The North London Derby won’t be going ahead on Sunday following Arsenal’s request to postpone the match due to absences from COVID, a rash of injuries, and international duty with players at the Africa Cup of Nations. Arsenal announced Saturday that the Premier League had accepted their request to postpone the match. While Arsenal did play Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Thursday, drawing the match with ten men, they lost Granit Xhaka to a red card along with Bukayo Saka and Cedric Soares to injuries during the match.
These losses would bring them down to 11 senior outfield players, well below the Premier League threshold of 13 that is needed for a postponement. But with Tottenham also dealing with their own injury crisis, Antonio Conte likely won’t be too peeved with this reschedule. The derby was shaping up to be a battle of a team with no midfield facing off against a team with no defense as Tottenham are without Eric Dier, Cristian Romero, Son Heung-Min, and others.
Sergio Reguilon has also been nursing niggles that have caused him to miss the past few fixtures. While Arsenal only has one confirmed Covid case in Martin Odegaard, it’s important to note that league requirements take into account a combination of infections and injuries which is similar to Leicester City’s postponement versus Everton.
Arsenal did recently loan Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Roma and Florian Balogun to Middlesbrough but with neither player featuring much for the first team, when opportunities arose for them to get minutes it certainly made sense for Arsenal to act on it. Players can’t be kept around on the off chance that they may be used when they are clearly out of the head coach’s favor even if they are sent packing in the middle of an international tournament.
When it comes to rivalry matches such as this one, along with top-four clashes, it is always best to play them at full strength, and with neither team still in European competition, it won’t be too hard to reschedule. While it is a blow to fans who are traveling to the matches, player safety should come first.
It is certainly also true that the rash of cancellations this season, and the Premier League’s policy of judging matters on a case by case basis has led to a lack of clarity about when matches must be undertaken, and when the league will look favorably on a request to postpone a match. Arsenal were on the reverse side of that coin only ten days ago when the first leg of their EFL Cup final against Liverpool was postponed due to Liverpool’s request.
With this postponement, Tottenham has two additional fixtures to make up against Brighton and Burnley while Arsenal has three where they will face Chelsea, Liverpool, and Wolves. Tottenham will still be scheduled to take on Leicester City on Wednesday while Arsenal’s next fixture will be leg two of the EFL Cup against Liverpool on Thursday. They will next play in the Premier League on Sunday the 23rd versus Burnley.