Today, Arsenal players returned to London Colney for their first session back since the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to self-isolate, and the season was put hold. After becoming the first team in the Premier League to agree to a wage cut, Arsenal are leading the way again, albeit with strict rules surrounding their return.
Players have been segmented into small groups and asked that they show up directly prior to, and leave directly after, their scheduled time. They have been asked not to socialize with one another and the club has put an emphasis on upholding these guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy.
In a report from Mail, each scheduled group will contain a max of five players. Each player will get an entire field to themselves to complete the “voluntary” work. The team training will be composed of, “A staggered series of one-hour sessions is spread throughout the day with medical and fitness staff overseeing each one from afar and the players banned from socialising with each other.”
In an effort to make sure everything is as precise as possible each player has even been given a specific ball dedicated to them to prevent cross-contamination. Buildings on the grounds will remain locked, including dressing rooms, and players will be asked to arrive ready and leave once they have completed their work, immediately.
Photos of Luiz, Lacazette, Emi Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Pablo Mari, and Granit Xhaka were taken as they arrived to get back to work.
While, these sessions are far from the comprehensive, tactical sessions that Arsenal fans and Mikel Arteta would like to be holding as they prepare to make a run to close the season, it certainly marks a step in the right direction toward returning to normal – or at least returning to a “new normal”.
I will set aside the very valid arguments a person may have for being against this or the anger a person may have that we are in a world where people across the world are curious when they, themselves, will be allowed to return to work and provide for their own family, to focus on the comfort or sense normalcy I felt to read news of an Arsenal session.
From a health perspective, I have faith in Arsenal’s medical staff overseeing the sessions to maintain strict health guidelines and have little doubt things would be shut down if there were to be evidence of any sort of resurgence.
From a personal perspective, my comfort comes from having been tossed – like almost everyone – into a world where my routines have changed and my daily schedule is either non-existent or revolves around my home. I find myself looking for signs of “what once was” returning in little ways, despite knowing that when things do return it will be in a very different world. One of those signs is sport.
Many writers have written about the schedule that sports and football offer them in their life. The structure, content, news, and engagement are a staple and even tell them which day of the week it is. Their week is either light or hectic based on the schedule. While I find myself in a similar position, my time blogging and writing has been limited, in comparison to many. It was not long ago that I was simply a fan. Simply, someone who consumed sports which places me with feelings from both parties.
But here we are. With the return of sessions, players back on the grounds, and the intention of completing the season, there is a feeling that this is as close to normalcy as we have come in a long time.
Every fan should know the chances are high of the return date being push back once again, but it may not be entirely about the return date. I try not to put too much heart into it all. After all, it is hard to look to this as an all-encompassing sign of the world being put back on track, when everything around us is far from normal. People are still sick, families still separated, jobs still suspended, businesses closed, and it is something that needs to be taken extremely seriously.
Sports offer respite, distraction, the ability to step away from our life and throw ourselves, completely, into something larger than life. Those that don’t get it may question why you care so much about something you have no control over, but that in itself is the beauty of it. Fans have nothing to offer except their heart and love. They can’t be the ones to kick the last-minute free kick, they don’t step up in penalties to send their team through, and yet they kick every kick and feel every heartbreak from the stands or home.
It’s been a month without something we love, without something we have given our heart to for years, and that has been tough. To have it return in any capacity allows me to feel as though a little of my love has been given back.