Arsenal have gone into lockdown after Mikel Arteta was diagnosed with coronavirus late on Thursday night, closing their London Colney and Hale End training centres and entering into emergency discussions with the football authorities about the fulfilment of their forthcoming fixtures. Saturday’s match at Brighton has been postponed and it appears certain that, as a bare minimum, their FA Cup quarter-final at Sheffield United the following weekend will follow.
Arteta had been tested after feeling ill and the result came up positive at around 9pm on Thursday, leading the club to take instant action. The entire first-team squad and coaching staff will now self-isolate for 14 days from the moment they last had close contact with Arteta, effectively meaning they will not be able to train until the final few days of March. Other personnel who have spent time around the head coach will be required to follow suit and the Guardian understands the number who have to self-isolate may reach as high as 100.
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Arteta is understood to be feeling optimistic and there are no concerns about his recovery. His primary frustration is the time spent off work but the situation is certain to have enormous implications for a domestic season that has so far barrelled on while others in Europe shut down or are contested behind closed doors. Earlier on Thursday evening the Premier League announced that the weekend’s fixtures would, following the most recent government advice, proceed as planned but that state of affairs now seems untenable.
“This is really disappointing but I took the test after feeling poorly,” Arteta said in a statement released by the club. “I will be at work as soon as I am allowed.”
The club’s managing director, Vinai Venkatesham, said: “The health of our people and the wider public is our priority and that is where our focus is. Our thoughts are with Mikel, who is disappointed but in good spirits. We are in active dialogue with all the relevant people to manage this situation appropriately, and we look forward to getting back to training and playing as soon as medical advice allows.”
Figures close to the situation point out that, after a fortnight’s self-isolation, Arsenal’s players can hardly be expected to come straight back and play. Their match-fitness will have been considerably eroded and it seems likely that, in the increasingly unthinkable event the footballing world continued around them, they would not be ready to play for the best part of a month. That would add Premier League meetings with Norwich and, perhaps, Wolves to the list of postponed games.
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In the meantime Arsenal will test any further players or members of staff who display possibly symptoms of coronavirus. The club would not comment on whether that has been necessary so far, beyond the case of Arteta.
Arsenal’s training facilities will undergo a deep clean while closed. Hale End is the home of their academy setup and Arteta has not been there of late, but several members of its staff have been working between venues and are considered to have been in close contact. Other club headquarters, like their north London administrative office, Highbury House, are unaffected.
Clubs are unable to unilaterally postpone fixtures without consequence, but Arsenal are in contact with the Premier League and Football Association, with an agreement to cease playing a formality now that their footballing setup has effectively been decimated by covid-19.
Source: The Guardian