs Tottenham - Sunday December 12
Brentford vs Man Utd - Tuesday December 14 (now January 19, 8pm)
Burnley vs Watford - Wednesday December 15 (now January 18, 7.30pm)
Leicester vs Tottenham - Thursday December 16 (now January 19, 7.30pm)
Man Utd vs Brighton - Saturday December 18
Southampton vs Brentford - Saturday December 18; Southampton won re-arranged game 4-1 on Tuesday January 11
Watford vs Crystal Palace - Saturday December 18
West Ham vs Norwich - Saturday December 18; West Ham won re-arranged game 2-0 on Wednesday January 12
Aston Villa vs Burnley - Saturday December 18
Everton vs Leicester - Sunday December 19 and Tuesday January 11
Liverpool vs Leeds - Sunday December 26
Wolves vs Watford - Sunday December 26
Burnley vs Everton - Sunday December 26
Leeds vs Aston Villa - Tuesday December 28
Arsenal vs Wolves - Tuesday December 28
Everton vs Newcastle - Thursday December 30
Leicester vs Norwich - Saturday January 1
Southampton vs Newcastle - Sunday January 2
Everton vs Leicester - Tuesday January 11 (as above, this game had already previously been postponed from its original Sunday December 19 date)
Burnley vs Leicester - Saturday January 15
Tottenham vs Arsenal - Sunday January 16
The 2021/22 Premier League handbook included Covid protocols and stated the Premier League's board will "only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances".
The board make calls on a case-by-case basis, and by way of guidance the Premier League says permission for a postponement will not be granted if a club have 14 or more players from their squad list available.
However, after the postponement of a number of games in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a new Premier League guide explaining match postponement protocols was published.
And there, these factors are considered when deciding whether to postpone a top-flight game:
1) The impact of COVID-19 infections on a club's squad, as well as injuries, illness and those isolating, and the number of players available on the squad list and any Under-21 players with appropriate experience. Where a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players, the match will be postponed.
2) The status of any COVID-19 outbreak within a club, including the number of individuals affected, the sequence and source of infections and their proximity to the match in question.
3) A club's ability to safely prepare its players in the lead-up to a match.
4) Medical advice as to whether there is any unacceptable risk to the health and safety of players and staff by playing the match.
5) Any advice from UK Health Security Agency and other public bodies.
6) Any other exceptional circumstances.