Arsenal At Euro2012: Group A
Our distraction arrives, Euro2012 allows us to complete our own scouting mission on the great and good of the transfer rumour flea market. Ten Arsenal players are participating and the club is linked with all bar Portuguese or Greek players. Actually, the Swedes as well. But there we go.
Group A sees Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin try to breach Wojciech Szczesny’s defence. For the Russian, it is a chance to shine at successive Euros, his performances four years ago were scintillating until the semi-final collapse against Spain. The Poles have some good results in the past year but nothing spectacular. Hints of wins against both of the better sides in the group but nothing concrete to go on. Much will depend on Lewandowski’s goals as well as Szczesny continuing the run of five consecutive games without conceding a goal. Winning against Greece is imperative if the co-hosts want to progress, as well alleviating some of the pressure on them.
As co-hosts, Poland have that pressure to contend with as well as being in a group which they could qualify from. Any aims of progression depend on them beating Greece in the opening fixture. They will be looking for an improvement on Euro2008 where they took a solitary point from co-hosts Austria in the middle of defeats to Russia and Germany. The former pose a threat once more in the group stage and if Wojciech Szczesny’s recent run of clean sheets in matches for his country will be tested.
The Poles results over the past twelve months suggest they may qualify from the group. Despite being friendlies, Szczesny has kept five consecutive clean sheets which suggests the organisation in front of him is working. Draws against Portugal and Germany offer the hint that results against the stronger nations can be achieved yet it is still hard to see them progressing beyond the quarter-finals. If they do well, it may be that Robert Lewandowski provides the goals; no doubt that will increase calls for Arsène to sign him.
Tomas Rosicky faces Andrey Arshavin in the second match; an appetiser ahead of tomorrow’s match between Germany and Netherlands, van Persie versus Podolski / Mertesacker (injury-willing). No doubt Arsène will be watching, a sense of déjà vu engulfing them from four years ago when having been suspended for the opening games, Arshavin dazzled as the Russians tore apart all that laid before them. That is until the Spaniards repeated their earlier thrashing of the Russians – the two had met in the opening group game, Spain winning 4 – 1.
Arshavin was scintillating, livewire performances that enhanced his reputation. Whilst Arsenal did not sign him purely on the basis of that tournament, it played a big part in focussing their attention. What happens next for him will largely depend on this tournament. Zenit will be hoping for him to perform poorly, driving down any fee. Arsenal want the reverse, for the opposite reasons but you wonder if Arshavin turns in a series of outstanding matches, will he be back at Colney for next season? I doubt it although much will depend on what happens with Robin van Persie.
The Russians cruised through qualifying, their solitary defeat was to Slovakia. In truth that was the minimum expected considering the opposition faced; none were particularly good sides. The Irish offered a vision of what happens when you let the Russians play as they want; they can be excellent. Typically they failed to score.
Rosicky meanwhile has shaken off his injury concerns and goes into the match on the back of his best club form for a few seasons. Like van Persie, we are seeing an injury-free player performing at the level we know they are capable of. Captaining the Czech national team is an obvious source of pride for the midfielder and whilst the current crop of players are not quite to the standard of previous generations, they are technically proficient.
Qualifying was tougher for the Czech’s than it ought to have been; losing twice to Spain was not unexpected but at home to Lithuania was. A 2-2 draw with Scotland put them into the play-offs where they eased past Montenegro.
The group is tough to call and Greece cannot be ignored. They are not as well-drilled as under Rehhagel but nonetheless are still difficult to break down. They were undefeated in qualifying which included taking four points from Croatia. Home advantage though will I think help the Poles and they will push to move into the knockout phase.
4. Czech Republic