What an extraordinary football day we had yesterday. It seems remarkable that Spain’s 5-3 victory over Croatia is almost an afterthought, but that’s how it feels after the match against France last night.
Earlier in the day, we had an incredibly own goal of putting Croatia ahead, but Spain seemed to go through and lead 3-1 with just a few minutes left. At the end of normal time it was 3-3 and we went for extra time. The Spaniards had just too much in that period and scored twice to secure their passage to the final eight, but as a footballer it was thoroughly comfortable.
Good luck to Croatia, who really showed character and quality when needed, but Spain have now scored five goals in consecutive matches. For a team that started the tournament with scoring problems, it must be a real confidence boost. Alvaro Morata, symbolic of their problems in front of goal, knocked in a burner in extra time so they go well.
Then it was France against Switzerland and there was a lot of discussion about Didier Deschamps’ tactics in the first half because his team played so poorly. The three backs did not work, Switzerland went on and deserved their lead at the break. They should have been 2-0 too, but Roberto Rodriguez – a player who was linked with us a few years ago – fluffed his lines from the penalty spot. I guess it’s a personal thing, how much you see it as a good save from Hugo Lloris, or how much it’s a bad penalty from the taker. To me, it was much more the latter than the former.
What price did Switzerland pay then. Within minutes, France were equal, Karim Benzema’s first touch for his equalizer was brilliant, and he then completed a smooth move involving Griezmann and Mbappe to take home on the outer post. From being in a position where they should have been relatively comfortable in front, Switzerland were now behind and France’s lead was extended with an exquisite third goal from Paul Pogba, who curled it nonchalantly from distance in the top corner.
At 3-1, after missing a penalty kick and facing a team with France’s attacking talent that had clicked into life in the second half, it would definitely be that for Switzerland. But no, they raised the white war flag, and with only 9 minutes left, Seferovic went home to his second of the game. Then as we went into injury time, Granit Xhaka played a fantastic pass into Gavranovic, whose touch and turn inside the defense on the edge of the box was quality, enhanced only by the infallible finish inside the post to make it 3 -3. Unreal. There was even time for France to hit the crossbar before we went into extra time and eventually to sanctions.
Xhaka gave his team an exciting speech before the shoot-out, and the quality of the spot-kick from each side was ridiculously good (wore one that the Swiss got a little luck with). Then at 5-4 it was down to Mbappe to keep France in it, but it was Summer time and now France can sit back and relax after going out. The PSG striker had a bad tournament, could not score, missed a great chance in extra time and you wonder if he might for the next step in his development as a player should consider moving somewhere else. It was good for him to push the price down and I hear he’s looking for houses in north London etc. Etc. Blah blah.
In any case, there were a lot of Arsenal fans focused on Xhaka, who had a sensational game for his country, and many questions about why he could never do it for us. I think that’s unfair. I think it’s time for him to try something new and it’s time for us to go a different direction in midfield, but he’s had such games for us over the years. I do not think that is entirely the case with intimacy that breeds contempt, but perhaps intimacy breeds a perception of a player that is now just too hard to shake.
An individual level, all in all, he had a good season with us and played consistently well for the most part, but when you think back on it, the two Burnley games and the events he was involved in cast a big shadow over everything. It’s a bit like having a postman deliver 99% of your mail perfectly, but twice a year a brick cuts through your windshield. Playing well for a team that finishes 8th will not make people get too excited either. Still, I was happy to see him do well, and as we continue to try to squeeze every penny we can out of Roma, such a performance will not hurt a bit. Pay yourself the Romans!
Finally thought of France as we head towards the 2022 World Cup: wouldn’t it be fun to see Arsene Wenger at the helm? I don’t think he would have set up so conservatively last night with the players he had available. I would very much like to see it first. Lots for the French to reflect on today, and congratulations to Switzerland, who now face Spain. I look forward to their 6-6 draw.
Today, Sweden against Ukraine in the evening, but all eyes will first be on Wembley as England face Germany. See yesterday’s blog for some thoughts on it as I got my timings all mixed up. It’s hard to imagine that today will be nothing more than an anticlimax after what happened yesterday, but you never know. Football, right? etc. etc.
In short, from an Arsenal perspective: Jonas Eidevall was announced yesterday as the new head coach of Arsenal Women. Tim managed to get a quick interview with him, which you can find here.
There were also some interesting things from Vinai Venkatesham about the process, increased investment in women’s teams, and more. At a time when we are all looking to see what this new and rather inexperienced management team, which now runs the club, will do, there is some encouragement in this kind of appointment. It’s obviously too early to say whether it’s a success or not, but it’s a rather forward-looking approach, and perhaps it’s good for what’s to come elsewhere. Early days, but let’s hope so.
Things keep ticking in terms of transfers, with reports that Benfica left-back Nuno Tavares is much on the radar. There was also another bid from Aston Villa for Emile Smith Rowe, which is great for a player heading towards more intense contract negotiations. However, this is not a game being played just to get him to a better deal, it is clear that Villa are interested and Arsenal need to wake up to this situation.
I do not feel too worried, simply because there is just no way we as a club could sanction Smith Rowe’s transfer to Aston Villa and then expect to be taken seriously, no matter how much money was offered. However, we need to fix it, it should not take that long to make an appointment with an academic who should be rewarded for his performances and his potential. It should be one of the easiest things we can do this summer, and if we thought it was something that could wait, as other topics had higher priority, Villas’ continued interest pushes it up the to-do list on a great way.
That’s it for now. News all day Annual Blog News, I leave you with a brand new Arsecast Extra. Enjoy.