Premier League sides like Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool could keep their African contigent beyond the deadline, ahead of the African Cup of Nations which starts in January.

Up to 40 footballers playing in England’s topflight could be involved.

And this comes as the UK adds much of the African continent to its travel red list following the spread of a new COVID-19 variant.

The final is scheduled for February 6 in Yaounde, meaning a player who goes all the way could end up missing seven club fixtures should he have to report for duty on December 27, which is the date currently stipulated by FIFA.

This is a work in progress with clubs negotiating late releases with respective national teams. Some clubs, including Arsenal and Chelsea, are hopeful that they can keep their players until a week before the tournament kicks off, with Chelsea and Liverpool particularly keen on that possibility considering the title hopefuls face each other on January 2. Senegal, for whom Edouard Mendy and Sadio Mane will be star men, play their opening game on January 10, ditto Hakim Ziyech’s Morocco with Mohamed Salah’s Egypt a day later.

It is perhaps easier to say who will not be without a key player. Four Premier League teams – Tottenham plus Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich – will not have anyone reporting for duty. Watford could be worst hit with five members of Claudio Ranieri’s squad in contention and next worse off could be Arsenal and Crystal Palace. Mikel Arteta may be without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Thomas Partey (Ghana) and Nicolas Pépé (Ivory Coast) for the duration, with Patrick Vieira contemplating the absence of Jordan Ayew (Ghana), Cheikhou Kouyaté (Senegal), Jeffrey Schlupp (Ghana) and Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast).