Mikel Arteta is unsure if the north London derby will go ahead

Mikel Arteta is unsure if the north London derby will go ahead

Mikel Arteta suggested it is still too early to determine whether Sunday’s north London derby with Tottenham will be able to go ahead as planned.

Arsenal were without nine first-team players for their goalless EFL Cup semi-final first-leg draw with Liverpool on Thursday.

They had four players away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, another four injured and Martin Odegaard tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the game.

But despite the club having only one known coronavirus case prior to Friday’s testing, there appears to be a real danger of the clash being postponed.

Media reports claim the club have not yet submitted a request to the Premier League for the fixture to be called off, but it would seem they only need a few more players to become unavailable for a postponement to be likely.

In order for the encounter to not go ahead, Arsenal will need to prove they do not have 13 eligible outfield players and a goalkeeper among their first-team squad or “appropriately experienced Under-21 players”, and Arteta suggested Thursday’s game did bring further fitness problems.

Speaking on Friday, Arteta said: “We had concerns already before the match against Liverpool, and after the game we had some more issues.

“We haven’t been able to assess the squad yet because we couldn’t fly last night, so we just arrived to the training ground and all the boys are being looked after. So we don’t know.”

Centre-backs Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes were two of those able to play the full 90 minutes on Thursday, and both have been praised for their performances this season.

Since the former’s pre-season arrival from Brighton and Hove Albion, the defenders have formed a good understanding at the heart of the Gunners’ defence.

They have started 18 games together this season across all competitions, with Arsenal losing just four of those and winning 11 (61.1 per cent).

Arsenal have suffered as many defeats from matches in which one of them has not started, despite there being only eight games that qualify in that regard.

From those matches in question, Arsenal’s win rate drops to 50 per cent, while their average goals conceded per 90 minutes increases to 1.4 from 0.9.

After a somewhat shaky start, White appears to have settled and Arteta can already see a strong partnership forming, with the Spaniard praising him for being one of those to stand up the challenge posed by facing Liverpool a man light for much of the match following Granit Xhaka’s red card.

“He is one of them that I would certainly apply the words that I’ve just mentioned to his performance,” Arteta continued.

“He’s not Tony [Adams] and he cannot be Tony. He’s just moved to our club and he’s just been here just for a few months, but he has something and he wants to do it.

“He’s very demanding with himself, he’s really willing to learn and improve his game and he’s in the right place.

“In terms of the qualities that I saw in [White] and what is required for us to try to recruit somebody like him with his qualities, it was clear [he could play with Gabriel].

“Then those personalities as well, that chemistry has to exist. We can see they really enjoy playing together, you can see that, that chemistry is there and that’s a massive extra when you are looking to build something at the back.”