Will football in England return behind closed doors after Christmas? It’s the question on everybody’s lips as Covid-19 continues to rip through the country.
As things stand, despite the introduction of Covid Passes, the situation is unclear although if recent developments in Wales and Scotland are anything to go by, it’s a genuine possibility.
From Boxing Day, supporters will be banned from attending all sports fixtures in Wales while north of the border, a cap of 500 will be imposed.
For Mikel Arteta, the prospect of his side playing against the backdrop of empty terraces is one he doesn’t want to countenance.
“Please don’t go back to that stage, because we have experienced that and it’s something we don’t like so hopefully it’s not what happens,” he said ahead of Sunday’s game with Norwich.
Asked why he felt that way, he said: “Because it’s a different sport. Football is all about sharing it with people and having fans around the stadiums and when it is not, it is a completely different sport and the competition gets lost. It is not the same.”
He went on to clarify: “We will play like we have to play, what I’m saying is that obviously nobody wants to go back to where we were because we’ve already experienced it and it’s not something we enjoyed a lot, but if we have to carry on doing that, of course, we will.”
Earlier this week, all 20 Premier League clubs discussed the possibility of postponing a single round of fixtures over the festive period.
It was suggested that a short ‘circuit-breaker’ could protect the integrity of the competition at a time when Covid outbreaks were affecting most squads to some degree or other. Arsenal, reportedly, supported the move, only for the majority to insist the show must go on.
“The clubs have decided and that’s the decision that they’ve made, so we have to carry on,” said Arteta.
“Obviously, we had a preference of what we wanted to do because of the schedule and because of the situation that we are in, but it didn’t stop so now we have to play, if we can, every single match with no recovery and with less numbers, but we will try to do our best.”
Arsenal have five games in 15 days coming up, so it’s little wonder we supported a small break but you can see why other clubs, who’ve just experienced postponements or who have European commitments, didn’t see the point. Fixture congestion is going to be a major issue in the second half of the season.
Of course, for the players, there’s no rest. It’s something Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson raised in a pointed interview with the BBC where he stated “nobody really takes player welfare seriously.”
Arteta recognises that if players are making such complaints at this point, then it’s clear they should be listened to.
“Without the players, we can do nothing, so we have to really listen to the players because they are the ones that have to be there,” he said.
“It is easy for us to be there and demand and they’re the ones that have to perform and they have to do it and the same with the fans. This industry wouldn’t work without any of those two, so I think we have to listen much more to our players.
He added: “If the players are saying that then it’s genuine because they’ve never done it. They’ve always tried to carry on and try to get this league at the highest standard, and when they start to say something like that, I think we have to really really listen with open ears because we don’t want to damage the product and the incredible league that we have.”