Tonight’s Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal has been called off because of Arsenal players’ potential exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Gunners got knocked out from the Europa League by Olympiacos 13 days ago and during and after that match at the Emirates, “a number” of Arsenal players and staff came into close contact with the visiting team’s owner, Evangelos Marinakis.
Marinakis confirmed yesterday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, and while he apparently wasn’t showing any signs of sickness at the time, the contact happened still within the 14-day incubation period of the virus. While Arsenal’s official statement puts the risk of any of their players or staff actually developing the ailment at “extremely low”, they will all now follow the Government guidelines of self-isolation.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Should any of the Arsenal players actually test positive, we would have to trace back their movements, which would include a home game against West Ham over the weekend and an away match against Portsmouth in the FA Cup the Monday before — the Premier League may have banned handshakes, but there’s plenty of close contact during a match anyway. And then there’s training and other movements and fan engagements and so on.
And the story with Marinakis doesn’t stop there either. He’s also the owner of Nottingham Forest, and he was in town this weekend when they played Millwall, and he met the entire team. That was just three days before he was diagnosed.
Update: I'm told that Marinakis met the Nottingham Forest squad on Friday. Dear me.— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) March 10, 2020
Forest right now are seeking advice from the authorities on how to best handle this situation. They also claim that Marinakis wasn’t showing any symptoms, but this could very well be ground zero for the cancellation or at least the long-term suspension of the league (i.e. more than just a game or two).
Is that over-dramatic? Maybe. But the way things are trending — see: Italy on lockdown; matches all around Europe cancelled or at least played without fans — it wouldn’t surprise me if this singular event had far-reaching sporting consequences.
That said, UEFA have not yet canceled Wolverhampton Wanderers’ match against Olympiacos this week, a decision that has not sat well with Wolves themselves.