Tuesday, 31 May 2016
This afternoon Roy Hodgson named his final 23-man squad for England ahead of Euro 2016 and our own Jack Wilshere, out of action for nearly the entire 2015/16 season, has made the team and will be on the plane to France.
As an Arsenal fan I am very pleased to hear he'll be representing the club. After Danny Welbeck's late season injury ruling out what was a guaranteed place in the squad, and Theo Walcott's unfortunate but not unsurprising exclusion, Jack will be the sole representative for Gunners fans in this England squad dominated by players from teams I absolutely despise.
Don't get me wrong, as an Englishman I am desperate for my national team to succeed on the international stage. However it is sometimes difficult to cheer and actively support players like Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney when for the majority of the year I don't like them very much at all (to put it mildly.) This England squad in particular is very Tottenham-heavy, making it even more difficult to fully embrace these guys. I will of course cheer and celebrate whoever puts the ball in the net wearing an England shirt, but if it's an Arsenal player it makes the celebration that little bit sweeter. So for Wilshere to be included in the team and to get this opportunity, lets just say I'm very happy with Roy Hodgson's decision to take him.
There has been quite an uproar on social media (what else is new?) over Danny Drinkwater's absence from the squad. Many fans feel aggrieved that the likes of Wilshere and Jordan Henderson, both with doubts about their fitness, have made the team instead of Drinkwater. Wilshere in particular is receiving a great deal of abuse, mainly because he only started 1 game during the 2015/16 season.
The 26 year-old Leicester City midfielder can certainly feel aggrieved at Hodgson's decision to leave him at home. A player who made 35 appearances this season for the League champions, Drinkwater definitely merited serious consideration ahead of Euro 2016.
However, he has a few factors working against him. One of which being Roy Hodgson is a very loyal manager; it's safe to say he has "his boys" and Wilshere and Henderson have long been part of that exclusive club. They've both contributed meaningfully on the international stage, they are known quantities and Hodgson feels comfortable with them. Drinkwater is a relative newcomer to the current England setup, whereas Wilshere has been established in Hodgson's squad for many years now.
Also, whilst Drinkwater is a very talented player, at the international level he's still somewhat unproven. He and Leicester City have had a tremendous season but the level of quality at Euro 2016 may be a step above what Drinkwater is used to. If England make the knockout stages, Drinkwater would be up against some of the very best players in the world, not the scrubs he's used to seeing fielded by the Aston Villa's and Norwich's of the Premier League. Whereas Wilshere has faced the world's best for over half a decade, playing regularly in the Champions League and for England.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Wilshere's favour over Drinkwater is his style of play. Drinkwater, a very capable and workmanlike midfielder, cannot pick a pass or make a turn and drive forward like Wilshere, in fact there are very few who can, hence why Hodgson is so insistent on having him in the squad, regardless of his fitness. I am positive Drinkwater has areas in his game that Wilshere cannot match but the Leicester man does not yet possess the skills that mark him out as "world class." It is a phrase I hate using as it's so unspecific and handed out far too often, yet Jack has exhibited this level of play in the past and been lauded for it.
So I can understand fans feeling Drinkwater has been wronged by Roy Hodgson. But this youthful and dynamic England side is a talented one, and should Drinkwater have made the squad, how many minutes would he have seen anyway? In a very strong midfield, which is likely to see Wayne Rooney crammed in there also, I don't think Drinkwater will have had much of a look in over Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, James Milner and Ross Barkley, all players who can operate successfully in the centre of the park. Will Jack Wilshere see many minutes either? Perhaps not. However, if that is the case, I would argue that Jack can bring a spark off the bench Drinkwater cannot yet manage, a different option and a vastly different technique to his peers that could prove useful.
England face Portugal in 2 days time in their final warm-up match before taking on Russia in their first Euro 2016 game on 11 June. I expect to see the England manager select a strong lineup against the Portuguese with many indicators on who is first eleven may be ahead of England's first group game against the Russians. Here's hoping Wilshere features prominently and puts in a performance to silence his critics. Lord knows he has plenty of them.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, 25 May 2016
After securing their highest league finish since 2005, Arsenal got their plans for the 2016/17 season underway early by signing Swiss international midfielder Granit Xhaka to a long-term deal.
The former Borussia Monchengladbach captain is rumored to cost the Gunners somewhere between £25-30 million according to reports. The 23 year-old is set to join up with his new teammates after Euro 2016 concludes later this summer.
Xhaka is a player who has been on Arsenal's radar for some time, with many journalists linking him with a move to North London earlier this year during the January transfer window. Arsene Wenger has long been an admirer: "We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad."
I'm really excited to see what Xhaka can bring to this team. I've only really seen him play in a handful of Champions League games in recent years, so I'm not an expert by any means, but it appears he will bring some much-needed steel to our midfield. A deep-lying playmaker with an eye for a pass, Xhaka is adept at playing pinpoint long-range passes in attack, as well as putting in a shift in defence. I assume Wenger is looking to him as an upgrade over Francis Coquelin, a player with similar toughness but perhaps the more refined Xhaka can bring a bit of finesse to the position. I'm already looking forward to seeing a midfield trio of Xhaka, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. With the impending departure of veterans Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini, the club needed to bolster the midfield this summer and they have gone one step toward doing just that.
I'm both impressed by the acquisition of a quality player and by the swiftness of the transfer. It's not often Arsenal are early birds to the transfer worm, so it makes a nice change. I don't expect (nor do I hope) that this is the end of Arsenal's transfer activity but it's a great start to what will hopefully be a busy off-season for Mr Wenger and co.
It is expected Xhaka will wear the number 34 shirt as he has done for the majority of his career, both at FC Basel and Monchengladbach. Of course, he will have to pry it away from Coquelin first, who I expect will jump at the chance to take a vacant First XI number, likely the departed Arteta's number 8.
I know I'll be tuning in to watch every Switzerland game I can during Euro 2016, that's for sure. Welcome to the club Granit Xhaka.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is my first post in a while. Over 3 years in fact. This blog has been dormant for a host of reasons, but I'm going to endeavor to post on here more often. I'm well aware the internet doesn't need yet another Arsenal blog but I don't care; I'm going to write about them anyway.
Thanks for reading.