Arsenal At Euro2012: Heroes & Zeroes As Theo Buries The Past & Szczesny Pays The Price
Ukraine 0 – 2 France
Sweden 2 – 3 England
Lady Luck is a fickle mistress, something well-known to footballers. As quickly as you become the apple of her eye, she can toss you aside, sending you cartwheeling through the air with nonchalance before you rattle around the rim of the wastebasket and crash to the bottom.
As Theo Walcott savours being the nation’s saviour, Wojciech Szczesny‘s career trajectory has plateaued following his dismissal against Greece. That foul might well have saved his country from falling a goal behind, his replacement left no doubt saving a penalty with his first touch. Were Lukasz Fabianski so minded, he might smile with schadenfreude at how the footballing circle has turned; the replacement replaced.
Theo Walcott meanwhile finds himself at the crossroads of the manager’s mind. England had descended beyond the paucity of performance which beset Sweden in the first half, Sweden had improved to merely distinctly average. Enter Walcott, no England goals since that night in Zagreb; the burden is now lifted, the expectation of nation in its place.
Prior to his arrival, the ball required a cold compress and paracetamol such was the time it spent in the air and being aimlessly lumped. Roy Hodgson though is proving to be an astute tactician. His plan worked in the first half and despite the ridicule that comes his way, no-one can deny that Andy Carroll scored with a phenomenal header to give England the lead.
Despite his gymkhana looks, Carroll also knows how to use wide players and when Walcott arrived, he showed his colleagues how to pass the ball wide, to unleash Walcott. That was after the Arsenal winger had restored parity following the usual England defensive catastrophes. John Terry has a career path that is heading tumultuously downwards; Chelsea win the Champions League without him, England struggle with him.
Theo’s equaliser was a poor goal to concede; I understand that goalkeeper’s shift weight onto the side of the body where they expect the ball’s path to take it but even so. His part in the equaliser was no less important; a vital cog in the early part of the build-up and the burst of vitality to pull back to Wellbeck, whose finish was as good as you will see in the tournament. A second assist was on the cards, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed through with his volley despite the selfish intervention of Gerrard; even the England players don’t want Arsenal to be saviours of the English game.
It was pleasing to see Walcott play a decisive cameo. Too often his teammates have not known how best to use his pace and left him isolated and on the periphery of the game. He was central to England’s attacking; it will disappointing if he does not play against Ukraine with Milner moved to the left in place of the continually ineffectual Young. Ideally, Oxlade-Chamberlain would fill that role but Hodgson is as inexplicably infatuated with the Manchester City midfielder as his predecessors.
That performance will do the world of good for Walcott’s confidence. His contract position is still not stirring emotions in the same way that Robin van Persie’s. It is not surprising in many respects, it is fashionable to denigrate Theo’s contribution to the team. The expectations built from his youthful promise have not been met, derision follows. That attitude fails to acknowledge the progress made, that improvements are continually being seen. Over the course of his next contract – assuming it is five years – the consistency which is do desired will manifest. If he were to leave, I think he would be the English player who got away.
Maybe this forms part of Ivan’s good news. We shall see as the summer unfolds.