Morning all, the internationals are done and we now sit back to survey the wreckage that FIFA’s special fortnight in the calendar has wrought. Not that you will find anyone in the Cape Verde Islands who agrees with the disparaging undertone. I wonder whether the Portuguese press has taken a more phlegmatic view of their national teams 0-2 home defeat last night? The English media wouldn’t at such a result, demanding that Liz send Roy to the Tower with the words, “Orf with his head“, ringing in his ears.
The England players weren’t enthused in Turin last night, certainly not the first hour where Hodgson continued the time-honoured tradition of the national team manager by fitting square pegs in round holes. Phil Jones barely passes muster as an international defender so quite why it was thought he would do better in a holding midfield role is as baffling as the decision to allow the Liverpool players to ‘rest’ for the two matches. Who says the England manager hasn’t got loyalties to clubs?
“Practice match mentality“. That was the phrase Hodgson used to chastise his players for their first half performance. If the XI thinks that, little wonder why there is a general malaise about international football. Years ago, England visiting Turin would have seen thousands rocking up to the Juventus Stadium; last night their absence was noticeable in the empty seats that ringed the pitch.
Theo Walcott is bearing the brunt of the criticism this morning; it’s a topsy-turvy world when Andros Townsend, unceremoniously hooked at Old Trafford after thirty minutes during Tottenham’s recent capitulation, is hailed as a world-beater. This nation’s saving grace. All Hodgson has proven is what most of us know; Walcott isn’t a centre forward – his forte is on the flanks, free to exploit any space with his pace.
Where last night was useful is that it’s an hour more on the pitch than he is being given at Arsenal. Arsène clearly thinks that the XI he is fielding is better equipped to deal with the rigours of the Premier League and all the while they are winning, it’s a faultless argument. Team Theo may think otherwise, that he would enhance the performances but it’s theoretical. Or Theo-rhetorical if you prefer.
Am I concerned that his industry wasn’t rewarded? No. Nor should anyone else be. Hodgson’s hotchpotch selection offered nothing of note for him or us at club level and frankly is of no relevance. It isn’t Arsène Wenger’s job to coach Walcott to play centrally, it’s his job to coach him for Arsenal and at this moment in time, it’s clear he doesn’t believe Theo is central striker. It’s not quite sure what he thinks he is, to be honest.
Ahead of this weekend’s visit of Liverpool, Arsène had mixed injury news. By now, he probably knows the extent of the knocks and knacks suffered by Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey. The former’s withdrawal from the England squad is seen as some indicator that he “faces a race to be fit” although the free and easy way players have pulled out of Hodgson’s squad suggest that the trip to Turin was viewed as little more than a practice match.
Unsurprisingly, the reserves beat Brentford 4 – 0 yesterday. It might have raised a few eyebrows ordinarily but with Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta all playing, surely a comfortable win was expected. Well, I would have raised an eyebrow had I not been lying on the ground, shocked into submission by the appearance of Abou Diaby. Just in time to renew his contract…
To be honest, it’s hard to take anything from Diaby’s return to matches but a sense that it must be nice for him to finally be able to take part. Even if he returned to the first team squad, I find it inconceivable that he will be offered a new deal in the summer. As much as I think he could potentially do well for a team, his past record suggests reliability will be an issue. For that reason alone, it is too much of a risk for Arsenal to take, even on a pay-as-you-play basis. A fresh start might well be best for him as well, mentally and physically and almost certainly in a less demanding league.
I can’t see any of the remaining trio starting on Saturday – perhaps Wilshere if Ramsey isn’t fit – but that kind of experience on the bench is nothing but useful. It also puts pressure on those who have taken their chance whilst injuries ravaged their way across the squad; consistency is the key at this stage of the season and knowing that there is ready and capable replacement waiting to take advantage of any dip in form is only good for Arsenal.
The choice Arsène faces, not this weekend perhaps, but certainly in the next week or so, is whether to bring Debuchy back for Hector Bellerin. The youngster has performed well as the luckless French international has hobbled his way through his début Arsenal season to the extent that received wisdom has it Carl Jenkinson will be leaving the club this summer, most likely making his loan move to the East End permanent.
I don’t think there’s much doubt Debuchy will return although any urgency has diminished with the young Spaniard not particularly fazed by the first team or opposition he has faced. Not faultless, far from it. As with any youngster, inexperience brings a sharp learning curve but his has been smoother than most. There are still positional issues defensively but the same is said of experienced players as well.
It’s the sort of selection headache Arsène will enjoy having.