Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has said it is “morally strange” for elite football in England to continue playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic but added that the sport is helping to raise the nation’s spirits.
Scenes of dressing room celebrations during the FA Cup third-round weekend combined with recent high-profile player breaches of government guidelines — including Tottenham Hotspur trio Sergio Reguilon, Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela attending a Christmas party together — have raised concerns over whether football is still setting the right example.
The United Kingdom is currently in lockdown with the country passing 80,000 deaths from coronavirus over the weekend with 54,940 new cases reported on Sunday.
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The Premier League tightened coronavirus protocols last week to ensure those within the sport take their responsibilities seriously.
“First of all, to control the emotions when you’re going 200 miles per hour in the game is very difficult,” Arteta said at a news conference on Monday.
“We’re asking our players in corners for example to be man-marking people, to be pushing people around and then we cannot say hello to anybody. It gets a little bit controversial and difficult to understand.
“Morally, with the situation we have in the country, with the situation we have worldwide, to keep doing what we are doing is a little bit of a strange feeling. We know as well what we can bring to society if we are able to do it in a safe way, then there are a lot of positives to take. It’s just that balance. When this starts to get damaging and worrying and it starts to exploit people, and when we can do it and it’s still safe and we can add something positive. It’s a difficult context.
“All the protocols and guidance and everything that we are told to do to keep the industry going is really helpful. I think so far, until the last week or so, we did brilliantly and we were able to control that. If that’s the case and the government and the people are happy to do that again because they believe that it’s something positive and something to look at and keep people entertained then it’s great that we can help in that sense.
“If not, it’ll be them that are the ones making the decision that there’s no sense in keeping this going.”
While Thomas Partey is expected to be fit for Arsenal’s Premier League clash against Crystal Palace on Thursday, Arteta is hopeful Gabriel Martinelli will not be sidelined for an extended period after missing Saturday’s FA Cup third-round win over Newcastle due to an ankle injury sustained in the warm-up.
The 19-year-old appeared to roll his ankle during a practice drill and was taken out of the line-up less than 20 minutes before kick-off with Arteta admitting afterwards he was “gutted” over the situation. However, he was more upbeat about the prognosis on Monday.
“We don’t know how bad it is, he’s getting a scan this morning,” Arteta said.
“He didn’t look good after the game because he was in a lot of pain, but yesterday he tested a little bit better.
“So let’s hope he has a scan today and it’s not as serious and we can have Gabi back really soon. But we will know more tomorrow.”
Arteta also said Arsenal had botched their attempted overhaul of the club’s goalkeeping department in the summer and will look to rectify the situation in January.
The Gunners sold Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa for £20 million but after failing to prise David Raya from Brentford, they signed Iceland goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson on a four-year deal from French club Dijon.
Runarsson has looked out of his depth in his five appearances to date and although Arteta said there were no plans to loan out the 25-year-old, he added that the situation needed rectifying after third-choice goalkeeper Matt Macey was allowed to join Hibernian.
“We are assessing what is going to happen with the three positions, the discussions we had in the summer with Edu and the club were a little but different to what actually happened because of the transfer window and the situation that developed with Emi at the end of the day,” he added.
“We didn’t have much time to do what we really wanted to do and we decided to assess the situation now in this window which is what we are trying to do and we will make a decision about how we want to move forward in those three positions.
“We are assessing the situation with the three positions in the goalkeeping area and we will find a different solution probably in this winter break.”