Theo Walcott, England saviour – AFC

Ladies and gentlemen he’s back on the national radar. The critics were left to eat their words last night as Theo Walcott’s introduction midway through the 2nd half changed the game in England’s favour. England were in dire need of inspiration from somewhere; they did well to fashion a one nil lead in the first half only to self implode with two poor goals conceded. One being an own goal from Glen Johnson and the second a free header for Olof Mellberg; England really went to sleep for ten minutes in the second half.

England were in desperate need of a change to stem the flow as Sweden were growing more and more in confidence. I mentioned in my blog yesterday that I felt Roy would use Walcott’s pace in the second half to stretch the Sweden defence and keep them on their toes. What I didn’t expect was for Sweden to be leading at that time however what an impact that was made by Theo Walcott.

Theo was brought on as an immediate reaction to the 2nd goal scored by Mellberg. The change was needed, something was needed to bring the game back in favour of England. Theo didn’t take long to make his mark, within 5 minutes of coming on he pounced on a loose ball cleared to the edge of the Swedish box from an Ashley Young corner, he cushioned the ball and pinged it through a crowded box. Luckily the keeper was unsighted and saw the ball too late to react, the ball flew into the back of the net and England was level.

Walcott is not known for is long-range shots so this was a welcome surprise for all. England fans, especially gooners were jumping up and down and cheering the goal that given England a second chance to get a result. Arsenal fans have had to put up with the constant barracking of Walcott as people questioned his right to be in the England squad. Mark Lawrenson tended to put the knife in when Walcott came on the pitch when he suggested that Theo has apparently been living off of his hat trick performance against the Croatians 4/5 years ago. Pretty harsh but Mark Lawrenson doesn’t do positivity, I’m sure he must have Stewart Robson as a facebook friend.

That goal was the perfect response to any critics and a reminder to Roy Hodsgon of exactly what he can bring to the England team. Theo wasn’t finished there though,England were level but the boost from the goal meant that their heads were up as they had a new impetus. And so then came the winner courtesy of some excellent work from Theo. From an England break Theo received the ball just outside the area from Glen Johnson; he turned at the defence and drove forward, he used his pace to get past two defenders to reach the by-line, he cut the ball back to Danny Wellbeck who with a brilliant piece of adjustment sneaked the ball into the goal with a back flick. Although it needed a good finish the pace of Theo unsettled the Swedish defence enough to create the chance, what an impact.

The turnaround was complete,England had the lead and all they needed to do was hold on for the last ten minutes or so. With a few minutes left Roy Hodgson made a change and brought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on. A bit late for the youngster to make much of an impact but he did mange to get in the right position for a late chance. Theo was the creator again as he put on the after burners to chase a ball played out in a counter attack, the Swedes were stretched at this point and as Theo worked his way into the box he saw Oxlade-Chamberlain at the far post. The ball was played over and heading to the boot of young Alex only for an over enthusiastic Steven Gerrard to charge into the box and steal the ball before it could reach the Arsenal man. The connection from Gerrard sent the ball flying into row Z and the chance was gone. England still managed to hold on to record the 3-2 win and move a step closer to qualifying from their group. Roy Hodgson’s tactics were working in the first half, they got thrown upside down with the sloppy Sweden goals early in the second half however he had a plan B in the two Arsenal players on the bench and thankfully he saw that early enough to introduce Theo who made the all important difference.

Enjoy your day people

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Oxlade-Chamberlain plays his part, Giroud again,Wiltord retires

Well that came out of the blue, here we were wondering if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would get the chance for a cameo role against the French. What we didn’t expect was for Roy Hodgson to give the young gunner a start in the game. This wasn’t a friendly, this was a start against one of the tournament favourites France and I have to admit the boy didn’t let his country down.

I spent the best part of yesterday’s blog expressing how I hoped Oxlade-chamberlain would play some part in the tournament but never imagined he would have been in Hodgson’s plans. Downing seemed a shoe-in for the left side of midfield due to his age and experience against a high-profile team like France. It wasn’t to be, rumours filtered through in the late morning that Roy would be starting the youngster but they were just rumours, nothing concrete to confirm.

The buzz from the rumours alone were enough to get Arsenal fans excited, this was a game we weren’t going to miss but the added bonus of young Alex playing ensured it would not be missed for anything. Once it was confirmed it was a proud moment for all linked to Arsenal to see that Roy Hodgson had big faith in his ability.

And to the game the young gunner did not disappoint, putting in a disciplined and controlled performance that made a mockery of his young age. We all know Oxlade-chamberlain for his dazzling runs, awesome skill and play with no fear attitude but this wasn’t a game for running gung-ho at the French team. Roy Hodgson set out a game plan to be followed and Oxlade-chamberlain ensured he did his part in a disciplined performance by England.

France in hindsight were the better team, they had more chances at goal and more possession.England were camped in their own half in the second half of the game and did enough to contain the pressure. Roy Hodgson selected the team that he felt would cope best against the French flair, disciplined enough to track back and close the French down but still pose a threat on the counter. The 1-1 draw was a great result for England and Oxlade-Chamberlain can hold his head up high for playing his part in professional team performance.

He was replaced in the 76th minute as Roy decided to change some tired legs; he played his part and now can look forward to the remaining group games having overcome the hardest test in the group. Expect him to have a more offensive role against the Ukrainians and Swedes if he plays.

The Olivier Giroud story is starting to pick up more pace as news surfaced that the Montpellier manager Rene Girard has apparently confirmed on French radio station RMC of Arsenal’s interest in the striker. Again it could be more made up stories since it’s the easiest story to run with without hard evidence in writing. If the manager has in fact confirmed the negotiations with Arsenal let’s hope his club Montpellier can confirm this more officially soon.

Special mention goes out to Sylvan Wiltord who announced his retirement from football yesterday. Our former French striker was one of the invincibles and spent a good few years at Arsenal. One of his most memorable moments was scoring the only goal at Old Trafford to clinch the title for us in 2002. Even more memorable was his part in one of the more remembered goal celebrations in Arsenal history when he allowed Kanu to pole vault over his head when in standing position. He will always be remembered for playing his part in that title clincher AND for looking like a member of Fine young cannibals. All in all we salute a former gunner who takes place in a part of Arsenal history.

Oxlade-Chamberlain,Walcott England needs you,Giroud linked again – AFC

The day is finally here for England to show what they can do in Euro 2012. We have now reached the final day of the first set of group games. England will take on France while Sweden will take on the Ukraine. 

I’m a little excited now at the prospect of Oxlade-Chamberlain showing what he can do on the big stage, previous I admitted I was worried about the great expectation that would be thrown upon him after the loss of vital senior players from the squad.  However that expectation was quashed slightly after the game against Belgium. I believe the press and fans realised he isn’t going to rule the international stage overnight.  However he has every chance to make an imprint in these championships if used right by Roy Hodgson.

The football so far at Euro 2012 has been very enjoyable, some tense affairs but also some great open games and goals too. England really have nothing to lose facing the French, they are not expected to get a win against France. Their preparation has been hindered by injuries to key members, uncertainty over who the manager will be and then the squad selection by the new manager. England fans are maybe less optimistic but maybe that can work in their favour. If England can get a result from the France game and progress from the group they have every chance. Similar to the Tennis when Andy Murray (or previously Tim Henman) makes it to the quarter finals of a grand slam the fans then start to believe it could happen, the player starts to believe he can do it and that belief can carry you on. Ok, it hasn’t quite worked out for those tennis players but my point is the psychological boost you can get from knowing the fans are behind you and believe in you really can help.

Theo Walcott will be hoping to make an impact in the championships; this in effect will be his first real tournament to make his mark. He was too young for the World cup in 2006 and then wasn’t selected for the World cup in 2010. He has a point to prove and I hope he makes it. In a squad shorn of true star quality this could be the time for Theo to show he can make a difference and have the fans believing in him again like after his hat-trick against the Croats a few years ago.

He is more likely to get on the field before Oxlade-Chamberlain and he needs to ensure he is first choice for the right flank. We have seen last season he can provide goals for team mates. I know Andy Carroll and Danny Wellbeck are not of the calibre of Robin van persie but if Theo keeps plugging away the chances will eventually go in. On top of that Theo should utilize his pace to get in the goal scoring positions too. On his day he is a cool finisher the only problem is his shots can be hot and cold, for every neat finish there’s a pea-roller from 30 yards a baby could stop with little effort.  Hopefully he will have worked on that in training.

I’m still very excited for our Arsenal boys that they can do something positive at the Euros and that starts from the first game.

There was some news that broke last night that Arsenal have agreed a fee with Montpellier for the signing of Olivier Giroud . Sources came from Al Jazeera tv that the deal has been struck. An exciting bit of news if true but I would like some more concrete sources before I can get happy. If true then yes it is merely a price has been agreed but not anything agreed with the player as yet. With France preparing to face England I’m pretty sure nothing is likely to be agreed for now with Giroud, a good game against England and several more teams could also join the race to sign the player. I suggest us gooners need to wait this one out.

Enjoy your day people, enjoy the game!!

Oxlade-Chamberlain to start v Belgium. No pressure – AFC

So the Ox will be released on Saturday against the Belgians. Roy Hodgson has revealed that he will give starting opportunities to both Danny Wellbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in England’s final warm up game before Euro 2012 kicks off next week. A proud moment for all gunners fans to see the young midfielder start for his country at Wembley.

Being so adaptable it will be interesting to see where Hodgson will deploy the midfielder in the team. For the England u-21’s Alex was used more as a right-winger, he fulfilled that role to great success often leaving the left back in his wake. He would also drift inside and contribute to teams build up if service was not getting to him on the right; a useful attribute to have as long as the player doesn’t try to do everything. Don’t get me wrong not every game for the u-21 was a man of the match performance, his reputation was such at that level that teams would double up on him to nullify his threat.

At Arsenal last season he was used mainly on the left of the front three to great effect, his earlier games were on the right but his adaptability was so that he was comfortable on either wing. Not forgetting his stand out performance in the middle of the park against AC Milan young Alex has proved his usefulness in a number of positions and was probably the main reason he was included in the final 23 England squad.

This will have been such an amazing 12 months for the young midfielder, from playing his part in securing promotion to the championship with Southampton to sealing his move to the Arsenal. The Ox’s transfer slipped under the radar of most if not all gunners fans. Given the turmoil of the uncertainty of the futures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas the signing of a youngster from league one was not exactly going to appease the Arsenal faithful. At the time we wanted to strengthen our squad with replacements of equal stature of the players we were losing not potential. The Ox was an unknown entity and Arsenal fans would never have envisaged the impact he would make in that coming season culminating in an inclusion into the Euro 2012 squad.

The game that for me that put Alex on the map was the Carling cup game against Shrewsbury. It was a chance for many gunners fans to see this kid in the flesh at the emirates. Although he understandably had a nervous start to the game he eventually grew and grew in confidence. Again after initially starting on the right hand side he often drifted into the middle and dictated the game when on the ball. It was an exciting performance from the Ox and he ended the game with a goal and man of the match performance. All us fans could talk about leaving the stadium after the game was how good the Ox was, Arsene had found another gem.

With gunners fans won over after that game Oxlade-Chamberlain really introduced himself to the nation with his performances against both Manchester clubs. This time he received the exposure as these games were televised for all to see. First up was the Carling cup game against Manchester city; where he was a constant threat to the team and was able to prove himself against top class premiership opposition. Although we lost the game young Ox came out with a lot of credit. His game against Manchester united in the premier league fixture at the emirates really put him in the limelight. Although the game was marred by the controversy of his substitution for Andrei Arshavin the Ox had done enough in the game including an assist for Robin Van Persie to show nationally he was a special talent.

It was from this game where Arsene Wenger decided to protect the young midfielder from the added exposure and increased expectancy. At a time when we were going though a bad patch and we probably needed the Ox in the team more regularly Wenger took the decision to quell the pressure on the youngster by carefully selecting his appearances in the team. Something a bit harder for Arsenal fans to understand at the time but on reflection at the end of the season we would agree was the right choice to make.

We have already experienced the exponential increase in pressure on Theo Walcott when he was signed and thrust into the England set up. Every game he played was met with high expectancy and led to many frustrated fans when he hadn’t skinned the whole team and scored a hat trick. I think Wenger has used the experiences with handling Walcott to ensure similar pressure is not experienced by Alex.

The worrying thing about Alex involvement with England is the increased chances that he will be relied upon in the aftermath of the injuries to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. Barry wasn’t replaced with a midfielder when he withdrew from the squad and Lampard’s replacement is Jordan Henderson who has hardly set the world alight this season for Liverpool.

We saw at the last world cup what an effect a poor campaign can have on England players and it’s hoped if that is the case the press take into account the Ox’s age. Alternatively a good campaign and performances for young Alex could catapult him into uncomfortable messiah like status. A good campaign could certainly be a big boost for the coming season, the experience of high-profile games in large tournaments could push Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development to the next stage.

One thing the Ox has shown is he is a level-headed young man, has a good family unit around him and has the focus to take the opportunities made available to him to carve out a successful career.

It all starts from today really, enjoy your game Alex and take it in your stride. No pressure….