The African Cup of Nations returns this month for the first time since . . . well, last year actually. The prestigious competition has been added to the football calendar for a second consecutive year to avoid a clash with the World Cup. But enough about that.
The latest edition of the ACON is to be held in South Africa after their successful staging of the 2010 World Cup. Whilst there is no doubt that the tournament is a fantastic spectacle for football fans all over the world, it a contentious competition based on its timing in the football fixture schedule.
I mean, it's not as if it's a tournament shoe-horned into the football calendar at the busiest time of year, robbing clubs of some of their most prized assets for up to a month now, is it? Oh wait . . .
Cue managers up and down the land berating the loss of players straight after the hectic festive period, somehow shocked and amazed that the African Cup of Nations has snuck up on them for the 29th time, and that the African players they’ve signed will be asked to represent their country. The very cheek of it!
So rather than eagerly anticipating a showcase of one of the greatest international competitions in the football calendar, fans across the country are left hoping that their players respective countries are knocked out early doors, avoiding serious injury in the process.
So what Premier League teams will be effected by this year's competition? GiveMeFootball investigates . . .
Good news for Arsenal fans! No, Theo Walcott hasn’t signed a new long-term contract yet, but I give you the next best thing; Gervinho will be representing the Ivory Coast. The 25-year-old winger has had a poor season for the Gunners and has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from the Gunners faithful. Unfortunately Arsenal fans, a late request to get Andrey Arshavin a Nigerian passport has fallen through, so unless Arsene Wenger can shift him during the January window, you're stuck with him a little longer.
On a serious note, none of the players leaving are key to Arsenal’s team, so their pursuit of a top-four finish should be unaffected.
With a tough Christmas period reigniting the doubts over Aston Villa's relegation resolve, the loss of Karim El Ahmadi will do nothing to boost Paul Lambert's mood. El Ahmadi has started 11 league games this term, cementing his place as a crucial cog in the heart of midfield.
John Obi Mikel will head to South Africa this month leaving half of the Stamford Bridge faithful worried for their defensive stability and the other half excited at the prospect of maybe seeing the ball go forwards occasionally.
Losing the 25-year-old Nigerian would have been less of a blow had Oriol Romeu not sustained a knee injury ruling him out for six months.
Love him or loathe him, Mikel has become an integral part of Chelsea’s varying systems over the years and he will be sorely missed. However, Benitez has a ready-made replacement in David Luiz, who has thrived in his new, more advanced role.
Victor Moses will be joining Mikel having chosen his country of birth over the chance to represent England. The former Crystal Palace starlet has seen his game-time increase significantly in the past month, having made some telling contributions.
Chelsea should be able to recover from losing Moses, with Marko Marin and Florent Malouda waiting in the wings, but the real question will be whether Moses can recover from missing a crucial period of the season in the early stages of his Chelsea career.
Mahamadou Diarra will feature for Mali during January and having played in a third of Fulham’s games this season, his loss is likely to hit the Cottagers hard, especially as they have one of the smallest squads in the league.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dutch boss Martin Jol enter the transfer market in a bid to provide additional cover.
Liverpool’s squad is thinner than Victoria Beckham these days, so much so that even Stewart Downing’s getting games.
Oussama Assaidi, a summer recruit from Heerenveen, should not be too badly missed though, having only made three appearances so far this term.
New recruit Daniel Sturridge will provide extra options out wide, despite demanding he wants to play through the middle.
Joleon Lescott rejoice! Fourth choice no more, (at least for a month or so), as Kolo Toure joins up with the Ivory Coast.
The real issue here of course is the loss of his brother, Yaya Toure. Despite a fairly average season at best, Yaya is a crucial part of the champion’s midfield and his presence will be sorely missed.
The hope for City fans is that the tournament reinvigorates the midfield powerhouse and that he returns in the form that made him the main man in last years' title run-in.
Losing Cheikh Tiote will undoubtedly damage Newcastle at a time when they need all the help they can get.
A strong showing in the 2011/12 Premier League has been followed up by a string of poor performances that leaves the Toon Army firmly in the relegation mire. The recent cameos of Gael Bigirimana will soften the blow somewhat, as well as Shola Ameobi’s omission from the Nigeria set-up after the powerful striker reportedly refused to answer his phone.
Newcastle are used to missing Tiote for extended periods of time, with the 26-year-old regularly forced to watch from the sidelines due to his poor disciplinary record.
Some good news for the Mapgies however, as Senegal failed to qualify for this year's competition, meaning they can still call upon talismanic frontman Papiss Demba Cisse.
Harry Redknapp's attempt to pull off the impossible and save QPR from relegation is well and truly on after the R’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening.
Unfortunately for Redknapp, Adel Taarabt has declared himself available for Morocco, making the former Tottenham manager's job that little bit more difficult.
Samba Diakite will be representing Mali too, ripping a sizeable round hole out of the midfield that will be replaced with some less able players.
The good news is that 'Harry Houdini' has a good track record when it comes to transfers, so expect to see Redknapp leaning out of his car window on your TV screens pretty soon.
Andre Villas-Boas has given Emmanuel Adebayor his blessing to go to the African Cup of Nations, and with a return of two goals and one red card so far this season, it’s not hard to see why.
It does leave Spurs light up front with Clint Dempsey far from firing on all cylinders, whilst Harry Kane is out on loan at Norwich City.
The burden is on the prolific Jermaine Defoe’s shoulders, with the north London outfit relying on the England international to score the goals to keep them challenging at the top end of the table.
Defoe has thrived playing up front on his own this season but the lack of depth may force 'AVB' into the transfer market to keep Spurs hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive.
West Ham United:
West Ham find themselves in a better position than they probably expected to be in at the mid-point of the season.
Eight points off the drop-zone and with the homecoming of Joe Cole confirmed, Hammers fans are feeling positive going into the second half of the season.
The loss of Guy Demel is not ideal, although Joey O’Brien has been performing admirably at right-back.
Modibo Maiga has been predominantly used as a substitute so far during his time at the Boleyn Ground, but with Andy Carroll still injured and Ricardo Vaz Te only just returning to first-team action, Maiga may well miss out on an opportunity to impress.
Overall, West Ham shouldn’t feel the losses too heavily, especially as they are expected to strengthen further during the transfer window.
West Bromwich Albion:
West Brom will have been thrilled to see Peter Odemwingie’s name left out of Nigeria’s squad for this year's tournament, even if the man himself wasn’t so pleased.
It leaves Steve Clarke’s men with the varied striking options of Odewingie, Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long to help them build on an impressive campaign that has seen the Baggies climb to the cusp of the European qualification places.
Arouna Kone has proved a massive hit for Wigan this season with his energy, work-rate and determination helping the Ivorian to forge a good partnership with fellow striker Franco Di Santo.
Despite the positives, Wigan still find themselves involved at the wrong end of the table and could do without losing their star forward. Roberto Martinez has already sourced cover in the shape of 18-year-old Chilean frontman Angelo Henriquez, who has joined on loan until the end of the season from Manchester United.
Jordi Gomez may well be moved further forward following a recent upturn in form that has coincided with his revolutionary new concept that involves moving and passing the ball to people wearing the same coloured shirt. Who'd have thought it?
Questions of the ACON's timing and organisation aside, this is still a major international tournament, and they’ll no doubt be Premier League scouts flying over to South Africa in their droves in search of the next big talent.
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