Soccer-Arsenal will defend derby postponement 'with teeth and nails' - Arteta

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Carabao Cup - Semi-Final - First Leg - Liverpool v Arsenal - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - January 13, 2022 Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta REUTERS/Craig Brough

(Reuters) - Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta defended his club following a wave of criticism after their Premier League clash against Tottenham Hotspur was called off, saying they had asked to reschedule the game for the right reasons.

The league agreed to Arsenal's request to have Sunday's north London derby postponed because their squad was depleted due to COVID-19 cases, injuries and players away at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The decision sparked mixed reaction, with fans and TV pundits saying clubs were abusing rules put in place to help teams deal with the pandemic. The derby was the 21st league game to be called off.

"We know we did the right thing," Arteta said ahead of Thursday's League Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool.

"We worked with the Premier League and the FA to make that decision. If anything, we've been very honest at least.

"We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We're not going to get anybody damaging our name or trying to lie about things that haven't occurred."

The Spaniard stressed that Arsenal did not take advantage of the league's COVID-19 rules.

"We played against (Nottingham) Forest (in the FA Cup) when we had 10 players out. And then we went to Liverpool and we played, and we had many players out," Arteta said.

"When it got to the point where we could not put a squad as the numbers required in this league to play a game, that's when we didn't play."

Arsenal will be without many players in their bid to reach the League Cup final after the first leg against Liverpool ended in a goalless draw, but Emile Smith Rowe, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Odegaard could be available.

Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to Arsenal for further examination after cardiac lesions were found during tests conducted in Cameroon following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

"We haven't had any clarity from Gabon about why he came back. So it's our obligation to make sure he's safe and in good condition," Arteta said.

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk, editing by Ed Osmond)

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