Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced the decision to move London from Tier 2 to Tier 3 on Monday, just two weeks after the capital’s clubs finally welcomed back fans to grounds.
It comes amid rising coronavirus infections rates across the city, with Mr Hancock also telling MPs that a “new variant” of Covid-19 has been identified which could be linked to faster transmission rates in the south east.
Arsenal have since confirmed that there will be no fans present for Wednesday’s game against Southampton at the Emirates, tweeting: “We are disappointed to confirm that we are no longer able to welcome fans to Emirates Stadium for our Premier League fixture against Southampton on Wednesday, December 16.
“Supporters who have paid for a ticket for this game after being successful in the ballot will receive a full refund on to their registered payment card. We expect the refund to be credited in the next 3-5 working days.
“These supporters will also be placed back into future ballots when they re-open.”
Under the government’s new tiered system of restrictions – which came into force at the end of the national lockdown on December 2 – clubs in Tier 1 regions are allowed 4,000 fans; those in Tier 2 can host 2,000, but no supporters are allowed in Tier 3 areas.
London’s Premier League clubs must now abandon plans to host 2,000 supporters for their Premier League fixtures on Wednesday night, although Football League clubs QPR, Watford and Charlton all play at home on Tuesday, before the new restrictions come into force.
The return of supporters is seen as a lifeline for many struggling Football League outfits, whose survival depends on gate receipts, and the government’s decision is a fresh blow to clubs, who were hoping the admission of 2,000 would be the first step towards greater numbers.
Charlton were the first club in London to welcome back fans under the new restrictions, with 2,000 at the Valley for the defeat to MK Dons on December 2 for the first time since a pilot event in September.
Top-flight sides Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Fulham have all since hosted fans in league matches for the first time since the initial shutdown in March.
AFC Wimbledon, who are still waiting for a safety certificate for their new Plough Lane stadium, are the only professional club in the capital who have not hosted fans under the new restrictions.