Tottenham Hotspur have said they are “extremely surprised” their North London Derby clash against Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday has been postponed, and said they do not believe their rivals suffered a COVID-19 outbreak to warrant calling off the fixture.
Arsenal had requested on Friday for the match against Spurs to be postponed, citing a depleted squad due to COVID-19 cases, injuries and some players participating at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. The Premier League board granted the postponement on Saturday.
The Premier League said in a statement: “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.
“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.
“The league aims to provide as much clarity as possible, but unfortunately postponements sometimes have to be made at short notice, as safety is our priority. Where possible, the league will endeavour to keep supporters updated if games become at risk.”
Later on Saturday, Spurs publicly expressed their frustrations with the Premier League’s decision, saying in a statement that they believe the league’s flexible coronavirus-related postponement rules are having “unintended consequences.”
A Spurs statement read: “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-19 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 was to deal with player availability directly affected by COVID-19 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-19. 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.”
The north London derby is the 21st game to be called off in the Premier League this season due to a COVID-19 outbreak. It is also the second league game to be postponed this weekend after Leicester City‘s trip to Burnley was called off on Friday.
Included in Arsenal’s absences are midfielder Martin Odegaard, who is out due to COVID-19, and Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who are competing at the Africa Cup of Nations. Granit Xhaka was already ruled out of Sunday’s match after picking up a red card in the Liverpool match, and Cedric Soares, Bukayo Saka and Calum Chambers all sustained injuries.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had stated postponement was a “possibility” on Thursday after he was left with just 12 fit outfield players after further COVID-19 and injury problems in the wake of their 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup semifinal first leg at Anfield.
On Friday, Arteta added that he had been unable to assess the squad’s match availability after being unable to fly back from Liverpool, with the league saying the decision would be made on Saturday.
Premier League rules state that teams must fulfil fixtures if they have 14 players — 13 outfield and a goalkeeper — available to play, although some clubs have failed to have games postponed in recent weeks because their absences have been largely due to injuries rather than COVID-19.
Arsenal are fifth in the Premier League, while Spurs are just two points behind their local rivals with two games in hand.