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One Of Us Speaks – We Know What We Are

What did you expect from England before this tournament? I expected them to go out in the first round. This squad was one of the weakest in the group stage. I assumed they would be brave, as usual. I figured there would be some contentious decision along the way to deflect from the rank performances, but I thought England would be home by now.

But here they are, just two games away from the final. So you can see how I might be pleasantly surprised. The team has eked out a win against the co-hosts, fought back against Sweden, who are a decent side by the way, and kept in-form France at bay in the opener. The football has been grim and defensive, and I don’t doubt that England are unpopular amongst all neutrals, but I’m pretty sure there was no other choice.

Not at this tournament anyway.

It’s obvious, but international players work under club managers with different philosophies, drilling them in completely different ways. The few national teams that play with style successfully have the benefit of firstly featuring a settled group of players, but also coming from football cultures that have a fixed idea of how the game should be played. I suppose you could call it an identity – what’s England’s identity? No idea.

Just shooting the breeze here, but one of the things that makes the Premier League so much fun is its spectacular diversity, with the whole spectrum of footballing styles, from the most ambitious and attacking, like Arsenal, to Stoke and, everything in between. This might count against the English national team.

I mean, how will an Arsenal player’s concept of tactics differ from one from someone who’s spent his career at, say, Chelsea?

In England’s case there’s the added problem of a brand new coach, put in position just weeks before the tournament got underway. I’ve always had the idea that possession football needs lots of game-time to flourish, as players get to know and trust each other. And that’s where England has been a bit unlucky. Even by international standards, this current team is a mish-mash, with players from different generations and club backgrounds. Even players from the same clubs have only been together a couple of years at most.

Oh and not to mention that there are too few players in this country with the ability to pass and receive the ball. There have been a couple of interesting prospects coming through in central midfield over the last few years, but only Jack Wilshere has really established himself at a top club, and we all know how the last year went for him.

I see the lack of technique and enterprise as a long-term gripe; it’s one that England fans should probably file away and wait to address after the tournament. We couldn’t have expected Roy Hodgson to do in five weeks what takes years of planning, and can only begin at grass roots.

So, Roy Hodgson is the man for the England job at this time. That’s to say, I’m sure his bosses knew what he would bring to the job, and recognised that he would be the best candidate if England wanted to snatch some pride from their trip to Eastern Europe.

I see him as a problem-solver. If England was in a big mess at the end of last season, then Roy’s a bit like Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction; showing up to make a quick fix, throwing a duvet over the blood-stained car seats. Talented in his niche, but he isn’t someone to implement a long-term plan, unless he’s willing to be flexible with his tactics in the future. I think I’ve made it clear in this column that I prefer stylish and expansive football, so clearly I’d like that to be the FA’s end goal.

But defensive tactics can be implemented a bit quicker – I think if you’re good at it you can hammer discipline and organisation into teams in a matter of weeks. As I said before, attacking combinations take much longer. I think dull and stubborn has worked out quite well for England.

I’m aware that Arsenal’s international and cosmopolitan fanbase means that this post won’t concern all visitors to A Cultured Left Foot, but I’d now like to explain why I suddenly care about England’s fortunes.

Maybe my experience will resemble yours. In the past it seemed to me that although there has always a tub-thumping element in the build-up to tournaments, and although we were all aware that a minority of hooligans would embarrass us, on the whole we always seemed to be realistic about our chances. We were aware of our limitations, and you could hear it in the songs that captured the mood of the country at the time, expressing hope, not expectation. “I know that was then, but it could be again”, kind of thing.

Something changed after Manchester United won the Champions League in ’99. Everyone became aware that English domestic football was on the rise, and as expectations grew, so did the arrogance and sense of entitlement of onlookers here.

I think what we’re aware of this time, and what eluded a lot of people before, is that the English players at top Premier League clubs are usually just foils for their superior foreign counterparts. When the England squad is assembled we’re left with some talent, but mostly honest triers, like Milner and Scott Parker.

But, for a couple of bad eggs, this is an England team I can get behind. The coach wasn’t the popular choice, but he’s friends with Wenger, which must count for something. What’s more, every positive result is a slap in the face for the clique of football thinkers who have derided him since his appointment.

But, best of all, expectations have been as low as they should have been at every international tournament for the last 16 years. Every coherent attacking move, goal and positive result is a happy surprise. It’s the healthiest way to do it.

Arsenal At Euro2012: Unleash The Ox

Group C

Spain  1 – 1 Italy
Ireland   –   Croatia

Euro2012 continued apace with Spain and Italian XIs fighting out a point, continuing the jinx held over the reigning World and European champions; they have never beaten the Italians in 90 or 120 minutes in a competitive fixture. The Italians were far better than many expected and will be disappointed not to have finished with a win. Both nations possess immensely talented forwards; Balotelli and Torres missed chances that men of their ‘reputation’ should score in their sleep.

Equally Spain will believe they should have won. Despite scoring, Fabregas missed the sort of chance in the first half that he would previously have scored in his sleep. The telling contributions came from the goalkeepers, Casillas and Buffon made amends for the apparent decline in abilities shown in the previous four matches in the tournament; both produced outstanding saves at times when they had little to do. Shay Given must have looked on in envy following his own display; suffice to say, he will be itching to forget his part in Ireland’s defeat. By the same token, he will be wary of the upcoming fixtures in which he will be considerably busier. Croatia meanwhile will prove a difficult but not insurmountable obstacle for Italy and Spain with the required technical ability to punish mistakes. And they will need to punish them as their own defence showed some discomfort against an ordinary Irish attack.

And so to England and France, the fixture which could have the most Arsenal-related interest. It seems that Laurent Koscielny is likely to be on the bench for the French as Laurent Blanc proves conservative in his approach. As much as Philippe Mexes’ form is declining, he looks like retaining his place inLes Bleus starting line-up. Mexes has been less than impressive on the half-dozen occasions I have seen him this season and it is surprising that Blanc has kept his faith in him. But he has and Koscielny must wait.

Which benefits England but that advantage will be tempered by Roy Hodgson’s natural inclination toward making England difficult to beat. There are many parallels between now and the Euro2004 meeting between the two sides. France were coming into the tournament on the back of a poor World Cup display but were favourites to overcome an England side which was strong but not exceptional; the self-proclaimed Golden Generation discovering that it was FeS2 not Au.

That game did not go to plan with England close to winning; don’t forget that holding a single goal advantage, David Beckham missed a penalty. By the time of the final whistle, Zinedine Zidane was not the only one feeling sick.  France were unnerved by a brash 18 year-old talent although Wayne Rooney had more experience than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did at this point in his career. Rooney showed little fear of the technically superior French side or of the centre-backs with great reputations. England need a repeat of that today and Oxlade-Chamberlain could provide it.

The defence that Hodgson picks will most likely be the best he has available; alas that includes John Terry and his lack of pace is a real concern. The Dutch though highlighted the folly of being too defensively-minded and the Danes offered the template for Hodgson’s midfield: they employed genuine wide players either side of Gerrard and Parker. James Milner seems to be preferred ahead of Theo Walcott and I think that a mistake; his final delivery is no better than Theo’s and chosing him can only be for defensive work-rate. That leaves the attacking threat diminished.

Playing Walcott on the right and Ashley Young on the left situates them in their natural positions. Playing the ‘False 9’ role has provided positives in the last two matches for England but Young is effective for United on the left. Oxlade-Chamberlain in the advanced central role makes sense in two ways. Firstly he is not scared to take people on, forcing defenders onto the back foot and cause problems. Secondly, he proved in his starts for Arsenal and against Belgium for the national team, that he has defensive awareness; he tracks back which is more than can be said for Young.

It would be a brave decision for Hodgson to make and I don’t think he will go with that attacking a line-up. It would be no surprise to see the helpless Milner on the right accompanied by the hapless Downing on the left. May God have mercy on the soul of the England team in that instance.

For Hodgson, he is on a hiding to nothing. I think it might have been Revie’s England where expectations were last this low; it makes a change for them not to be overhyped prior to a tournament. This month’s When Saturday Comes underlines that with the bubble proclaiming “At least we’ll do better than Euro2008“.

Prediction:

1. France

2. England

3. Sweden

4. Ukraine

’til Tomorrow.

Stepping Up To The Plate For Club & Country

As the conclusion to the Euro2012 qualifying campaign draws near, once more Fabio Capello’s future is under scrutiny. Not because his a failure in his role, more that his contract is near its end and inevitably the media want a John Bull, larger than life character in situ. Whether that person is the best person for the role is largely irrelevant.

Sven Goran Eriksson broke a taboo as far as the national team was concerned, rightly pointing out that Steve McLaren blew the media’s overwhelming desire for an Englishman to run England’s senior squad. Interestingly, Eriksson believes Wenger is the best man for the job,

Arsène Wenger can adapt to everything. He lives for football. You see how much it matters to him every game, but you also see when it’s a Euro or a World Cup, he is working on it, for French television, so he doesn’t miss anything. That’s his holiday.

Leaving aside the obvious question of whether Wenger would want the job, especially as having made it clear he never wanted to coach France in the past, I think Arsène would be too frustrated by the England set-up at this moment in time.

As a perfectionist, he would be overwhelmingly disappointed by the poor technical ability of the current generation of English footballers. That said, it would certainly wake up the nation’s coaching techinques, dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century. In that respect, he would be the weaver of our dreams.

It would be interesting to see what criticism the media would come up with. The hackneyed headlines of this morning’s Heil would be irrepeatable, the parsimony with which he is taunted would not be an issue. No matter how hard the media tried, there would be no tears to cry for the lack of English players.

The lack of quality is a different issue. On which point, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the subject of praise from Fabio Capello. Ox – or Alexander as his father likes to call him – is apparently being pencilled in for the full team ahead of the European Championships. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen but it is unlikely that Capello would make as daft a decision as Eriksson did with Walcott.

Chamberlain Senior makes an interesting point, one that highlights a problem at English clubs,

I sound like an old footballer now but no-one drops their shoulder and goes past people any more. In academies you’ll see players receiving the ball on the back foot having a touch and playing a pass.

They have ability and we suppress it because we don’t want them to lose the ball. We’re all guilty – I have been at times – of knocking that out of players because the focus is on winning.

I’ve always been keen to encourage that in Alexander and he’s always done it. It’s just that he’s doing it on a big stage now

Chamberlain Junior’s two recent performances at The Emirates were promising. It is not that I am unenthusiastic about the player, he has huge potential but it strikes me that Arsenal fans have become too quick to judge young players. In that respect, the emergence of Fabregas and Wilshere spoiled us; it ruined things for otherwise good players having time to develop as in the past. Now the critique is simple: Is he as good as Wilshere or Fabregas? No, get rid of him.

And that is utterly wrong.

One young man who is heading in the right direction is Wojciech Szczesny. A solid bond has definitely grown between the club and his heart. And confidence, the lad has it in bundles,

I feel that when I say something, everyone listens to me. More so on the field than in the dressing room, but that’s more important, I think. I want to be captain of the team. I feel I am able to take on that responsibility

Naturally the focus has been on his comments about playing for Barcelona, twisting in the breeze of a long hot summer’s transfer speculation. Arshavin still suffers from criticism about his remarks before he signed for Arsenal, this could linger for a while.

But why should the young Pole not have lofty ambitions? He wants to play for the best club side in the world, currently the Catalans. In five years, who knows? It might be Arsenal, it could be Lyon, we simply do not know.

That he wants to captain Arsenal, to me at least, is a very good sign. The desire to take responsibility seems to have drained from the players, those who are willing to stand up and be counted can inspire others. With inspiration and perspiration, this season’s travails can be put behind us and league form improved.

’til Tomorrow.

Jack’s Special So Is This Madness & Lip Up Nani, You Are Ska’d

Unlike the Premier League, Darius has decided that for the good of the season it is necessary to take a winter break. Or, as you and I might term it, he’s turned into a slacker for a fortnight.

For Arsene, it is a case of back to the future. Having been burned over Theo Walcott two summer’s ago, fears have been raised once more by the FAs insistence that the strongest possible squad will be sent to next summer’s Under-21s European Championship in Denmark.

Having seen first hand the devastation that the bungling of Capello and Pearce can cause, Wenger is rightly defensive about Wilshere’s possible inclusion in that squad,

We have to sit down at the end of the season and see how many games Wilshere has played, before considering that he plays in the Under-21s. But that he is now playing with the first team until June and then playing in the Under-21s, that will not work.

At 18 years of age, you have to be conscious as well, that every time he plays when he goes in the fight he has to put 200 per cent in to win the ball. So, when a guy like him has played 40 games in the season he needs a rest.

It seems unless Capello gets personally involved, Wilshere will go if required. The Football Association are like a teenage son; scolded by mummy Uefa and daddy Fifa (a stupid marriage if ever there was one), they are taking their frustrations out on younger siblings, little brother clubs, sick of the way that the supposedly more junior member of the family gets all of the attention.

Wenger offered a different perspective on the potential problem, suggesting motivation will be a bigger issue, questioning whether or not the player would give his all for the more junior team. Whilst that might be the case if Wilshere were a regular in Capello’s starting line-up, in this instance I not sure it will apply.

Wilshere has been in the squad, dropped to the Under-21s soon afterwards to help with the play-offs for the tournament. At 18, he is an exceptional talent and Wenger is right to be concerned that this is too much, too young.

English football is keen to exploit young talent, reckless with its future, abandoning the present with pre-conceived notions of long balls and ceding possession too cheaply. There is not one inkling that a coordinated plan exists for youth development; if a player is good enough for the senior squad, leave him there and play him. If he is not quite ready for that level, Capello should ignore media beration and allow the player to learn at Under-21 level.

Problematically, this is supposed to be the dawning of a new era for England, although it has been inauspicious with the humiliation of the failed World Cup 2018 bid. Constantly seeking to assert themselves in a confrontational way stokes up the fires, making the situation too hot to handle.

Wenger has risen to the bait but lost badly before. Had his first response been “It’s up to you if you pick him” whilst working diplomatically behind the scenes to resolve the situation, he might have found more immediate success with his pleas. It might have seemed his was sitting there in his office, doing nothing but sometimes a coercive course is the better option.

However, the deaf ears of those in power on previous occasions suggest he might not have his way.

Earlier in the week Nani took one step beyond the bounds of common decency by dismissing Arsenal’s title chances. Chelsea, proclaimed the seer from Praia, are the only ones who will be able to stop the United juggernaut rolling home. Arsene, of course, disputed this. “Oh, Ninny Nani Know-All“, he commented yesterday.

I personally don’t know who will win the league. I have managed 1,600 games so if Nani knows he must be 1,600 times more intelligent than I am.”

Or 1,600 times more of a gobshite; God alone knows what that makes Patrice Evra though. Personally, I’m not bothered by the views of United’s players; that they are dismissing Arsenal means that they are thinking about them. If they are thinking about Arsenal, it means that they consider them a threat.

Perhaps the Old Trafford hierarchy are aware of their squad limitations and need cod psychology to ensure that they do not end up in the rat race. Over in West One, John Terry thinks Chelsea’s squad is weaker than before, a few too many in the nite klub for some.

Avoiding the need to bust a blood vessel, Wenger was more realistic about Monday’s opponents,

Chelsea have gone through a period where results are a bit less good but that can happen to anyone in this league. We have seen recently that any team, when you think they are on the brink of breaking through, they have a hiccup. Maybe it’s just the quality of the league.

Personally, I am not convinced that the quality of the Premier League has improved, it has been more of an equalisation in quality. Certainly, the removal of footballing Philistines such as Allardyce can do no harm; if only Pulis and McCarthy could be eradicated as well.

Perhaps the best thing for the division has been the fact that promoted teams have come up and for the most part, have tried to play football properly. If WBA and Blackpool survive this season doing so, it might encourage more to follow this route. Equally, that Wigan, despite struggling, have tried to play their way out of trouble offers hope that English club football might have seen the light.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: The Morning After The Night Before

Here’s this week’s sermon from Darius. As Colonel Ross said, “I was counting on you being an insubordinate bastard, Palmer”

It’s the morning after the night before when the England World cup bidding team redefined what humiliation on a global stage is. The Three Lions of the doomed English bid return home more like 3 battered, bruised and dishevelled pussycats.

Venom, negativity and sour graped reactions took over in anarchy as the English media and footballing establishment responded to the perceived denial of a divine right.

The truth is that if they even bothered to ask Harry Pearce and his Section D MI5 Spooks at Thames House, England would have been told that they had no chance. The establishment tried to play FIFA at its game using the laws of the jungle and they lost

Despite that, there was a disturbing sense of misguided self righteousness that ruled the air waves and left a bitter taste in the mouth. It’s one thing lashing out at losing a bid, but it’s another thing altogether suggesting that certain countries in the world should never be allowed to host anything.

What next, are we going to stop mixed race couples from having children? Or fat people from living in the section of town populated by the slim? Or people from a particular country from leaving their own borders – which in fairness already happens in Gaza and the West Bank.

It shouldn’t matter that the world cup went to the middle-east or Qatar, it should matter more that the world cup is no longer a preserve of an elite cabal of countries who assume that only developed countries have a right to bring the tournament home.

England only have themselves to blame for indulging probably the most corrupt and unaccountable entity in the world. An organization that has Presidents and Prime Ministers holding their whatsmijigmifaces as they masturbate their egos; an organisation that has royalty licking their proverbial boots and succumbing to their every whim.

But as England contemplate adding Jack Warner and Sep Blatter alongside Julian Assange to the terrorist watch list, I do fear that yesterday’s decision will plunge English football back to the Stone Age with a regressive siege mentality.

I fear for a thoughtless and ignorant backlash at anything anti-English in football. We already have xenophobic radio stations urging English fans to react negatively to Andrey Arshavin, who truth be told, was doing the same thing Beckham did for his country.

I fear for an ignorant footballing populous, easily influenced and misguided by an incompetent and jingoistic media reacting negatively to the foreign influence within the English game.

I fear that Arsenal is likely to become an even more amplified ‘poster boy’ for everything the establishment hates about world football.

Yet, if ever there was an opportunity for the English footballing establishment to change guard and look forward, this has to be it. The way to respond is by going to Russia and winning the damn world cup. Nothing is going to happen though until there is a root and branch overhaul of the footballing infrastructure.

Nothing is going to be different until attitudes within and outside the game shift and the establishment starts to embrace change. Nothing is going to be different until the media frenzy and hyperbole about what English football is capable of right now is toned down with a dose of humility and respect for difference.

Believe it or not, when we reflect and wonder whether there is really an anti-Arsenal sentiment in the English media and establishment; what we’re seeing around us right now is a resounding ‘Yes!’.

The answer as to why isn’t rocket science. The blunt truth is that Arsenal represents a template of what the establishment is scared of looking at. They know it has to happen, but the success of Arsenal as a direct result of the philosophy and approach of the club will be living proof that the establishment has been an abject failure in its approach.

We can’t blame foreigners for our own short-comings. There were no foreigners in the English game proper for nearly 30 years since 1966. England still didn’t win anything.

What happened yesterday with the English bid was a culmination of a determined exercise to gloss over the massive issues within the English game. We were given a slick and funky presentation coupled with a military style charming offensive of the FIFA executive with the might of the House of Windsor and Downing Street.

The Calvary was rolled into the hotel bar with characters like Boris Johnson, the Match of the Day clowns of Shearer and Lineker, the hardnosed negotiating and lobbying of David Dein and David Beckham and yet no one stopped to think that they were being taken for a ride.

When you get Beckham and his son Brooklyn spending the night at Jack Warner’s home in Trinidad, and Special Branch allowing the insalubrious FIFA Vice-President to freely drape his arm around the future King as if they were drinking buddies; then you have to ask whether England really thought they were going to do this by greasing their way through the door.

All this hides from the fact that English football needs an overhaul; and the establishment needs to desist from lashing out at anything that moves because of their humiliation yesterday. 2 votes and an exit in the first round was a monumental bitch-slap whichever way you look at it.

When thinking of solutions, I always say that the establishment can’t do any worse than looking at London Colney, their adopted training home. I remember the first time Wenger faced a media backlash after the Crystal Palace game where for the first time, Arsenal had no English player in the team.

Wenger stoked the fire even more by his up-front comments about the over inflation of transfer fees for English players who are not that good anyway. The Arsenal manager promised to develop his own cohort of English players as an alternative to what was available, and he was laughed off.

Step in Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Craig Eastmond, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Henri Lansbury and the rest of the ridiculously talented Arsenal youngsters, most of whom have been playing together since the age of 9. England is hurting; England awaits you.

’til Tomorrow

10 Arsenal Players Undervalued By England

As England prepare to take on the might of Montenegro (The Sun Says, “They’re OK, they fought with us in the wars!“) this evening, chance to reflect on those who have donned the Arsenal shirt and been woefully underappreciated by England:

10. Steve Bould

Oh, come on. 2 caps. Surely not? Having been part of the most consistently mean defence in the top flight, Bobby Robson continually overlooked Bould, preferring the likes of Butcher, Walker and Wright as England continued to qualify well and woefully underperform at Finals. Bould was certainly the equal of Butcher and better than the other pair. Yet his contribution to the Arsenal team was devalued outside of the club. His call-up came in 1994, arguably England’s nadir over the past thirty years, when Graham Taylor simply could not get anyone to perform. The defence bolstered by Bould played Greece and Norway without conceding, winning 5-0 in the first before a goalless draw against the Norwegians.

9. Nigel Winterburn

There are those who would argue that Stuart Pearce thoroughly deserved his place in the side yet Winterburn was equally consistent and probably deserved more than his brace of caps. He got off to a promising start, a substitute in England’s goalless draw against Italy in 1989. Quite what Winterburn did to merit being excluded from the England set-up until 1993 is beyond me, especially since the vastly over-rated Tony Dorigo was regularly included. It’s tempting to suggest that Winterburn might have done better than Pearce in that penalty shootout in 1990 but the memories of his feeble effort in the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final preclude me from doing so. His final appearance was in the US Cup in 1993, a 1-2 defeat to Germany.

8. Peter Simpson

A toss-up as to whose omission was more startling; Simpson or Sammels. The latter is unfashionable to rate but in the late 1960s and having been capped by England at junior levels, he surely merited some caps at the senior level. But I’ll plump for Simpson on this occasion.

A stalwart for Arsenal, Simpson managed to get called into the England squad by Sir Alf Ramsey prior to Mexico 1970. Unsurprisingly given the talent that the manager had avaialble to him, the Arsenal player was never capped. Given the paucity of performances following the quarter-final defeat to Germany, it is totally surprising that he was never given the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level. Perhaps Arsenal players were not considered good enough, surprising that from 1968 to 1972, there were three losing finals, a league title, FA Cup and Fairs Cup along the way. But then in those days, being called into the squad was recognition of your talent rather than being a media-orchestrated campaign. And a cap? That meant the world.

7. Malcolm MacDonald

Scoring five goals in one match – still a record – and then scoring in a 2-0 win over West Germany (reigning World Champions at the time) ought to have cemented MacDonald’s place in the England line-up. That night in 1975, Cyprus the victims, was the pinnacle of his England career, which ended four months later in Portugal as England failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships. All of this before he signed for Arsenal. His record of a goal every other game whilst at the club was not deemed good enough, despite being arguably the best in the country at the time, before the injury which ultimately ended his career struck. England’s appalling record in tournaments from 1972 to 1978 makes it all the more baffling as to why he didn’t earn more call-ups in his prime.

6. Charlie George

Hardly surprising that George did not earn more caps. 1970s football as far as England was concerned, was the dark ages for the maverick. Like kindred spirits, Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles and Alan Hudson, his was distrusted by Ramsey and Revie. His solitary call-up for the full team came in a 1976 friendly against the Republic of Ireland. He failed to score and was exiled with a speed that proved to be Revie’s template. Falling out with the manager was deemed to be justification for his previous omissions but his appearance came when he was past his prime.

5. Paul Davis

When he first broke into the team, Davis was rated highly, capped at Under-21 level, touted as a future international. It never happened. Partly because he was an undemonstrative midfielder, integral to Graham’s team, overshadowed by higher scoring individuals. His passing was exemplary – the Denilson of his era – and better than some who appeared for their country. The suspicion remains that breaking Glenn Cockerill’s jaw cost him more than the fine and subsequent nine-match ban.

4. Lee Dixon

A small gripe on this one. Dixon was capped 22 times for his country but it was nowhere near enough. Without a shadow of a doubt, Dixon was the most consistent right back in the top flight during his time at Arsenal. Far superior than Paul Parker, he could not match the versatility offered although Parker’s ability as a centre back was over-rated. More swashbuckling that Gary Stevens, the only reason for his lack of caps in comparison is that his face did not fit. Sitting next to Adrian Chiles has since rectified that problem.

3. Alan Sunderland

Forever etched into the minds of Arsenal supporters for the 1979 FA Cup Final, Sunderland arrived at the club from Wolves with a burgeoning reputation carved over 150 appearances. He enhanced that during seven years but never got international recognition primarily due to Arsenal’s dubious league performances preceding and during his time. His one appearance came amid a much derided tour of Australia, a 2-1 victory in Melbourne scant reward for his efforts.

2. Reg Lewis

Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to put down the lack of international appearances to a player being born at the wrong time. The Second World War denied him football in his prime. Despite this, Lewis scored 118 goals in 176 games for Arsenal but it was a time of arrogance for the nation, a time when they believed they ruled the world, a time when England could travel the globe and beat one and all. These beliefs would be shattered during three short years, starting in Belo Horizonte in 1950. It just so happened that it was the time of Mortensen and co, revered England internationals hence Lewis’ failure to gain a solitary cap.

1. George Armstrong

Wingless wonders? 1966 proved Ramsey right; 1970 hinted that he might not have lost the plot but subsequent events surely merited Armstrong’s inclusion, particularly with the traditional England centre forward emerging. It is simply baffling that such a hard working and talented player did not receive international recognition. Utterly baffling.

’til Tomorrow.

Pearce & Capello Need To Work Out What Is Best For Wilshere

Last month Little Jack Wilshere must have wondered what he had to do to receive international recognition from Fabio Capello. His performances had been consistently good in the first team yet he was not called up. This despite doing exactly what the Italian had told him he had to; get first XI football on a regular basis.

So this week’s call up to the Under-21s must have been a bit of a blow, even though it is for the play-off for the junior European Championships, an important match for this level. Bewilderingly, he received a call-up to the full squad for the home Euro2012 qualifying clash with Montenegro at the same time. My knowledge of the travel industry is a little rusty but I am pretty sure that Wilshere is going to find it hard to play a match in Romania and get back to Wembley for kick-off. In fact he will probably struggle for the second half. And that is before you get to his fitness.

Would Messrs Pearce and Capello please care to elaborate? They did to an extent, the man formerly known as ‘Psycho’ (TMFKAP) clarified the position. Essentially, Wilshere stays with the Under-21s if the result on Friday does not leave them with a clear margin of victory for the tie. Or Capello decides he wants Wilshere with the full squad. A not unreasonable outcome. Which benefits the player more is debatable; two competitive matches at a junior level or one wholly one-sided affair with the seniors, in which he will play about four and a half minutes.

Where this become even messier – let’s face it, this is something to do with the FA so it is bound to be crap – is the following observation made by TMFKAP:

Jack is one of the youngest members of the Under-21 squad and for me it is vital that he plays as much football as he can.

Given the almighty screw up with Theo Walcott’s fitness, it is hardly surprising that the comment caused a fair amount of consternation. Had the rest of the quote been publicised as heavily, fears would be shown to be misplaced:

If we just left him with the seniors this time, he would have missed the game on Friday and I’ve no idea whether Fabio would pick him to start on Tuesday against Montenegro…The most important thing is the care of the player. Jack will be fine for a place in the side on Friday and then we will make a decision from there in respect of whether Fabio wants him after Friday or whether he plays the second leg with me.

We could fast-track a lot of young players possibly but what is the point of being with the senior squad and not playing? The real experience in football is to actually play.

Leaving aside TMKAP’s vested interest in qualifying, he is actually right as far as international football is concerned. The only thing Wilshere can learn from the full England squad is bad habits. The majority  of the squad can barely trap a ball, let alone pass and move in the manner that Arsenal do. At least at the lower level a certain amount of tactical knowledge must be imparted to achieve their qualifying objective. And with that Wilshere will see just how good a manager Wenger really is or the polar opposite with TMFKAP.

Arsene believes that they should get their act together, leave the petty game playing alone and generally stop messing Wilshere around. It isn’t going to happen. Capello has to get England to Euro2012, TMFKAP a similar target. Capello’s contract is up after that event and frankly I doubt he cares whether or not the next generation is ready for Brazil2014; he needs them now because the current crop is absolutely atrocious. They proved it in South Africa.

As far as Arsenal is concerned, burnout is the issue. Walcott’s season was ruined by overplaying in the summer. A spell at the lower level consistently might be preferrable for competitive matches if Wilshere is going to be rotating in and out of the first team, depending on the fixtures. Should he be in the first team on a regular basis, being with the senior squad might be the better option yet not playing for them is of little use.

Whatever the case, Wenger won’t have far to look to find out if one of his charges has received a knock whilst away. Turning onto ITV will provide the answer.

’til Tomorrow.

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