Mikel Arteta admits he was surprised that Arsenal’s match against Brentford was given the go-ahead given his squad experienced a Covid outbreak in the build-up to Friday’s season opener.
On the day of the match, news leaked that Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would miss the game due to illness and it’s since been confirmed that both strikers plus midfielder Willian and backup keeper Alex Runarsson had tested positive for the virus.
In their place, a young Gunners side, which featured a debut for striker Folarin Balogun, went down 2-0; a result that sparked a wave of criticism directed at the players and manager. While Arteta refused to make excuses in the aftermath of the defeat, it’s clear, now the dust has settled, that he thinks the game should not have been played.
“Yes, I was surprised [the game went ahead],” said the Spaniard on Thursday. “The regulators decided that the best thing to do was to play the game.
“What we did is what we had to do. through the club and the club doctor, we explained the situation, how it developed and the risks that we could see.”
Asked why the club didn’t confirm the positive cases at the time, Arteta made clear that medical protocols meant there were restrictions on what he could and couldn’t say.
“I am always very direct and try to give the information that is right but there are some policies and medical privacies that I cannot forget. I have to protect the club and I have to protect the individuals. If you ask me why I did it. That was the only reason. For me, it was simple. [I could have said] ‘They had Covid. My best players had Covid. I cannot play them. I have to put a team out there that is unprecedented in this league.’ And it would have taken the pressure off.
“For me that would have been simple. But I cannot do that. The club will be always in front of me. And if the individuals believe that we cannot give the right answer in the moment for different reasons then that’s what I’ll keep doing and I’ll do it again next time.”
He added: “If you know you’ve had a hamstring injury, you can say with permission from the player that you have a hamstring injury. When you don’t know or you’re not sure or it can be something else, maybe worse, then you have to be careful about what you say.”
Asked how the ill parties are fairing, Arteta said: “They had some tough days to be fair. Laca still hasn’t trained. He’s not been really good. Auba had a training session yesterday but yeah, they were affected by the virus. Alex is something similar as well. Yes, they were ill.”
As a result of the ongoing uncertainty, Arteta is still not able to give a clear indication of when they will be back in action. It sounds unlikely any of the four players will feature against Chelsea on Sunday.
“It’s still very uncertain,” said the manager. “I cannot give you any answers today because I don’t know. I don’t know if they are going to be able to train in a few hours or compete at the weekend. I don’t know.”
Arteta went on to confirm that most of the squad were double-vaccinated while others had received their first jab.