Thursday, 23 June 2016

Euro 2016 - Arsenal Group Stage Grades

The group stages at Euro 2016 have concluded and we now have a small break until the knockout rounds begin on Saturday. There's been a number of Arsenal players in action for their nations since the tournament began on 10 June so I thought I'd review how each of them have gotten on. Let's start with the local boys:

Laurent Koscielny

The 30 year-old central defender has been the core of the French defence, forming a solid, occasionally shaky partnership with Adil Rami. Many fans and critics were skeptical of the French back-four ahead of the competition but they've been remarkably stingy, keeping 2 clean sheets and allowing just the 1 goal, against Romania in the first game. Koscielny has been their rock, like he is every week for Arsenal. He's started every game for France and played all 90 minutes in each match. The home nation are still struggling to find their best form and setup, but Koscielny is one of the first names on the team-sheet and the best defender France have.

Pro's: His usual reliable self, getting key interceptions.

Con's: Isn't getting forward much, still has the odd shaky moment with Rami.

Grade: 7/10

Olivier Giroud

French manager Didier Deschamps put all of his eggs in the Giroud basket by leaving Karim Benzema and Alexander Lacazette at home, much to the dismay of French fans who wanted as much firepower up front as possible. But Giroud rewarded the manager's faith in him by scoring the opening goal of the tournament, racing in front of Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to glance in a header to give France the lead before a late Dimitri Payet thunderbolt rescued the hosts late on. However, Giroud has been wasteful in front of goal since that opening match, missing a host of chances against Albania, frustrating his manager and the fans alike. He was rested/dropped for France's final group game against Switzerland, which they drew 0-0, but to Giroud's relief his replacement André-Pierre Gignac was largely anonymous against the Swiss. I would expect our man to be back in the lineup for their knockout game on Sunday against the Republic of Ireland. If he does start, he'll need to get off the mark quickly as I can't see him lasting the 90 minutes unless he can net a goal before the hour mark. Best of luck to him.

Pro's: Has the backing of the manager, still has a good scoring record in his last few French games.

Con's: Far too profligate in front of goal.

Grade: 6/10

Granit Xhaka

The Arsenal new boy has been a revelation and has quietly been one of the best players at the tournament. He's officially been awarded the Man of the Match prize twice, against Albania and Romania, and BBC voted him as their Man of the Match in Switzerland's final group game against the hosts France (UEFA thought his teammate Yann Sommer deserved the honour.) His playmaking abilities from the centre of midfield have been astonishing; the guy knows how to pick a pass, he's got incredible range. Xhaka routinely drops deep to collect the ball from his defence before spreading the ball forwards like a quarterback, with remarkable efficiency too. He's played every minute of every game and routinely ends each match as having the most touches on the ball. He's at the centre of everything positive in this Swiss side. Xhaka has probably been my favourite Arsenal player to watch at Euro 2016 so far and I'm eagerly awaiting his first game in the Arsenal red and white. He looks like he'll bring some real quality to the Gunner's midfield. I can't wait.

Pro's: Deep-lying playmaking ability, influential leadership.

Con's: His Puma shirts are awful (he needed 3 during the France game)

Grade: 8/10

Jack Wilshere

England's sole representative for Arsenal at Euro 2016 hasn't had the best of times, despite a great opportunity to prove his worth in England's final game. Jack made his first appearance in the tournament when he came on for the last 12 minutes against Russia and impressed in his brief time but he didn't see any action during England's 2-1 victory over Wales. Manager Roy Hodgson took a risk for England's final group game against Slovakia by shaking things up and Wilshere was handed a starting place but was largely ineffective in their disappointing 0-0 draw. The Arsenal man was only given 56 minutes and you could see he was trying to push, trying to dictate, but it just didn't click for him (or his useless teammates.) He was far too sloppy in possession but judging by the British media's reaction, who love to paint him as a villain, he was the worst player to ever wear an England shirt. I thought Jordan Henderson was just as poor in midfield and equally wasteful, yet he somehow escaped all criticism. England face Iceland in the knockout stages and are heavy favourites, yet it's almost a certainty the game will end 0-0 and go to penalties, and England will exit the tournament in typical fashion. I don't expect we'll see much of Wilshere again, given the backlash he received after the Slovakia game, but he could feature again off the bench if England need a spark.

Pro's: Still the best passer of the ball England have.

Con's: Too wasteful and ponderous in possession.

Grade: 5/10

Aaron Ramsey

Unlike Wilshere, Arsenal's other British midfielder is having a great time in France. Ramsey has been a driving force in the Welsh midfield and was a big factor in his nation's topping of Group B. Gareth Bale has rightfully stolen the spotlight but Ramsey has been just as crucial to Wales' success with his unrelenting work rate and passing ability. He dominated Russia in Wales' final group game, intricately threading passes through the Russian defence and scoring a beautifully chipped goal to give his country the lead in what was a 3-0 demolition. He was rightfully awarded the UEFA Man of the Match award for his performance and seems to be growing in strength as the competition progresses. He was very quiet and contained during Wales's defeat to England but he looks to have put that behind him now. Wales have confidence and momentum and could cause another upset as Ramsey and co. will aim to stay in France for as long as possible.

Pro's: Tireless engine, passing ability unmatched in his team.

Con's: Still over-complicates what should be simple moves. That hairstyle.

Grade: 7/10

Mesut Özil

Arsenal's Player of the Season for 2015/16, the German playmaker has continued his fine form at Euro 2016. He got off to a somewhat subdued start against Ukraine but still picked up an assist in Germany's 2-0 win. Against Poland he forced a good save from former Arsenal keeper Łukasz Fabiański in a hard-fought 0-0 draw but he really found top gear against Northern Ireland, putting in a vintage performance. Özil pulled the strings in the star-studded German midfield and according to Opta stats, had a 98.5% passing accuracy, the highest in a European Championship game since 1980. He barely put a foot wrong in Germany's 1-0 win and looked the superstar we all know he can be, deservedly taking home UEFA's Man of the Match award. Partnered with the sublime Toni Kroos in midfield, Özil and his compatriots are definitely a team you don't want to face in the knockout stages (good luck to Slovakia then!).

Pro's: The best playmaker in international football, passing ability unmatched.

Con's: Consistently poor at making good contact when shooting.

Grade: 8/10

Petr Čech

The Arsenal goalkeeper could not keep his country from exiting Euro 2016 at the group stage as the Czech Republic finished bottom of Group D with a solitary point, earned in an exciting 2-2 draw with Croatia. There are reports Čech is considering international retirement and at the age of 34 you can't really blame him. He showed great resilience to deny a spirited Spain team in the Czech Republic's first game but was eventually undone by a late Gerard Pique header in a 1-0 loss. Čech also picked up an unwanted European Championship record, conceding 21 goals during his years competing at the Euro's, more than any other goalkeeper according to Opta. A disappointing end to what was a largely successful first season in North London, Čech will be looking to put Euro 2016 behind him as soon as possible and focus on Arsenal ahead of the new campaign.

Pro's: A class act and leader of men.

Con's: At the end of his international career with a lacklustre Czech team.

Grade: 4/10

Tomáš Rosický

The Czech Republic captain, soon to be an ex-Arsenal player but for Euro 2016 still very much one of us, had a disappointing tournament as injury rose it's ugly head yet again. Rosický lasted the entire 90 minutes in their 2-2 draw with Croatia but he suffered a thigh injury that would rule him out for the rest of the competition. A very sad finish to what is likely the end of the 35 year-old's international career.

Pro's: Such great hair.

Con's: Cannot catch a break with injuries.

Grade: 4/10

Héctor Bellerín

The Spanish speedster had a terrific 2015/16 season and earned a spot in the Spain squad for Euro 2016 as a reward. He hasn't seen a minute of action so far so I bet he's wishing he was on holiday instead. Juanfran is keeping Bellerin out of the starting lineup right now but it's clear the 31 year-old Atlético Madrid right-back is just keeping Hector's seat warm. Bellerin should be Spain's right-back for the next decade at least so there's no rush, and a little tournament experience never hurts.

Pro's: The fastest player in the Spain squad, maybe even the tournament.

Con's: Unlikely to see any minutes.

Grade: N/A

Wojciech Szczęsny

Szczęsny, who had an impressive loan spell with Roma in 2015/16, could be set to return to Arsenal but before that happens, his Poland side are impressing in France this summer. However, his Euro 2016 campaign hasn't been what he'd have hoped for. Szczęsny suffered a nasty thigh injury whilst keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 opening win against Northern Ireland, and it was severe enough to rule him out of Poland's remaining group games. In his absence Łukasz Fabiański has been impressive (2 clean sheets) and I don't imagine Szczęsny can win back his place now, even if his injury has healed. Szczęsny won't give up his spot easily but I can't see Poland manager Adam Nawałka tinkering with a winning side now the knockout stages have begun.

Pro's: Fantastic shot-stopper and world class wind-up merchant.

Con's: Doesn't have much luck when it comes to European Championships. Remember?

Grade: 5/10

Thanks for reading.