I’ll fight with ‘teeth and nails’

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said he will defend his club’s reputation with “teeth and nails” against anyone “lying” over the their motivations for postponing last weekend’s north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur.

The Premier League accepted the Arsenal’s request to rearrange Sunday’s game after proving they could not meet the minimum criteria of having 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper available despite recording just one positive COVID-19 case at the time.

– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access

Arsenal’s request was within the league’s guidelines but it led to a fierce backlash in certain quarters, not least Spurs, who released a statement expressing how they were “extremely surprised” at the decision before head coach Antonio Conte later claimed “this is the first time in my life that there is a league that postponed the game for injuries.”

Arsenal were suffering with fitness issues, the suspension of Granit Xhaka and the loss of four players to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) but also previously decided to stretch their squad further by loaning out Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Folarin Balogun.

Several managers — including Arteta — have called for greater clarity around the decision-making for postponements but some criticism has been aimed at Arsenal rather than the Premier League and the Spaniard said on Wednesday: “We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We are not going to get anybody damaging our name, or trying to lie about things that haven’t occurred. We will make mistakes, and we will put our hands up, but we will defend our club in a really strong way.

“I think more than hate, there is a lot of respect for Arsenal, and that’s something that comes from the history of this club. How it has always acted, and how it has always behaved, and how it’s always conducted itself in many different moments. In high moments, and in low moments, and we need to keep doing that. We know we did the right thing, and we worked together with the Premier League and The FA to make that decision and to explain the reasons why. I think if anything, we have been very, very honest at least.

“We didn’t have the players necessary to put a squad available to compete in a Premier League match, that is 100% guaranteed.”

Arteta went on to reference the start of the season, when Arsenal suffered a COVID-19 outbreak yet still fulfilled fixtures against Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City — losing all three matches for their worst start to a campaign in 67 years.

“This is a no-win situation,” he said. “When we played the first three games of the season, when other teams were postponing matches, and we played and we tried to play, we were killed. [People said] ‘don’t be naive, if you have that many players out don’t play with your kids’.

“Now we postponed the match for all the right reasons, believe me, and as well you get those reactions. But I think they are normal.”

Thursday’s Carabao Cup semifinal, second leg against Liverpool is expected to go ahead after Arteta said there have been no new COVID-19 cases at Arsenal in recent days although he was coy about the players who would be available “because I don’t want to give anything away.”

Arteta also said Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has returned to London and is undergoing medical checks following his sudden return from AFCON.

The Gabon national team issued a statement that Aubameyang required further medical checks, although there was speculation the striker had been involved in a separate disciplinary issue, something Aubameyang described as “false rumours.”

Arteta said: “Now he is going through some examinations, because we haven’t had any clarity from the Gabon national team about the reasons why he came back so obviously it is our obligation to make sure that medically the player is safe, he is in good condition and not any issues related to that — and to try to avoid any suggestion that is the case because so far historically everything we have done with the player, he has never had an issue. Hopefully that is the case.”