By Sir Hardly Anyone
Players have started to pack their bags, as tomorrow, 3 January is the day by which they are obliged to turn up at their national training camp for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
The government’s official website on travelling abroad refers readers thinking about being in Cameroon to its NaTHNaC website which says, “Most countries worldwide present a risk of exposure to COVID-19.” That’s about it. No one seems to know about Cameroon.
As for the country, Wiki tells us that In 2017, tensions over the creation of an Ambazonian state in the English-speaking territories escalated into open warfare.” The UK government site on such things tells us that we are advised not to travel to the Far North region except a 20km radius to the north, east and west of Maroua, and 30 km south of Maroua, within 40km of the border with Nigeria, except Garoua in North region, within 40km of the border with Chad, within 40km of the border with the Central African Republic, anywhere in the North West region, anywhere in the South West region (including the towns of Buea, Muyuka and Tiko in Fako division), except Limbe in Fako division of the Bakassi Peninsula.
So, maybe not the best place in the world to have an international tournament, but as we have reported before Fifa has now taken over the running of all football in Africa, (ahead of setting up their own continent-wide competition) and I am sure they know what they are doing.
Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers play on 3 January – I wonder if those clubs have wheedled their way into getting an extension. But after that one certainly, the African players selected by their countries will be out of it. And not just for the duration of the competition, but also for a period of isolation when they return.
The opening AFCON game is on 9 January with Cameroon (where the tourney is held) playing Burkina Faso, quickly followed by Ethiopia against Cape Verde. The final is almost a month later on 6 February.
This year of course we not only have burnout and injuries to worry about, but also heat exhaustion and a little thing called covid.
Players will return to their clubs once their country is eliminated, so the players will return to the UK as the month progresses, and of course then undergoing isolation – which could go on for more than a few days if they have signs of covid.
In all 16 Premier League clubs lose players. The four who have escaped are Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Norwich City.
At the other end of the scale Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, and Watford all lose four players each. Liverpool are also noteworthy as they will lose a pair of forwards.
Our men on the way out are
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) – 13 starts for Arsenal this season
- Mohamed Elneny (Egypt) – 4 starts for Arsenal this season
- Thomas Partey (Ghana) – 16 starts for Arsenal this season
- Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast) – 8 starts for Arsenal this season.
The losses for other teams are
- Aston Villa – 3 players
- Brentford – 3 players
- Brighton – 1 player
- Burnley – 1 player
- Chelsea – 1 player
(Chelsea would have had two players out but Hakim Ziyech had a row with the team coach and so was dropped. Maybe it is a tactic Arsenal should encourage).
- Everton – 2 players
- Liverpool – 3 players
- Manchester City – 1 player
- Manchester United – 2 players
- Southampton – 2 players
- West Ham United – 1 player
- Wolverhampton Wanderers – 2 players
Rather amusingly Emmanuel Dennis of Watford was called into the Nigeria squad, but will not be in the squad that goes because the Nigerian team missed a deadline for informing Watford of his inclusion. I wonder if someone interfered with the fax machines.
Of course, our situation is slightly less bad than it might have been but we do have this forward problem. Aubameyang has not been playing and indeed it is possible that in the current transfer window Arsenal might bring in a new striker to replace him, and Lacazette who is due to leave and Nketiah who has refused to sign a new contract. On the other hand Martinelli is utterly on fire, so maybe who we need is a tall fellow to knock in the occasional headed opportunity.
Pepe is simply not getting games outside of the League Cup, so really it is Partey we are losing for however long Ghana are in the competition, and then however long the isolation period is when he returns. Ghana did not qualify for the last world cup, so there is hope he might come back to England quickly.
Fortunately for us two of our top three scorers this season (Saka with seven, Smith Rowe with nine) are not leaving, so we should be ok up front. And of course the transfer window is indeed open so it is just possible we might sign someone else.
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