Inside story of Arsenal’s return to training amid coronavirus lockdown

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being stopped for selfies in lockdown is one of the reasons Arsenal have become the first Premier League to return to training.

Arsenal’s first tentative steps show that clubs are gearing up towards playing games again in a brave new world amid the coronavirus crisis.

And while Arsenal are the first club to officially open their doors at their training ground, other clubs are considering doing the same with a growing feeling that fixtures could return sooner rather than later.

It will be nothing like a normal Monday morning at Arsenal’s training base at London Colney in Hertfordshire with all the sessions being done in strict rotation and under strict supervision.

Arsenal are also following strict Government advice, they have told the Premier League what they are doing and it will be in line with social distancing guidelines.

Players will be kept apart, do nothing as a group and, while they can follow the same session and instructions, they will not mix at all.

The problem for Arsenal is they have not had a game since March 7 when they beat West Ham, they have been in self isolation for longer than most because manager Mikel Arteta was the first high profile Premier League figure to test positive for coronavirus.

That has left players, super fit athletes, desperate to get back to training, it is like a buzz they need and doing workouts from home is not enough.

The added issue is that many of Arsenal’s players, like Aubameyang, live in North London, they enjoy throwing themselves into the culture of London rather than being stuck away in a mock Tudor mansion in leafy Hertfordshire like was the case in the 1980s and 90s.

But when they try to run in the streets of Hampstead, St John’s Wood or Swiss Cottage, they turn the corner and get besieged and it turns into selfie city. A big name Arsenal star running through Regents Park on a sunny day would quickly attract a trail of selfie hunters.

They find it hard to say no to an autograph hunter, someone takes a picture and the next thing they know they are having to apologise for breaking social distancing protocol.

At least this way they are under strict supervision. It is also worth noting that it is being done on a voluntary basis, the players can choose to do it or not and the lengths the club is going to means that no rules are being broken.

They are expected to drive to London Colney already changed into their training kit, arrive in separate groups of five for a one hour session. It will be done on a strict rota.

None of the training ground facilities will be open other than the pitches, car parking places will be clearly marked for each player and there will be no meetings.

They will all be given a separate set of balls to avoid infection and it will be more about running and physical work.

Arsenal doctor Gary O’Driscoll will be there, fitness and conditioning coach Shad Forsythe will take sessions and they will not need first team coaches. Arteta can pop along but the club has stressed that this is about fitness work, not normal training.

After doing their one hour session, they can get back into their cars and drive home again without ever coming into contact with team mates, staff or the training ground buildings which, with the gyms inside, have been considered as hot spots for spreading the virus.

It is understood other clubs have already done it on a less formal basis, one club has thrown open its doors for players in rehab and they can use weight bearing treadmills so they can run without putting strain on stress fractures.

But Arsenal are being upfront because word always gets out on these things and better to explain up front than have to face difficult questions afterwards.

However, make no mistake about it, this highlights the fact that clubs are gearing up for restart. Many have told players to be ready to resume training in May, they believe they will need a three week mini pre-season before fixtures can start again.

It is early tentative steps but it highlights the fact that clubs are expecting the Premier League to push to restart – and they want to be prepared.

Only time will tell whether it is possible for games to get going again and maybe Arsenal’s training plan will be an acid test and an indicator as to just how feasible it is.

But if games do get started again, then the big Premier League clubs want to be ready. There is still a nervousness about how and when games can return. Everything is hypothetical. But the fact the clubs are now getting going again, shows they mean business.

How training will work

9am: First set of five players at London Colney, already changed and ready to train

Fitness coach Shad Forsythe oversees the session with doctor Gary O’Driscoll also in attendance

Separate set of balls provided to each player, each has car park space clearly marked to avoid coming into contact with anyone and they do an hour long session.

They do no group work, the five must observe social distancing rules but can follow the same instructions from Forsythe but it is more about running and physical exercise.

No buildings at the training ground are open, just the pitches.

10am After the hour session, they get back in their cars, still in their kit and drive home.

It is being done on a voluntary basis, a strict rota of five players at a time with up to five sessions a day to accommodate as many who want to take part

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