Since all eyes are trained on the European championship in France and little is happening in even the world of transfer rumours, I decided it would be a good idea to write about how the tournament progresses. Naturally, a huge chunk of my attention will be focused on Arsenal players, since that’s what interests us most (second only to the success of our own national teams). So here goes.
France 2-1 Romania
The opening game took place at Stade de France, just north of Paris. The stadium of 81 thousand was filled to the brim and this certainly added to the atmosphere.
Deschamps fielded a very strong side, with the only question mark being Adil Rami starting alongside our pal Laurent Koscielny. Think Deschamps just opted for experience in this case, because he did call up Umtiti at the last moment. However there’s no denying France were hit hard at centre-back, losing Varane and Mathieu to injury and Sissokho over doping allegations.
Les Blues started the game in a nervous fashion and I can’t say they grew in it at some point. Romania looked resilient and well-drilled and had multiple opportunities to score from open play, most notably at the inception of either half. They were denied by Lloris on the first occasion and then Stancu sliced a brilliant chance wide after chesting the ball down.
The French had the lion’s share of possession, but their poor midfield play coupled with wastefulness in front of goal meant Deschamps’ men had to wait for the breakthrough until the 58th minute, when their arguably best player, Payet, found Giroud with a cross. Payet then also won it for Les Blues right at the death with a beautiful distance shot (after Stancu equalised from the spot), but this performance raised more questions than provided answers. I was less than impressed with Pogba and Griezmann, to say nothing about Patrice Evra.
Arsenal watch: Giroud and Koscielny. The former received his fair share of criticism (mostly prior to the goal), but the fact remains: Olivier scored 8 goals in 6 starts for the national side. He missed a few headers (which are much harder to score than usual shots), but still managed to get involved in most of the clever interplay around the box. He wasn’t helped at all by Pogba and Griezmann, who somehow got an easier ride. Laurent, meanwhile, did okay on the whole. There were maybe a couple of rough tackles, borderline fouls, but not much apart from that. Wasn’t helped by Evra in his quest for a clean sheet.
Wales 2-1 Slovakia
Chris Coleman’s side started the tournament with a much-needed win, but the Dragons didn’t look the better side the entire game. In fact they should have gone behind as early as in the 3rd minute, after Hamsik fooled three defenders and the keeper, only for Ben Davies to make a goal-line clearance.
After the initial shock Wales recovered and took matter into their hands. Allen, Bale and Ramsey looked quite lively (albeit Aaron was also erratic) and the short period of domination ended with a goal, scored from a direct free-kick by Bale. You have to question the keeper’s positioning on this one, however there’s no denying Wales deserved their lead after a sustained period of pressure.
Coleman’s men eased off after the opening goal, but Slovakia wasn’t able to capitalize on it before half-time. A combination of good pressing from Wales and sloppy play on the ball from Slovakia ensured the latter were hardly able to string three passes together. An individual moment of brilliance seemed to me the only possible way for Jan Kozak’s men to get back into this.
And so it proved in the second half. In the 61st minute Mak’s slaloming run took him past two defenders and into the box and his pass found Duda, who came on only moments before. He slotted the ball calmly into the net.
That shook Wales out of their coma, Coleman threw Robson-Kanu on for Jay Williams and the forward instantly impacted the proceedings, first by setting up Ramsey and then by scoring himself ten minutes from time. Wales survived a late scare in the form of Nemec hitting the post and clinched very important three points.
Arsenal watch: Aaron Ramsey. It’s fair to say Ramsey wasn’t on his game. Although he bagged an assist (which didn’t look convincing at all, as he stumbled and nearly fell prior to making the pass), his overall influence was a mixed bag. He was lucky to escape without a yellow card, for one, having approached his defensive duties half-heartedly with the result being a couple of late fouls. Aaron also missed that chance Robson-Kanu fashioned for him and the assist he provided was the only key pass Rambo made all day. However on the up side, the Arsenal man at least didn’t disappear from the face of the Earth like Allen and Bale did after Wales went in front.
England 1-1 Russia
I’ll just put it out there in black and white: my fellow countrymen were woeful. I’m not sure if they always play like that, since I don’t watch many of our games, but something tells me yesterday wasn’t an aberration. The equaliser aside (which came out of nowhere) and some brilliant saves from Akinfeev, there were few moments I enjoyed.
England, however, have only themselves to blame for failing to get the win. The Three Lions dominated the proceedings entirely during the first half and created plenty to go ahead in this contest. But a combination of a wasteful Lallana, non-existent Kane and superb goalkeeping from Akinfeev ensured the teams went in level.
Russia looked more the part in the 2nd half, fashioning a couple of chances from corners (one of these Dier nearly headed in) and coming close to breaking the deadlock from low crosses and a shot from Smolov that went inches wide.
England responded by a shot from Rooney that Akinfeev brilliantly parried onto the bar, before producing another save from the rebound (yes, Sterling was offside, but still) and the Dier’s cannon of a shot from a free-kick found the back of the net. I would say “you have to ask questions to the keeper for his positioning”, but the distance to goal was such it was almost like a penalty: he had to decide which way to move the moment the shot was taken. Hodgson’s men scored another soon, after a clever one-two between Wilshere and Kane resulted in Sterling rolling the ball into the empty net, but Kane was offside in the build-up.
Arsenal watch: Jack Wilshere. Wilsh only played for 15 minutes or so, but he looked sharp in that period, his dribbling and clever passing making a stark contrast to what Rooney offered. Pity Jack couldn’t bag an assist for that one-two. Damn you, Kane. Our number 10 has to start the next game, in my opinion, preferably instead of Rooney.
Bonus: Albania 0-1 Switzerland
I didn’t watch the game, but from what I can gather our man Xhaka did quite well. He got MoM afterwards and his passing range and ability to quickly turn defense into attack should make him a valuable asset when he pulls on the Arsenal shirt in August. Hope he has a moving target up front by then.
That’s it from me for now. Back tomorrow most likely with a fresh batch of games to discuss.