Why Premier League teams are worried about the African Cup of Nations

As Brazil and Argentina filed out in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers fixture for the CONMEBOL, there was enough drama to go round. The game came to an abrupt end when officials of the Brazilian Health Ministry came into the field to stop the game, as they claimed four Argentine players who play in the Premier League- Emiliano Martinez, Cristian Romero, Giovani Lo Celso, and Emiliano Buendia had all lied about their travel history to gain access to Brazil. It was an embarrassing sight for football and the confederation, but it was just one of many dramas to come as the African Cup of Nations approaches.

Liverpool’s Alisson Becker and Manchester City’s Ederson Moraes have also been ruled out of their weekend Premier League games because Brazil will play on Friday. That’s enough frustration to go around the league, but the news is that it’s just the South American version of the issues, January 2022 will herald the African angle.

The 2021 African Cup of Nations, to be held in Cameroon will see many Premier League clubs miss out on some of their most important players. The potentially worst-hit clubs may be Arsenal, Liverpool, and Watford, with at least three players expected to represent their countries in January. They are aware these players are leaving but the drama and bickering will soon unfold as soon as the year turns the corner. Patriotic players will be at loggerheads with their hard-balling clubs while some others will ditch their countries for club stability. A lot is expected to happen and below are the players and clubs expected to be affected;


The Gunners started the Premuer League season like a house being razed, losing to newly-promoted Brentford, Chelsea, and Man City in their first three games. Now a butt of hourly jokes, and social media memes as well as the butt of the table, Arsenal are expected to start the climb and build some momentum having played some of their most difficult games. With nine goals conceded in three games, and no goal celebrated in 270 minutes of Premier League football, they are expected to soon start a better and stronger run, but there is January and the risk of the African hunt for national honours.

Skipper Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is struggling for form and consistency but is still one of Arsenal’s more dependable players. He may be away for up to three weeks in January if Gabon go far in the AFCON.

Ghanaian star, Thomas Partey is one of the Black Stars’ best players and will be one of their biggest presence in Cameroon. Sadly for Arsenal, they look inexistent without him in the middle of the park as the physical presence and desire to take risks goes missing when he’s not available. As Partey features for the Black Stars, it’s hoped but not expected that Arsenal don’t suffer bright scars. 

The duo of Mohammed El Neny and Nicolas Pepe complete the African quartet at Arsenal. Both players mean different things to Mikel Arteta. While El Neny isn’t expected to be sorely missed, as he is a fringe player and can easily be replaced, Pepe is one of Arsenal’s attacking options. Although he’s yet to live up to his price tag, he’s seen as one that should play a key role for the Gunners if they’ll muster anything of note. 

Aston Villa

Zimbabwean star midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba is the man to check when the Warriors take on the rest of Africa in Cameroon. Nakamba, a warrior himself on the pitch has become one of Villa’s mainstays with his energetic and rugged presence in the midfield. He will be needed in Cameroon as much as he’s wanted in Villa in January.

Nakamba won’t be alone on the plane to Cameroon, as his club teammate Bertrand Traore is also expected to star for the Stallions. The Burkina Faso attacker won’t be as terribly missed by Villa, as he plays a bit-part role on most occasions and is hardly a starter. 

Like Nakamba, Villa will miss Trezeguet sorely. The man named after the former French international is expected to play a pivotal part in the Pharaohs’ AFCON quest. A great lieutenant in Dean Smith’s army, Trezeguet’s services will be needed by his fatherland in January and a battle may ensue between club and country. 


The Bees enjoyed a sweet opener to their Premier League adventure as they stung Arsenal in the first game of the season. Nigeria’s Frank Onyeka, although not a regular with the national team is expected to make it to Cameroon. His performances with Brentford so far have been impressive and isn’t getting over the fence with Nigerian handlers. How easily Brentford takes that is what nobody knows yet. 


Mali are going into this AFCON with lots of expectations and a desire to better their semifinal outing in 2002 and 2013. Important to that drive is Yves Bissouma, the brilliant Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder. Graham Potter must be planning on the way to mound his midfield in Bissouma’s absence as he will be sorely missed, yet is a key asset to his country. 


New Burnley signing, Maxwell Cornet is one of the new stars of Ivorian football and will look forward to playing more part for his country after switching allegiance from France. Although considered a very good acquisition at Turf Moor, Burnley can manage without him in January. He’s however expected to play a key role in their attack in the coming weeks and how quickly he adapts to life in the Premier League will determine what becomes of his January fate. Will he be missed or not? Time will tell. Sean Dyche never hides his feelings. 


Edouard Mendy has become one of the best shot-stoppers in Europe since he moved to Chelsea from Rennes. Brought in to provide competition for the then misfiring huge signing, Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Senegalese has come in and made the Chelsea goal his own. He won the award for the Best Goalkeeper in Europe some weeks ago and will hope not to lose his place to Kepa when he’s gone on international duty. Thomas Tuchel may also bicker about losing his superlative goalkeeper in January. Sadly, Senegal will also go far, all things being equal. There will be stories to tell there. 

Crystal Palace

Cheikh Kouyate, Jordan Ayew, Wilfred Zaha, and Jeffrey Schlupp will all be out in January as they head to their countries for AFCON duties. Kouyate’s Senegal, Ayew and Schlupp’s Ghana, and Zaha’s Ivory Coast are all some of the continent’s strongest sides and will go far if they play to their greatest abilities. Patrick Vieira will definitely frown at the timing of the competition but will have little to say. He was born in Dakar, Senegal. 


Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi has started the season brightly under Rafael Benitez but that wand has been seen for so many years. It hardly lasts a while. Where the former Arsenal man hardly shows a lack of presence is with the Super Eagles. One of Gernot Rohr’s most trusted creative channels, Iwobi is expected to join Nigeria for the AFCON but his Ivorian teammate, Jean-Phillipe Gbamin may not get the nod as he still struggles to bounce back from his fitness issues. 


The Foxes will hope to have some bite when the AFCON comes knocking as they will be without enforcer Wilfred Ndidi, striker Kelechi Iheanacho, utility Daniel Amartey, and fringe player Nampalys Mendy. All four players are expected to represent Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. I doubt Brendan will find it easy to roger this!


Like Leicester, Liverpool may also lose the quartet of Joel Matip, Naby Keita, and most especially, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. Two of the Reds’ finest attackers will be gone for three weeks and it is an unimaginable realization for Jurgen Klopp. Matip who has had a topsy-turvy time with Cameroon may also go missing from the Liverpool fold in January while Naby Keita, still smarting from the coup experience in Guinea will hope to be back home soon to fly the flag. 

Manchester City

Champions Manchester City can afford whatever they desire and have never relied on a single player for the goods. They may not flinch when Riyad Mahrez goes to Cameroon to try and nick the AFCON again. While Pep Guardiola may complain, the reality isn’t as devastating. 

Manchester United

Manchester United’s duo of Eric Bailly and Amad Diallo will hardly be missed by the Red Devils. Bailly is fourth on the pecking order in the Man Utd Center-half position as he’s behind Rafael Varane, Harry Maguire, and Victor Lindelof. Diallo, on his part, would have achieved a great feat if he gets the nod with the Elephants. He’s competing against more experienced and more highly rated players in the Ivorian national team, unlike his club and international teammate.


The Saints have a Black Star and an Eagle and will have their eyes glued to the sky in January as Ghana’s Mohammed Salisu and Mali’s Djenepo Moussa make it to their national sides for the 2021 African Cup of Nations. Ralph Hassenhuttl will be left miffed and frustrated at losing two of his best legs but will cope or at least they should! 


William Troost-Ekong, Oghenekaro Etebo, Ismaila Sarr, Bonaventure Dennis, and Adam Masina may all be out of Watford’s Premier League quest in January. Vice-captain of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, Troost-Ekong has a sure ticket to Cameroon, and Etebo is one of the mainstays of the team. Sarr is one of Senegal’s most prized assets, and Masina is sure to depart with Morocco to Cameroon. Dennis’ fate is highly dependent on how his form plays out before January. If he continues with his current streak, he will be in contention for the plane to Yaoundé, if Rohr chooses to be flexible. An argument will definitely ensue between Watford and the Nigeria Football Federation. Wait for it!


Willy Bolly has formed an interesting partnership with Bailly since he joined the Ivorian national team and that team is capable of doing something interesting in Cameroon. Wolves won’t be happy to see it happen and will want an early edit for their man. It’s going to be a difficult one, and the war of words is expected to ensue soon. 

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