Scotland have encountered major disruption in their preparations for the crucial visit of Israel after a positive Covid-19 test by Stuart Armstrong that also forced Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney into isolation. Arsenal swiftly hit out at the process that means Tierney will miss their game at Manchester City of 17 October.
Armstrong, the Southampton midfielder, was confirmed to have coronavirus during routine Uefa testing on Tuesday. Although the remainder of the Scotland squad returned negative results, Christie and Tierney have been identified as close contacts of Armstrong. So, too, have a physiotherapist and a masseur. Armstrong must isolate for 10 days from Tuesday but Christie, Tierney and the members of the backroom team face a period of 14 days.
In a statement Arsenal said: “Our medical team have confirmed that Kieran was socially distant at all times from the player who tested positive and has broken no rules regarding Covid-19 protocols. We are currently seeking further advice and clarification of the details.”
The Scottish Football Association is understood to be sympathetic to Arsenal’s position but believes Scottish government rules override all else. Tierney said: “I’m so disappointed and frustrated to be in this situation. I have adhered to all regulations and made sure I was socially distancing from my teammates in the hotel. I’ve also tested negative. I know Arsenal and the SFA are now in discussions with the Scottish authorities to gain a further understanding.”
Tierney, Armstrong and Christie will also miss upcoming Nations League games against Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Steve Clarke has lost Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer and Oliver Burke through injury as well.
“Hopefully everyone involved comes through with no issues because health is more important than any game of football,” said Clarke. “But as the national team manager I need to make sure we get a team on the pitch in the right frame of mind.” Should Scotland beat Israel they would be one game from a first finals appearance since 1998. “It is up to us to make the nation smile,” Clarke said.
The removal of Christie is a particular blow to Clarke. The Celtic midfielder has scored in three of his past four Scotland outings. The absence of Tierney and McKenna should mean a switch to a back four, with Andy Robertson in his favoured left-back position.
Celtic will take on Rangers on Saturday week without Christie and possibly Odsonne Édouard, who tested positive for Covid-19 with the France Under-21s. The striker posted on social media that he was “fine” but it remains to be seen when he can return to training with his club. Southampton play at Chelsea on the same day.