Mikel Arteta says Arsenal are still assessing who will be available to play in tomorrow’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Liverpool as Covid-19 cases and injuries meddle with his preparation.
The Gunners are already without Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mo Elneny and Nicolas Pepe – all on international duty at the African Cup of Nations – and there are doubts about the availability of Granit Xhaka (Covid), Emile Smith Rowe (groin) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (calf).
That a number of players are also the subject of speculation about their future doesn’t help Arteta’s cause. Folarin Balogun is expected to sign for Middlesbrough in the coming days while fringe players, including Sead Kolasinac, Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares, have been linked with moves to Marseille, Udinese and Atletico Madrid respectively.
On the injury situation, Arteta reported: “It’s extremely volatile and uncertain. I don’t know what the situation we’re going to have today is, it’s different to what we had yesterday, certainly. Obviously, I cannot get into any detail with that. It is what it is. In the last week we lost so many players for different reasons and we are trying to adapt to that and use the players we have and make the most out of it.
“It’s different reasons, some injuries, some Covid, some players that they have to be away at the African Nations Cup, so different reasons.”
Pressed on the availability of Xhaka, Arteta confirmed he should hear one way or another today. Inside the club, the discussion is whether he’s made enough of a recovery from his second bout of Covid.
“That’s the discussion we’re having. Obviously, having had Covid they [the players] are going through that illness in a different way. Some players are having symptoms, some are affected, some after the first few training sessions they struggle and some are completely fine.
He added: “Whenever we have the option to train Granit fully with the team, we’ll see where he’s at. I don’t know where he’ll be physically, I know where he’ll be mentally and that’s fully committed to play straightaway the next minute he has clearance.”
Despite the situation, Arteta underlined that Arsenal remain determined to play through their issues although he stopped short of guaranteeing their presence at Anfield.
“You can never guarantee anything because you know this changes dramatically in 10 seconds when the doctor comes through the door and gives you the news,” he said.
“We have experienced that already twice already this season. Our willingness is always to play.”
The trip to Anfield was originally scheduled as the second leg of the tie but Liverpool successfully appealed to the EFL to have the Emirates leg pushed back two weeks following a Covid outbreak in their squad. That Jurgen Klopp revealed at the weekend that his squad’s Covid tests had actually resulted in a number ‘false positive’ has resulted in a lot of mumbling from other clubs.
Arteta seems willing to give the Reds the benefit of the doubt. “It’s something that’s not in our control, the EFL is responsible to check every single player’s status and then make the decision whether the game has to be played or not,” he said.
“The decision was to postpone the match so I’m sure if that was the case then they had the right arguments to do so.
“We have to trust that those tests are as reliable as possible. It was always going to be a percentage that might get a result wrong. First, you have to trust the people that does it, that it’s done in the right way and we have the right equipment, or the best possible equipment, and after that, whatever happens after that is difficult to judge.”