LONDON — Tottenham called for “clarity and consistency” from the English Premier League after Arsenal's request to call off the north London derby because of a lack of senior players available was granted on Saturday.
“We are extremely surprised that this application has been approved,” Tottenham said in a strongly worded statement released a few hours after the announcement of the postponement of Sunday’s match.
The decision was reached because Arsenal has fewer than the required number of players — 13 outfield and one goalkeeper — available because of a combination of COVID-19 cases, injuries and players away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations.
However, Arsenal also recently decided to let two players go out on loan and has one player out suspended in Granit Xhaka. There is only one declared absentee because of the coronavirus — Martin Odegaard — although there might be others from the latest round of testing.
“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. 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.”
On Friday, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he would be aggrieved if he discovered that rival Premier League clubs were abusing coronavirus postponement rules after his club’s request to call off a match — against Wolverhampton on Dec. 19 — was rejected despite seven COVID-19 cases in their squad.
Asked if he thought some clubs were attempting to push the limits on postponements with tactics such as including general injuries and Africa Cup of Nations absentees, Tuchel replied: “I strongly, strongly hope that’s not the case, because otherwise I would be very, very angry.”
Arsenal-Tottenham is the 21st Premier League game postponed since Dec. 12, mainly due to players having to isolate, and it is causing a backlog of fixtures for the second half of the season.
“What started out as postponements due to a pandemic has now become about clubs not having their best team,” Gary Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender and now TV pundit, said on Twitter. “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 cases. It’s wrong.”
Arsenal said it was "disappointed" the match was not going ahead.
“We know how much this match means to our fans around the world,” the team said.
Burnley’s shortage of players due to coronavirus cases and injuries prompted the postponement of its match against Leicester this weekend. Burnley has played 17 league games this season, the fewest in the division and five less than leader Manchester City.
Two weekend games in the Women's Super League have been postponed because of virus outbreaks.
The FA, which runs the WSL, announced on Saturday the game between Arsenal and Reading on Sunday was called off after Reading requested postponement.
On Friday, the FA postponed the Chelsea-Everton match scheduled on Sunday because of virus cases and injuries at Everton.
Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday morning and has started isolating, the French league leader said.
PSG said backup Lucas Lavallee was replacing Navas in the squad to face Brest later on Saturday.
Navas is the latest PSG player to test positive after forward Lionel Messi, winger Angel Di Maria, midfielder Nathan Bitumazala, defenders Layvin Kurzawa and Juan Bernat, and backup goalkeepers Sergio Rico and Denis Franchi.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press