Arsenal’s visit to Manchester City on Wednesday night has been postponed by the Premier League as a “precautionary measure” in the first example of an English fixture being affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The decision was taken late on Tuesday after a small number of Arsenal players, along with four of the club’s staff, were confirmed to have been in close proximity to the Olympiakos and Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis – who said yesterday that he had contracted the virus – when the sides met in London 13 days ago. The players and staff are now in self-isolation and, while nobody around Arsenal is showing any symptoms of Covid-19, both they and City took medical advice before coming to the conclusion that, with the league’s agreement, the match should not go ahead.
Marinakis watched Olympiakos’s 2-1 win from the Emirates Stadium directors’ box and the Arsenal staff in question are believed to have been sitting in front of him. At full-time he made his way, via the pitch, to the players’ area where he met some of the Arsenal squad. The club is working to government guidelines that define “close contact” as being within two metres of somebody who has the virus for longer than 15 minutes. Those who fit that definition will self-isolate until a 14-day period since that contact has expired, effectively meaning they will be able to return to training on Friday before Saturday’s match at Brighton. That fixture will be unaffected as things stand.
“We identified that a number of players met the Olympiakos owner immediately following the game,” read an Arsenal statement. “The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing Covid-19 at extremely low. However, we are strictly following the government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact.
“As a result, the players are unavailable for tonight’s match against Manchester City and the Premier League has decided the game should be postponed. The players will remain at their homes until the 14-day period expires. Four Arsenal staff, who were sitting close to Mr Marinakis during the match, will also remain at home until the 14 days are complete.
“As a further precautionary measure, whilst we do not believe there was any close contact with any other Arsenal guests or staff in the directors box restaurant, we are contacting them to advise they should follow the relevant advice if there has been any such contact. Everyone at Arsenal wishes Mr Marinakis a swift recovery and we look forward to the [rest of the] players and staff returning to work on Friday in preparation for our match at Brighton.”
Arsenal are at pains to stress nobody has tested positive for the virus and that their internal precautions have been meticulous. Players and staff have been regularly tested for Covid-19 in recent weeks, while an enhanced procedure of hand sanitising and reducing handshakes around the training ground has been in place throughout the winter. The squad will have a day off on Wednesday in lieu of the City game, with Thursday’s plans – for those not self-isolating – yet to be confirmed.
Olympiakos, who face Wolves in Piraeus on Thursday night, announced on Wednesday morning that their players, board members and staff have all tested negative for Covid-19 following Marinakis’s diagnosis.
Wolves had condemned Uefa for not postponing that tie after the news of Marinakis’s condition became public. It was already in line to take place behind closed doors and is far from the only fixture to have been compromised by the outbreak. La Liga club Getafe have said they will not travel to Milan for their match against Internazionale on Thursday and have asked that Uefa source an alternative venue. “If we have to lose the tie, then we lost it,” said their president, Ángel Torres.
Increased measures have been taken elsewhere, too. Chelsea’s Champions League match with Bayern Munich next week is to be played behind closed doors, as will multiple other Europa League ties on Thursday, including Manchester United’s game at LASK. French authorities said upcoming matches in Ligue 1 would be played behind closed doors. In Spain the same decision prompted the players’ union to call for matches to be suspended instead. The German FA took the decision to cancel an international friendly with Italy, where a suspension of competition is already in place. Officials have been asked to come up with ways to finish the Serie A season – including potentially deciding the title in a play‑off.
In England, meanwhile, a packed Anfield will host a Champions League tie against Atlético Madrid on Wednesday night and this weekend’s Premier League fixtures are set to go ahead with no alteration. English football’s approach, directed by government advice and described by some in the game as “keep calm and carry on”, is looking increasingly out of step with that of other countries. There are increasing fears for the viability of forthcoming matches and, by consequence, the entire league season.
More information: THE GUARDIAN.