England through, Giroud closer, Arshavin slips up – AFC

So England are through to the knockout stages at Euro 2012, they made hard work of it against the Ukraine who should feel hard done by for the goal that was not given. As predicted Roy Hodgson took the cautious approach and did not promote Theo Walcott to the starting eleven. Milner was chosen to provide more defensive cover against a determined home nation who went for a win. Rooney returned and scored the winning goal however his performance overall was rusty and ineffective.

Theo did get on the pitch in the second half though he was starved of any service as the England players chose to ignore him as an outlet. Strange choice there as his pace could have been utilized to stretch the Ukrainians who kept pushing for a goal. The minutes though will hopefully keep Walcott fresh in readiness for the game against the Italians.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on with a few minutes to go but didn’t really get a chance to have an effect on the game. He had one run but the ball trickled away from him at the point when he could have spread the ball to Theo. It’s still assuring that Roy Hodgson showed faith in the Arsenal man to come on in the closing stages of the match. A big boost to his confidence and there’s no reason why he wont be in Roy Hodgson’s plans for the Italy game.

As I mentioned earlier England will be facing Italy after winning the group; the French lost their final game against Sweden 2-0 and will now face Spain by default. The group stages are now over and the real pressure starts, Arsenal still has a part to play in the competition, roll on the Quarter finals.

The Olivier Giroud transfer to Arsenal seems to be gaining more momentum as the deputy president of Montpellier has confirmed negotiations between the two clubs over a transfer. This is the most definitive news yet concerning a deal with the tall striker and prices of around £13million are being quoted related to a clause in Giroud’s contract. Either way expect any deal to be concluded once France are no longer participating in the tournament.

Giroud managed to get some minutes on the pitch in France’s disappointing defeat to Sweden as so did the heavily linked Yann M’Vila. The midfield terrier started the game however my focus was on the England game and so I cannot report on either player’s performance against the Swedes.

Andrei Arshavin has caused a slight bit of controversy in his homeland after he was embroiled in an argument with some fans at the hotel the Russian team were staying at. Mobile phone footage captured the Russian captain responding to abuse from the fans in where he claimed his country’s failure to advance from their group was not the players fault but could be pointed towards the Russian fans and their expectations.

Although the words were not said on an official platform it has been enough for members of the Russian football union to condemn his lack of remorse and question his status as captain of the team.  Ideally this controversy will blow over as soon as possible especially if Arsenal harbours plans to sell Arshavin back to Zenit St Petersburg. Factors like this could affect negotiations over any transfer fee and Arshavin’s decision to move back to Russia if he falls foul of the Russian public.

Enjoy your day people

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Euro 2012 round up 2 days in – AFC

The Euros really are making up for the loss of football in the close season. We are two game days into the tournament and have now witnessed four very enjoyable games. There has been Arsenal interest in all the games so far and plenty of talking points have been raised from their involvement.

The opening showpiece of the Tournament involved hosts Poland and our keeper Szczesny had a game to forget. A very entertaining game all the same and after impressing and taking a one nil lead through a Lewandowski goal, Poland had the added bonus of Greece  being down to 10 men after 2 dubious yellow cards for Papastathopoulos.

Poland and our keeper decided they wanted to make the game difficult for themselves and proceeded to let the Greeks back into the game with a goal that was easily preventable. Szczesny probably shouldn’t have come out for the cross which led to the goal, the resulting melee led to an easy shot for Salpindingis to score the equalizer.

If Szczesny thought it couldn’t get worse it did. The polish defence was caught flat-footed as a ball over the top left Salpindingis one on one with the keeper. Szczesny anticipated a first time shot and flew out with a trademark star jump to block but the player decided to take the ball around the keeper, Szczesny’s momentum carried him too far and he proceeded to upend the player. This resulted in a penalty and a straight red for the pole. The keeper didn’t question the decision and walked straight off. Luckily for Poland the substitute keeper who came on saved the resulting penalty. Amusingly Szczesny was pictured celebrating the save in the tunnel watching on a TV screen. The game ended at 1-1 but was thoroughly entertaining.

The next game in the evening involved the Czech Republic and Russia. Both countries captained by Arsenal players Rosicky and Arshavin. This went on to be another entertaining game which ended up 4-1 to Russia. Andrei Arshavin had a fantastic game. Starting on the left of a front three our no.23 tended to play a freer role compared to what he normally does for the Arsenal. He really dictated all of the attacking play and although he wasn’t on the score sheet he definitely left an imprint on the game. Many gooners must have been wondering why he doesn’t produce that type of performance for the gunners though to be fair a lot more defensive responsibility is required in the Arsenal team. Some players really turn it on when playing with their countrymen as opposed to their club team; Arshavin seems to be one of those players. Though he has had his fair share of criticism when he has played for Russia it just shows he is human and doesn’t produce man of the match performances in every game for his country, but when he is good he is good. Poor Tomas Rosicky tried to rally his Czech Republic team but they were swept away by the more clinical (once Kerzhakov was withdrawn) Russians.

The group of death matches played yesterday were really highly anticipated matches. It was clearly deemed Denmark would make up the numbers in the group as Holland,Portugal and Germany would fight it out for the top two slots.

The Danes first test was against many neutral fans 2nd team Holland. A country with near flawless qualification achieved for the Euros and boasting our very own skipper Robin Van Persie in their line up. The game started off at a slow tentative pace but as the game wore on was slowly dominated by Holland. They bided their time and played some good intricate football, carving away at the Danes. What wasn’t part of the plan was the Danes going on to score the first goal.

I suppose in a similar way to how Arsenal plays their football; they are most vulnerable at the back when they are on top. Robin wasn’t having the best of games and the TV cameras weren’t shy in zooming onto the face of Jan Huntelaar every time something didn’t come off for our skipper. It has become an unwelcome distraction in the Dutch camp over who should be starting up front for Holland in the championships between RVP and Huntelaar. It clearly wasn’t going for Robin yesterday and interestingly Clarence Seedorf pointed out that maybe Robin was trying too hard to impress on the big stage which actually proceeded in affecting his performance. He missed a couple of chances that we have seen him gobble up for Arsenal last season and he also had one embarrassing moment of an air shot when unchallenged. The game actually finished 1-0 though Holland despite a flat performance really should at least have equalised; another culprit from the game was Arjen Robben who seems to have carried over his poor luck and decision-making from the champions league final. Arsenal target Ibrahim Affelay started the game well but faded later on, his start surprised a few due to his low number of games played last season due to injury woes at Barcelona.

Nicklas Bendtner led the line for the Danes and did his part holding the ball up at times and linking play but never looked a goal threat throughout the game. I guess he did what was asked of him by the management but to a neutral his game was easily forgettable and typical. Bad day at the office for the Dutch, wonderful smash and grab for the Danes and yet another fantastic game at the Euros.

Going into the evening game yesterday Portugal and Germany would have been well aware of the result between the Danes and the Dutch. I suppose it was a chance for either country to take advantage of the slip up by Holland. It was a game for many gunners to have a look at Podolski close up. Per Mertesacker wasn’t included in the starting line up probably as a result of all the time he has spent on the sidelines leading up to the competition and the emergence of Matt Hummels.

This game was a rather tense affair as two countries with aspirations of having a good tournament realised what was at stake and did not want to open up too much. Although Portugal was never deemed as strong as Germany they still posed a threat through Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Our new Gunner Podolski had an ok game; he fits in well with the German system and showed a very good hard work ethic tracking back helping out his team. That will be a trait that will go down well with Arsenal fans when compared with Bendtner per say as fans like to see effort on the pitch. Podolski was neat and tidy and efficient and though he didn’t score he looks like he will have a goal or two in him as the competition moves forward.

The game itself did fall into a lull as no goals were scored first half and midway into the second half dare I say it the game was getting less and less interesting. Just when fans were calling for Mario Gomez to be removed he popped up with a goal. I believe Miroslav Klose was ready to come on for Gomez the next time the ball went out, luckily for him an opportunity arose from a cross and he managed to extend his neck muscles enough to connect with a cross from Sami Khedira. Game over, well not really as towards the final stages of the game Portugal took the game to Germany as nerves kicked in and should really have equalised when Varela had the ball break free to him only for Neuer to pull off a desperate save.

All in all the least entertaining game of the four but still a decent game that came alive after the goal was scored.

Today it’s the turn of Republic of Ireland,Croatia,Spain and Italy. No current gunners on show but there is an interest for former gunners Eduardo and Fabregas.

Here’s to some more good games in an already satisfying Euro 2012.

Enjoy your day people.

Euros start today, exciting times – AFC

It’s Friday 8th June and the Euros are set to start today, the long wait is over and I’m feeling a little excited. Operation “cope without premiership” has moved into phase two if you are wondering phase one was the spluttering of pre-Euro friendlies we have witnessed recently but in my opinion international friendlies just don’t hit the spot. We as football fans need football that matters, games that have that life or death feeling. The friendlies are an excuse to iron out the mistakes and get sharp; the tournament is the time when the mistakes are unacceptable. 

Our wives and girlfriends dread this time of year; the odd jobs we have promised to do are placed firmly at the back of the list of importance. They will have to wait a little longer for that shelf to be put up; they might as well buy a brand new washing machine because we are not taking a look at the current one now.

By the way no disrespect to the bona-fide football loving ladies, I know there are a lot of you and you will be enjoying the tournament as much as the next person.

Now the added interest to the tournament comes in the form of the Arsenal players that will be representing their countries.  Many past and present stars will be on show in the majority of the games to give gunners fans plenty to mull over.  We also have a category of potential former players which gunners fans will be divided over supporting through the competition. And a final category of potential signings, gooners across the land will turn into scouts and run the rule over the players linked with moves to Arsenal and give their assessment of those players and hope Wenger is taking note on Twitter.

I will give a brief summary of the players in question to look out for:

POLAND: Szczesny (current).  Our current number one will be playing between the sticks for Poland. He has earned his plaudits whilst playing for his country and now on the grand stage hopefully he can show what he can do. Will be a major boost for his confidence to have a good tournament and will benefit Arsenal in the long run.

RUSSIA: Arshavin (could be going). Our Russian no.23 will be captaining his country and will hope to have a good competition. He seems likely to move on after the Euros so expect him to have extra incentive to impress potential suitors.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Rosicky (current). Super Tom will also be captaining his country at the Euros. Given his form towards the second half of the season for Arsenal it will be nice to see him carry that form into the Euros and have a good tournament.

NETHERLANDS: Van Persie (could be going) our skipper will be going into the tournament after a fantastic season for Arsenal. His confidence will be sky-high so his contribution in the tournament could be that final piece of the puzzle that can push Netherlands towards success. With his future put on hold until after the Euros many AFC fans will be backing Robin for success.

Ibrahim Afellay (Scout watch). Will be interesting to see what the Barcelona winger has in his locker

DENMARK: Bendtner (could be going) The big Dane looks to have one foot out the door, after spending the season out on loan and vowing not to return to Arsenal. Reception from Arsenal fans will be mixed.

GERMANY: Podolski (current) a great chance to have a good look at our acquisition on the big stage. We have all seen what Podolski can do in previous tournaments but this time as an Arsenal player there will be more interest in his actual play and how it can fit in at Arsenal.

Mertesacker (current) the tall German will be coming into the tournament on the back of a long-term injury. Hopefully he is back fully fit and has a good tournament.

SPAIN: Fabregas (former) Former skipper, some may wish him well, some don’t really care. I’ll still have an interest in him but not too bothered how he does.

CROATIA: Eduardo (former) Dudu is still liked by many Arsenal fans and it’s still quite sad it ended the way it did after his horrific leg break. What’s good is he got his career back on track and I would like to see him have a good tournament.

FRANCE: Koscielny (current) Our Kos is coming into the tournament on the back of a great season at Arsenal. He improves with each game he plays and has worked his way into Laurent Blanc’s plans.

Nasri (former) No comment

Clichy (former) nothing against Gael, hope he has a good tournament if he can dislodge Patrice Evra from left back slot.

Giroud (Scout watch). Let’s see what the striker can do, he has impressed in recent friendlies.

M’villa (Scout watch). Another we will anticipate to see on the big stage if he overcomes his ankle injury.

ENGLAND: Oxlade-Chamberlain (current) hopefully the Ox has a good tournament for an injury ravaged England squad. He has nothing to fear going into the tournament and if used right by Roy Hodgson should have a positive impact on the team.

Walcott (current) this will be Theo’s first proper tournament. After being swept into the England squad for the 2006 world cup and was unused, he was then left out of the 2010 world cup squad by Fabio Capello. Theo will need to use this tournament to make up for lost time.

Cole (former) No comment

SWEDEN: Larsson (former) Former player Sebastian should star for the Swedes this tournament. Never quite made it at Arsenal before deciding on taking his career elsewhere. Amazing dead ball skills, will be interesting to see if he scores any trademark free kicks at the Euros.

 Well that’s the players with Arsenal links. Enjoy your Friday at work and then hurry home or to the pub for kick off. Roll on 17:00 (UK time of course)

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….

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