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Arteta on the Premier League’s Covid situation

by Koolkola

With only two games surviving this Premier League weekend, the Covid-19 situation was a hot topic for Mikel Arteta’s press conference on Friday.

The manager discussed it at length, including the need for clarity from the league about the situation, and you can read a full transcript below:

on the health of the squad…

We are good, we are waiting for more tests which we will have this afternoon – and this is the only thing we can do: wait and see.

on the general fitness of the squad…

Yeah, we had a couple of issues at the weekend but we will train today and see how everyone is feeling.

on how concerning the general Covid situation is…

Health-wise I hope that we are doing everything we can to protect everybody. Obviously the vaccine protocols are in place, everyone is trying to do their best and I am sure with everything we are doing we can do our best to keep everyone healthy. In terms of the competition, two things: we need much more clarity about why those games are not being played and what you need to not play a game, so we are playing in the same league. At the end the most important thing is that we are able to maintain within the context the fairness of the competition and for me this is a big thing now.

on sticking with the leadership group…

Yes, as I mentioned yesterday it has been going for months and I am really happy with them.

on how having two former captains in the squad affects things…

I always believe, and in a lot of things where I have been, we always had a group of players that was responsible for making the decisions in the dressing room and communicate with the coaching staff, the club and transmit it to our supporters. At the end of the day, that decision was transmitted by one person, it was the captain, but the decision wasn’t made by one person.

on how close the team is to getting to where he wants it to be…

The last two performances have been really good in terms of what we want to achieve in matches, the results we have got and the way we have dominated those games. But we need to be consistent in that over 10 months to achieve the goals that we want, which is to be the best and we are not there yet.

on whether all the players were negative on the last round of tests…

Yes, but this is changing every day and that uncertainty that we all have. Hopefully we don’t have any cases but we will have to wait and see. We have seen what is happening in the league and at many other clubs, and that is the reason why many games are not being played this weekend.

on whether there have been many positive cases among staff…

We have had issues in the last few weeks like everyone has, we are not an exception and we are trying to manage that as well as possible and that is what we are trying to do.

on whether he is happy to play in the current climate…

We always want to play when we have the right conditions to do so, 100 per cent. But we have been here, on the other side of the table, when we had all the arguments in the world not to play a football match and we ended up playing it. That is what I am saying, we need clarity because [otherwise] the fairness of the competition can be altered and that wouldn’t be fair.

on whether the fear of covid is harming players’ mental health…

Well, we’ve done a lot of work and we’ve tried to help our players and everyone involved in the club, but I think it’s a social thing. I think everybody is going through something that is unprecedented and we are all learning from it and we’re trying to normalise a situation that we’ve never been through before. That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to help everybody in the best way that we can and live in the context that we’re living in today, that we have to live with this virus and probably for longer than we all expected.

on Thomas Frank calling for a break in the season…

I think there are people that know much more than I do to try and find out what the best solution is, to find out if we should carry on playing with the rules that we have at the moment or stop it. I don’t know, it’s not something that I want to give an opinion on because I’m not a scientist and I’m not a specialist and we have to rely on the government and the Premier League to try to make the best decision.

on whether getting covid early has made him extra careful with rules for his players…

We’ve been trying to explain what the risks are, how we can get it and what we have to do if we do get it. But as well now, we all have relatives and we all have people around us who have been through that in many different ways and I think everybody’s awareness is pretty good. The thing is, I think it’s really difficult to control what happens outside when everything is open, so those bubbles that we were able to create before are now impossible to do.

on whether Aubameyang is available for selection…

No, he’s not available for selection.

on whether Aubameyang has a future at the club…

For this game he’s not available for selection.

on whether clubs should be more transparent about whether it’s players or staff who have covid…

Well, this is what I’m saying that we need clarity. At the end of the day it’s the regulators who make a decision about whether a game is going to be played or not, but to play under the same rules I think we all have to understand the reasons behind it.

on whether we’d struggle to restart football if we stopped for a weekend…

I don’t know. We’re going to have to find a way and we knew that when we started this season that this could be a possibility, and I’m sure that there was a plan A, B and C because this can happen. We have the African Cup of Nations in the middle of all this and we have the World Cup  coming up too and the dates of that. I think we need a flexible calendar now because this world is not the world that we used to live in a few years ago, and we all have to be prepared. We all prepare with different protocols every single day for training sessions, you have to cancel training sessions, you have six players out, you have 20 members out, so I’m sure that the league has a very flexible calendar and options to fit it in because this is what we’re living in.

on whether he’s worried that COVID is affecting the player’s concentration and mental health…

No hopefully not, but we need to make a lot of remarks on that, because once we get to the competition we have to be fully focused to do that, and not use any excuses about what is happening in the environment. We know what we expect, but we don’t know what it’s going to happen in three days time, (let alone) six or twelve. We can suspect it’s going to go one way, but we don’t know – and we have to be prepared for that.

on whether the young players have matured into men…

Well, they are contributing immensely, to the performance and results of the team – that is true. But it’s because they earn it, and it’s because they have other senior players around that have been really supportive and helpful. The club has believe in them, and having been given opportunities – they have taken those opportunities. So credit to them.

on whether it’s fair for some teams to be playing this weekend, and some not…

I don’t know what the best solution is. I understand that it’s a really complicated matter to make a decision right now. What I’m saying is, let’s make that decision based on what is best for the competition and for the health of everybody that is involved in the industry, and in this society. We will always stick to that – but with clear rules, on what is a yes and what is a no.

on the how important he thinks the vaccination has been to avoid positive cases in the squad…

The vaccination is really really important. First of all, just in case you catch it, and to prevent getting really ill. We have seen hat obviously that’s been a massive help. Also you see many other cases where they have been vaccinated, but they still caught COVID – so you don’t know.

on whether he’s comfortable with the number of vaccinated players in the squad…

Yes, we try to do the right thing, and it’s a really personal matter obviously.  But we try to educate, and I think the doctor has done a really good job to try to explain to everyone – because culturally as well there are a lot of thoughts around it. We just try to educate them to try to encourage them to make the decision, but first of all they have to believe in that.

on how big a test the last week has been for him as a manager…

Well every time that you are sitting here you have some challenges. You have some brilliant moments, and some moments where you have to make decisions. I’m sitting here to try to make the right decisions every day. My only intention is to get the club in the best possible condition, to defend our players, and to get the best performance and results on the pitch as we can. It’s very challenging because those decisions are tough, and are not pleasant, but you have to do what you feel is right.

on what Aubameyang needs to do to get back into the squad…

Well, he’s not available for the Leeds game, and this is the situation right now.

on whether the Aubameyang situation has any impact on Lacazette’s future at the club…

Alex’s performances, involvement and commitment is without question. It’s not related to his contract situation. I discussed it in the summer with him – what the situation was – and we are both clear on that. Auba’s situation is something separate to that.

on Lacazette becoming increasingly important to the team…

He’s always been a really important player, and since we’ve been together he’s played a lot under me. I have always been really pleased with him.

on his importance to the squad…

He’s always been a really important player and since we’ve been together he’s played a lot under me, and I’ve always been really pleased with him.

on Martin Odegaard’s contribution…

He’s very, very young but he’s already had a lot of experience in different clubs, in international football. I agree that in the last few weeks he’s getting very close to his best level. The ceiling for him, I don’t know where it is, with the talent that he has, the desire that he has, how much he wants to always improve and get better. We’ve got a tremendous player there.

on being part of the leadership group…

He is a natural leader. If you look for the perfect professional, he wouldn’t be very far from that.

on his two-year anniversary of being appointed manager…

I don’t think the world is right for too many celebrations. I just feel proud and grateful for the opportunity I was given two years ago now.

on reflecting on those two years…

I could write a few books with everything that has happened, not only to me but around the football club, around the world in the last two years. I don’t know, probably one day I need to stop and think carefully about what happened and the experience that you take, but it’s been a lot.

on extending his contract…

No, we haven’t discussed anything like that. I think we have many other priorities at the moment that are far more important than that.

on whether that will be at the end of the season…

I don’t know, really I’m not thinking about that. I’m just trying to get the best out of the team, trying to cope with all the situations that we are facing at the moment. Things will happen naturally.

on Nicolas Pepe not featuring as much…

With all the players who are not getting a lot of minutes at the moment. Obviously with the amount of games we have got, there’s not enough room for all those players. With Nico’s situation it’s something similar. I’ve highlighted on many occasions it’s (based) on what I see every day. That’s with Nico as well. But he needs more opportunities to show what he can do and in the last few games, he hasn’t had them.

on reaction to why Pepe isn’t playing…

I understand that, I have to try to make that decision on what I see every single day. And to be fair, Nico is really willing and really willing to help the team. The reality is that the position he plays, Bukayo has been playing regularly there and he’s been fantastic. So it’s not been easy for him to find that time.

on Jack Wilshere’s standard in training…

First of all it’s great to have him around. He is this type of character who adds special feeling to the club. He comes in every day with a smile on his face, trying to do his best. His talent is unquestionable. When you see him in training, I think you have had some players say he is the best in training. So he has that. Now he is doing his coaching badges and it is completely up to him what the next step in his career will be and we are here to support that.

on whether he could play in the Premier League…

Yes, 100 per cent! I have seen that, I can tell that he has.

on whether that would be at Arsenal…
That’s a different story!

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