Reports Farce sees EPL exploring tighter rules | Sports News

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By ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer

When Arsenal this week fired Pablo Mari on loan and released Sead Kolasinac, the squad reduction seemed baffling for a club already struggling to assemble a squad to play.

Folarin Balogun and Ainsley Maitland-Niles had just been loaned out when Arsenal told the Premier League they were short enough of players to welcome Tottenham last Sunday.

Canceling a game was not unusual for the English Premier League. Enforcement of coronavirus regulations has resulted in 22 postponements since last month as the spread of the omicron variant has depleted teams and shut down training facilities.

But when the request to postpone the North London derby against Tottenham went to the league on Friday, Arsenal had just one declared case of coronavirus in the squad. Instead, with five players in the Africa Cup of Nations and absent through injury, Arsenal managed to convince the league to call off their game against Tottenham in a stretch of pandemic policies not intended for this scenario.

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“The decision to postpone the game was very, very strange,” said Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, with days to reflect on his frustration. “We have a big problem to solve and it’s COVID, but it’s only about this situation that you can decide to postpone, not for other situations.

“Honestly, it’s the first time in my life – and I have a bit of football experience – to see games postponed due to injuries.”

The regulations state that a match must take place if a club has 13 in-form outfield players plus a goalkeeper. But confusion over the application of the rules has created a growing sense of farce. The league has not explained why Arsenal were not asked to promote less experienced contracted players to the first team, with the Under-23s playing on Friday night. The league has also not responded whether missing Granit Xhaka at Arsenal was a factor in the postponement following his suspension following his dismissal against Liverpool in the League Cup.

But rival clubs’ exasperation with the way games are being called off led the league to decide to speak to them about changing the criteria. The league, which needs 14 of 20 clubs to approve the rule change, said coronavirus cases falling at clubs for three consecutive weeks triggered the consultation.

“The league’s current guidelines were changed in December following the emergence of the new Omicron variant,” the league said in a statement Wednesday, “and we continue to monitor the continued effects of the virus and will update our guidelines. Consequently”.

At least the Premier League isn’t putting teams through the spectacle – as has been the case in Italy’s Serie A – of having them show up at the stadium with no opposition to face.

But the string of postponements has created a distorted league standings in England. Leaders Manchester City have played 22 games and bottom-place Burnley have played just 17 of 38 games after Tuesday’s rescheduled tie against Watford was postponed again. Burnley manager Sean Dyche said he had 10 trainable outfield players at the time, but did not talk about promoting younger players.

Bayern Munich were forced by the Bundesliga to face Borussia Mönchengladbach earlier this month after the winter break, despite a substitute bench that did not include any players who had played in the league before. Bayern lost 2-1 but are still six points clear.

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow is leading the change to the current rules in England. He believes that they are “no longer fit for purpose” and wants urgent action.

“They were well-meaning at the time,” Purslow told The Times of London, “but having a situation where clubs ask for matches to be postponed with only one or two positive COVID cases was never the intention of the parties. rules.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta bristles at any suggestion that the club exploited the regulations to delay Tottenham’s game until they have a more solid and available squad. Arteta reflects on how the season has started with three successive defeats, with Arsenal playing despite absences imposed by the coronavirus.

“When other teams were postponing games, we were killed and told not to be naive because if you have that many missing players, don’t play with your kids,” Arteta said on Wednesday. “Now we’re postponing the game for all the right reasons, believe me, and we’re getting this reaction but I think it’s normal.”

Arsenal have not played since the 0-0 draw with Liverpool last Thursday in the League Cup. The Gunners are due to return to action on Thursday in the semi-final home game which was postponed two weeks ago due to Liverpool’s coronavirus outbreak.

“We won’t let anyone tarnish our name or try to lie about things,” Arteta said.

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