Arsenal are set to lose four players to AFCON in the coming months, and they may have to release the quartet as early as December.
FIFA rules state clubs have to release players by the Monday morning of the week before the week AFCON starts. In this case, the competition kicks off on January 9th, so the relevant Monday is December 27th, the day after the Boxing Day fixtures.
Thomas Partey (Ghana), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gaon), and Mohamed Elneny (Egypt) are all set to take part.
The Athletic point out that there’s potentially some wiggle room in the rules. Though AFCON does kick off on January 9th, none of Arsenal’s players have a game until the 10th or later, which is the next week.
So Arsenal could try and make a case that they should be releasing their players a week later, on January 3rd. At this stage, the plans aren’t set in stone.
But The Athletic report that Nigeria plan to meet on December 27th, and that one Premier League club informed them a January 3rd release is only likely to be possible if it applies to all clubs and all nations. In other words, it seems very unlikely.
The return dates will obviously depend on how each team does, but if an Arsenal player made the final, it’s possible they could even miss a game after the end of the tournament.
Here’s Arsenal’s schedule over the relevant period, with unconfirmed fixtures in italics:
- 27th December – 1st possible release date
- 28th December – Arsenal vs Wolves
- 1st January – Arsenal vs Manchester City
- 3rd January – 2nd possible release date
- 5th January – League Cup semi-final 1st leg
- 8th January – FA Cup third round
- 12th January – League Cup semi-final 2nd leg
- 15th January – Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal
- 20th January – End of group stage, earliest possible return date
- 22nd January – Arsenal vs Burnley
- 5th February – FA Cup fourth round
- 6th February – End of tournament
- 8th February – Wolves vs Arsenal
In the worst-case scenario, where Arsenal are forced to release players on December 27th, they make the League Cup semi and FA Cup fourth round, and a couple of Arsenal players make the final of the tournament, they could end up missing nine matches.
As you can see above, the initial release date is also pivotal for Arsenal. Releasing players on December 27th vs January 3rd is the difference between having them available for Wolves and Manchester City or not.
Even if some players are eliminated in the group stage, you’d imagine they’d return too late for the Burnley game that weekend. So the minimum number of matches missed is three – the FA Cup third round, and the league clashes with Spurs and Burnley.
The rest is all still up in the air, and that uncertainty is going to hang over us for a while yet.