Football is back. Thank God for that. I’ve been having a difficult time motivating myself to get on the internet in the last few weeks but it should all improve now. Hopefully the blog will also be a bit more regular.
Three Gunners were involved on the opening day. Szczesny featured in the tournament opener for the hosts but had an imminently forgettable outing. Rosicky had a lacklustre game for the Czech side while Arshavin was on fire for the Russians.
There were doubts about the quality of teams in this group but the opening day was at least an eventful and entertaining one. The hosts had a bright start against Greece as they looked to exploit the space available to them on the counter-attack. It seemed as if the Greeks wanted to take the initiative in the game but just weren’t able to get going. Franciszek Smuda’s men were able to work delightful combinations down their right and created a number of quality openings. The final ball or the finish weren’t there but they looked the brighter side. Greece were getting into decent shapes but seemed a bit static. It could have been nerves or maybe they just weren’t ready tactically.
The goal came from one such move down the right. Blaszczykowski went past Holebas and stood the ball up towards the backpost. Lewandowski was unmarked and guided it home. It wasn’t a spectacular goal but it was coming.
Things got worse for the Greeks as Sokratis Papasthopoulos was sent off by the trigger happy ref Carlos Velasco for two bookable offences, neither of which would have been a booking in the Premier League. The first looked like a legitimate aerial duel while it seemed Murawski had slipped and was already on his way down for the second.
The sending off worked against the hosts as Greece came out with a more compact approach in the second half, one in which the players seemed more confident. On the other hand, Poland quickly ran out of ideas once they had the chance to take the initiative. Their right side was no longer a threat after the gap between Samaras and Holebas was plugged.
Salpingidis, who’d come on at half-time for the hard-working but ineffective youngster Nonis, proved to be a super-sub within six minutes of the restart, although he did have Szczesny to thank for presenting him with an open goal. The cross came in from the right. Gekas duelled with the central defender but neither could get a good enough connection on the ball. They did however manage to prevent the ball from reaching the Arsenal goalkeeper who’d come out to punch it. Eventually the ball fell invitingly to the substitute with the goal gaping. The Goalkeeper had no business coming for that ball as he was never going to reach it.
Poland now moved from the bereft-of-ideas mode to the shell-shocked mode as the vociferous crowd was silenced and the 10 men sensed a glimmer of hope. Midway through the second half Santos introduced youngster Fortounis, perhaps to make his own luck. It almost worked as the youngster linked up with Samaras to put Salpingidis in-behind a flat-footed Polish defence with a deft chip. Szczesny came out, tripped the winger, conceded a penalty and was shown a straight red.
It was a disappointing day for the Arsenal keeper but not a surprising one for fans who’ve observed him closely. He’s had trouble with his decision making and judgment i.e. when to come, when to stay. Part of it is a long standing issue at Arsenal so it’s not solely his fault. Inexperience also played a role. For instance, Salpingidis didn’t have a great first touch and the ball was moving away from the goal. Experience will teach Szczesny when to pull out of the challenge and let the striker run.
The youngster saw the penalty on a screen in the tunnel and celebrated with typical exuberance as his replacement pulled off a Tytonic [sorry, hangs head in shame] save that won them a point that could still be crucial.
In the second game of the day, Rosicky’s Czech Republic set out to play the expansive possession game against Arshavin’s Russia that relied on solidity at the back and lighting fast counter-attacks.
The problem for Little Mozart and his teammates was that they just didn’t have enough invention or understanding in the final third. And in their attempts to play through a well-organized opponent they left big gaps between the defensive midfielders and the back four. Kerzakov was able to pull into space time and again, Dzagoev was able to drift between the lines with ease, while Arshavin was influential in the build-up play and in the final third. Advocaat’s side also had excellent runners from midfield who knew just when to pounce.
All-in-all Arshavin set up 7 chances and picked up two assists. It’s worth noting that he again started on the left and played a role very similar to the one he has at Arsenal with complete freedom to roam when attacking. However, the key difference was that his team were playing a counter-attacking game and found a great deal of space in the opposing half, something that is at a premium when he plays for the Gunners against better organized teams many of whom are defensively oriented. While watching the Russian play deft through-balls and take opponents on was immensely enjoyable, it’s still difficult to envisage a similar performance from him for the Gunners on a consistent basis in more physically demanding conditions.
In contrast, his opposing captain Tomas Rosicky didn’t have a particularly effective night. Even though Little Mozart was playing in a system very similar to the one used by the Gunners and in a role that he prefers, the lack of quality in his team and his own form, perhaps affected by a lack of complete fitness, meant that his influence was negligible. Two shots from distance are the only events that come to mind.
I did like the game that Bilek’s team were trying to play but they’ll have to make wise use of the ball and the spaces on the pitch if they have to succeed with this system. In this game they tried hard individually but a lack of understanding rendered that pointless while also leaving openings for opponents to exploit. They do have the technical quality to beat Poland and Greece but it won’t count for much without structural solidity.
Anyway, as I said earlier it’s good to have football back as there is something to look forward to and the transfer nonsense takes a backseat. Tomorrow we should have some absolute crackers with a number of Gunners involved. If today’s blueprint is repeated, Bendtner might surprise the Dutch but somehow I doubt that’ll happen. Let’s see.
I’ve been writing a season review series but some of you might have missed the articles because of my irregular posting habits. If interested do check out the following. More in that series will be posted along with the posts on the Euros in the coming days.
Also, before ending I want to leave a link to this survey for Desi Gooners.
@vkarthikbala is trying to gauge the interest as he is looking at starting an Indian Supporters club. Please fill it if you’re in India or share it with friends if not. Thanks.