Arsenal Football Club - the only football that matters
Its been nearly a week since I posted. Such is the way that my shift pattern pans out this is the way things go from time to time. As a result I didn't get to preview the England game, or speak about the other quarter-finals. I am told that Laurent Koscielny had a decent game in the worst match of the entire tournament on Saturday. The only other Arsenal player on show, in the end, was Theo Walcott. It's England I will concentrate on in today's post below.
So England's bi-annual flirtation with something resembling success has come to an end without actually being beaten. As much as you can point the finger with regards to a lack of bottle where England's record on penalties is concerned, it must be remembered that they have rarely been beaten in the act of being knocked out over the past twenty-odd years. That this year's failure to go beyond the last eight is not being seen as under-performance perhaps means that reality has finally bitten in this country. Maybe, just maybe, the last eight is England's natural position. If you substitute Greece and Czech Republic for Brazil and Argentina (and possibly Portugal for Holland in normal circumstances) you pretty much find England's level among the top eight teams in the World. I have to say I thought this England team would beat Italy in a tight game, but it was not to be.
I've read and heard all the reaction about how England were outplayed last night with the ball. Most observers have accepted that, and that England were set up by Roy Hodgson to allow for their limitations. Roy knew that his best chance of glory was to stop the opposition scoring, before worrying about how to get a goal at the other end. However, there are always some dissenting voices. It was no surprise to me that idiots like Alan Hansen, Chris Waddle and Alan Green were having a pop (though Hansen and Green aren't English and Waddle can't really speak English). However, the worst culprit was Graham Taylor. I have never heard anything like the drivel he was coming out with last night. Taylor chose to criticise Hodgson's tactics and formation. He said that he had learned the need to adapt his tactics and formations against the better sides when he had been England Manager. What? This is the man who decided the best way to beat Norway in a crucial qualifier was to introduce an extra defender, completely throwing his defence into disarray. This is the man who chose to place an England team in to an unfamiliar set-up in an end of season game against USA (when they were still a footballing joke) and oversaw one of the most embarrassing results in England history. How dare he sit there on national radio and castigate the man who has just seen his side get knocked out of the Euros without losing, and without conceding a goal against Italy? Utterly shameful behaviour from Taylor.
There are plenty out there who seem to be lamenting England's seemingly negative play. These are the same people who had no words of criticism for Chelsea over how they won the European Cup. At the end of the day, who cares how Chelsea won it? The fact is that they have the trophy. Had England won the penalty shootout last night then not one of these cretins would be saying what they are now. They are also in cloud cuckoo land if they think England could have been more successful by playing in any other way. If England had tried to really attack the Italians last night they would have lost by three or four goals. Roy Hodgson knew that the England players lack the technical ability to play good enough football to beat the top sides, so he sent them out to play to a system. The players realised the value of that and played to their strengths.
There have been some real bright spots in this tournament for England. The defence has been excellent. I believe that Glen Johnson and Joleon Lescott have really enhanced their reputations. Last night John Terry was at his very best (though he is still utterly loathsome) while the only surprise with Cashley was that he missed his penalty. I thought that Scott Parker was excellent throughout, despite being obviously injured, and Gerrard provided something that has been missing for a long time for England - respected leadership (though the current beatification of Gerrard as some kind of Bobby Moore style skipper is seriously overstepping the mark). Up front I thought Danny Welbeck was brilliant and worked himself in to the ground. If there was a mistake made by Hodgson then it was in taking off Welbeck last night, rather than Rooney. I have to say that Rooney and Ashley Young were awful throughout their time on the pitch. Young should have been dropped after the second group match, in favour of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox, Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll also did themselves no harm whatsoever in this tournament.
Over all I believe the England players can be proud of their efforts. After the disgraceful showing at the World Cup in South Africa they have restored a bit of faith in the England team. They looked like they wanted to play, and their defensive effort was redoubtable. On another day it might just have gone in England's favour. Alas, it was not to be.
After the game last night I felt no emotion. Regular readers will be well aware that I am not an England "fan". I don't get wrapped up in their results at all. If Arsenal had been done on penalties I would have been utterly distraught for days, maybe weeks even. My reaction (or lack of it) to Italy's win merely served to underline the fact that Arsenal are the only thing that matters. I wanted to see England win because I am English, and because it puts the nation in a great mood. However, I would still get more pleasure from seeing Arsenal win a third round League Cup tie than from watching England win the World Cup.
For what remains of Euro 2012 I will be following Germany most keenly. They have two Arsenal players in their squad and, frankly, they are the most attractive footballing team in the tournament. More and more people are coming round to my way of thinking that Spain are nothing more than boring - as any side playing without a striker would be. I wouldn't say I'll be supporting Germany (there are limits that no Englishman should push) but I would see them as my preferred winner.
I will be writing, hopefully, as we go through this week about the semi-finals. I also hope Arsenal will be formally announcing the signing of at least one French international before the week is out. We are only three weeks away from Arsenal's first pre-season outing, and we all know that Arsenal are all we really care about.