If you are of a certain age, read the following à la Crackerjack: It’s England, It’s a World Cup, it’s Injury scare time! Except on this occasion, there might be repercussions for Arsenal. Memories stirred of van Persie’s habit of getting injured on international duty with the Dutch but hopefully the ligament damage suffered last night by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will remain “suspected” and not materialise. If the worst fears are realised, immediate concerns will surface about whether he will be fit for the start of the coming season.
It might mean some early work for the might-be-soon-to-be-newly-appointed fitness coach, Shad Forsythe. Seemingly one of the results of the internal inquiry into the spate of injuries Arsenal have suffered down the years, any progress in this area is welcome, not just from the perspective of having you best players fit but also reducing some of the tension which builds during the transfer window. If there is a more realistic chance of the squad being available for longer periods of the season, part of the fear which manifests in the hysteria over transfer activity or the apparent lack of it, diminishes. It’s unrealistic to expect that players will not suffer strains or tears but the level of non-impact injuries has been high at the club for several years. The reasons for that are speculation but if it is broke, it needs fixing and the current philosophy with respect to fitness and conditioning is not working.
Results from any changes in this sphere may be seen next season but like an economic cycle, there is a strong possibility it will take several seasons before the benefits are fully realised. Anything that sees a positive reaction is welcomed though. It is an outward sign of activity in resolving the issue and despite misplaced demands that we be told the reports findings, this is one of the few answers to be made public. My own view is that so long as a tangible improvement is made, is seen, do we need to be told anything? I don’t think so.
Away from the speculation about his fitness, the pity is that Oxlade-Chamberlain played well. His style of play – busily calm – offers England a bridge between the old and new. On the one hand he has the passing game instilled in him from club level but he has allied that to the energy which has been traditionally valued highly by English coaches. By contrast Jack Wilshere was relatively subdued but improved as the game went on.
In these matches, the media will always read too much into the performance and given this was not the expected starting XI which will face Italy in the first round of group matches, doing so is a futile gesture at engendering panic. Not much mention is being made of Italy’s draw with Luxembourg; it doesn’t fit the tabloid agenda of hopelessness. A tough group underpins the approach, bizarrely fatalistic given two draws and a win might well be enough to reach the knockout stages. They face good teams but the odds are nowhere near as insurmountable as they are being portrayed.
This England squad is being given less chance of progressing than the abject group who sullied the South African pitches four years ago. That is some feat but I am grateful that it has curbed the jingoistic excesses which accompanied previous tournaments. This time, the five-minute football-fan has also yet to surface; the benefits to this low-key World Cup keep totting up.
Finally, on the international ‘scene’. Football history is made every day, it’s all around us; we just don’t notice, for the most part, we don’t care unless it affects Arsenal. Yesterday there was no Arsenal interest – directly, at least – as Gibraltar defeated Malta in the Mediterranean derby to record their first win since being recognised as a footballing nation by UEFA. It might not be a big thing to you but there is something refreshing about a ‘new’ footballing nation forging their own path, particularly given the politics surrounding their acceptance. Recording their first victory in Euro2016 qualifying matches is the next step and with two matches against Scotland, you’ve got to fancy their chances…