The October international break has been somewhat kind to Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.
Not many of his first-team players are away with their respective nations, which means the likes of Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli should benefit from extra training.
However, the Spaniard has already been rocked by the news that he could be without up to four Arsenal first-team players at some point in the new year with the Africa Cup of Nations tournament being moved back to its winter slot.
The tournament was moved to the summer months following a decision by their executive committee in 2017, but after just one competition, it has been confirmed that it will now return to its original January-February format.
One of the reasons for the change is the temperature and weather both being more favourable in the opening two months of the year.
The competition, which was last won by Algeria, was due to be staged at the beginning of this year however, it was forced to be pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, the tournament in Cameroon will be staged from January 9, 2022 to February 9, 2022.
The timing of the tournament, as expected, won’t be warmly received by too many Premier League managers, with some of their key players poised to miss a large portion of the season.
So as things stand for Arsenal, Arteta is facing up to the prospect of being without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe.
With that said, the AFCON group stage draw was made in August and it’s not great news for Arteta and Arsenal.
Given the quartet represent Gabon, Ghana, Egypt and Ivory Coast respectively, there’s a nightmare scenario that would see the Gunners manager without them for a month if their nations are amongst the final four.
Just like with the Euros, the best four third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16 alongside the top two teams from each group.
What that means is, for example, Gabon who have been drawn alongside Morocco, Ghana and Comoros, may fancy their chances of finishing third which would extend Aubameyang’s stay in Cameroon.
Meanwhile, Partey’s Ghana will be favourites alongside Morocco to progress from that group.
The same applies to Elneny’s Egypt who have been drawn alongside 2013 champions Nigeria, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau, whilst Pepe’s Ivory Coast should have no problems qualifying from a group that contains Algeria, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
Of course, this is all dependant on the Arsenal quartet being selected for the tournament, but barring injury or a drastic dip in form, it would be a surprise if they are not involved.
A much tougher group for one of Aubameyang, Pepe, Partey and Elneny would have been ideal for Arteta as that increases the likelihood of an earlier return.
But it’s looking likely that the Arsenal manager is facing a further blow.
During the period in which AFCON 2021 takes place, the Gunners will face the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Burnley, Wolves and could have as many as three cup ties sandwiched between.
Interestingly, If at least one of the aforementioned quartet reaches the final, which takes three days before Arsenal face Chelsea, it would automatically make them doubtful for the trip to Stamford Bridge.
Source by Football London