London (AFP) – The Premier League could be forced into lockdown after Arsenal’s match at Brighton was postponed when Gunners manager Mikel Arteta contracted the coronavirus on Thursday.
Arsenal’s training ground has been closed and their players and staff have gone into self-isolation following Arteta’s shock positive test.
Less than an hour after Arsenal revealed Arteta’s illness, Brighton announced that their scheduled clash at the Amex Stadium had been cancelled.
“It’s absolutely essential the health and wellbeing of individuals takes priority and with that in mind Saturday’s match has been postponed,” Brighton chief executive Paul Barber said in a statement.
“We apologise to all fans for any inconvenience but trust everyone will understand that we are all facing an unprecedented situation.
“First and foremost our thoughts are with Mikel Arteta and we wish him a speedy recovery.”
The Premier League, who had earlier insisted all games would go ahead this weekend, responded by revealing they will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss how to deal with the global pandemic’s effect on their fixtures.
“In light of Arsenal’s announcement tonight confirming that their first-team coach Mikel Arteta has tested positive for COVID-19, the Premier League will convene an emergency club meeting tomorrow morning regarding future fixtures,” the Premier League said.
Arteta said: “This is really disappointing but I took the test after feeling poorly. I will be at work as soon as I’m allowed.”
There are over 590 confirmed cases of the virus in Britain and 10 people have died from it so far.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said the government was “considering the question of banning major public events such as sporting fixtures”, but was not ready to do so yet.
Now Arteta’s illness could force the Premier League’s hand and lead to the cancellation of matches this weekend and possibly into the future.
In Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, Serie A has suspended matches until at least April 3 and Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has been quarantined.
UEFA, European football’s governing body, will consider whether to postpone the Champions League and Euro 2020 at a meeting next week.
All French Ligue 1 matches will be behind closed doors until April 15.
The next two La Liga match days have been suspended and this weekend’s Bundesliga fixtures are behind closed doors.
Arsenal’s league match at Manchester City last Wednesday was postponed and several Gunners players went into self-isolation after Olympiakos and Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis contracted the virus.
Marinakis, 52, met a number of Arsenal’s players and staff when the Gunners faced Olympiakos in a Europa League tie in February.
– Health crisis –
Arsenal are not the only top-flight club affected by the virus.
Leicester, scheduled to play at Watford on Saturday, said on Thursday that three of their players have shown symptoms of the virus and are self-isolating as a precaution.
The Foxes said the unnamed trio had “presented with extremely mild illness” in recent days.
“We’ve had a few players that have shown symptoms and signs,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said.
“We’ve followed procedure and they have been kept away at this moment from the rest of the squad and then we’ll see how that develops.”
Chelsea have also been touched by the health crisis, with players told to stay away from training after a member of staff reportedly complained of virus symptoms.
Thursday’s training session was cancelled while their Cobham base was deep cleaned before Frank Lampard’s side are due to travel to Aston Villa on Saturday.
Manchester City said one unnamed member of their squad, reportedly France defender Benjamin Mendy, is in self-isolation after a family member suffered a respiratory illness.
The relative is being treated in hospital and has undergone tests for the coronavirus, which can cause shortness of breath.
City’s Champions League last 16 second leg meeting with Real Madrid, set for Tuesday, has been postponed after one of the Spanish club’s basketball players tested positive for the virus.
If the Premier League does decide to play on, Liverpool could be crowned champions on Monday.
If second placed City lose to Burnley, then Liverpool will win the title for the first time in 30 years if they beat Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
Liverpool have lost four of their last six games in all competitions and crashed out of the Champions League on Wednesday.
Now they must wait to discover if they will be allowed to return to action any time soon.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated):
Aston Villa v Chelsea (1730 GMT), Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, Brighton v Arsenal, Manchester City v Burnley Newcastle v Sheffield United, Norwich v Southampton, Watford v Leicester (1230 GMT)
Tottenham v Manchester United (1630 GMT), West Ham v Wolves (1400 GMT)
Everton v Liverpool (2000 GMT)
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