LONDON. — Arsenal will host Southampton in tonight’s English Premier League football game behind closed doors after London was placed in the toughest tier of Covid-19 restrictions following a sharp rise in coronavirus infection rates.
Arsenal were among the 10 English Premier League clubs who were allowed to welcome back 2 000 fans earlier this month when London was initially classified as falling into Tier 2 or high alert regions when a month-long national lockdown was lifted.
But the British government said on Monday that London was moved to Tier 3, citing an exponential rise in infection rates as one of the world’s richest cities struggles to contain the disease.
“We are disappointed to confirm that we are no longer able to welcome fans to Emirates Stadium for our Premier League fixture against Southampton on Wednesday, December 16,” Arsenal said in a statement.
“As it currently stands, we are unable to welcome fans to Emirates Stadium for subsequent upcoming fixtures and therefore will not run any ballots until further notice.”
Fulham’s home game against Brighton & Hove Albion today has also been pushed behind closed doors, while West Ham United too will host Crystal Palace without spectators on the same day.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola backed his former assistant manager Mikel Arteta to turn things around at struggling Arsenal.
Arteta won two English Premier Leagues, an FA Cup and two League Cup titles as Guardiola’s No. 2 at Manchester City but left to become Arsenal boss in December 2019.
The Gunners are currently 15th in the English Premier League and lie just five points off the relegation zone after losing their last three games, including a limp 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby.
But City boss Guardiola said Arteta needed time to turn things around at the Emirates and was the right man for the rebuilding job.
He said: “Arsenal doesn’t have a manager to lead this club in the next years better than him. I don’t have to give my support, because he has it and knows he has it.
“He is one of the best managers I ever worked with, of course, and seen directly — for his personality, his commitment, his love for his club. Without his love for his club, he still would be here.
“I’m pretty sure he will turn it over and do it like everyone expects. Sometimes when a club comes from not a good period, it needs time. I know in this world, (people think) it doesn’t need time.
“If I was part of the board at Arsenal, I would not have any doubts about his quality and capacity to put Arsenal in the place that Arsenal deserves to be.”
Granit Xhaka was sent off for a petulant grab around the neck of Ashley Westwood, while captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his first career own goal in a 1-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Burnley on Sunday.
Mid-week English Premiership Fixtures
Today: Leicester City v Everton (8pm); Arsenal v Southampton (8pm); Leeds United v Newcastle United (8pm);
Fulham v Brighton & Hove Albion (8pm); Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur (10pm); West Ham United v Crystal Palace (10pm).
Tomorrow: Aston Villa v Burnley (8pm); Sheffield United v Manchester United (10pm). — Reuters.