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Mikel Arteta: Spike in coronavirus among players leaves season on knife-edge

Pic: Mike Egerton

By Mark Mann-Bryans & Jamie Gardner, PA

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta believes the spike in coronavirus cases among Premier League players proves the upcoming season is on a knife-edge.

A number of players have tested positive for COVID-19 as they return from short holidays to begin pre-season training ahead of the top-flight kick-off on September 12.

The likes of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele were left out of the France squad having returned positive results.

Arteta was the first high-profile case among the British football community when he was struck down by COVID-19 in March, the catalyst for the season being halted as the pandemic took hold.

He recovered fully before guiding the Gunners to FA Cup success – earning them a place in the Community Shield against Premier League champions Liverpool on Saturday.

But, talking ahead of the game, Arteta warned that the season could be put at risk if cases continue to climb and believes clubs will have to plan for losing players to the virus in the coming months.

Asked if the increased positive results were a sign that the season is on a knife-edge, the 38-year-old replied: “Yes – and I think we are going to have many more cases in the future unfortunately.

“You are just planning to do something and then that player tests positive, and that positive was a false positive.

“We are trying to get used to it, get around it, and trying to manage the situation as well as we can.

“There is not much we can do and we know that there are some uncertainties we cannot control at the moment.”

It is understood the Premier League is not expecting there to be any need to delay the start of the 2020-21 season.

Should clubs feel there is an issue with fulfilling a fixture due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the protocol is that they should approach the league’s board concerning a possible postponement, and issues will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The number of positive cases when the season resumed in June were minimal given players had been training and operating inside of a bubble.

That is different this time round as players travelled abroad on holiday in the off-season before reporting for pre-season duties – the hope being now squads are reassembled, the number of cases will once again drop off.

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