Saturday, June 30
By Nick Ames in Kiev
Arsène Wenger has long maintained that positive experiences at international level can only help a player’s performances for his club. With that in mind, and with the Gunners’ representatives at Euro 2012 all having headed home ahead of tomorrow’s final, it’s worth reminding ourselves of who might be arriving for pre-season training next month with a particular spring in their step.
If impact is measured partly on pitch time, then Theo Walcott can be happy with what he produced in 110 minutes of action for quarter-finalists England. After the frustration of barely touching the ball when he came on late in the draw with France, his half-hour appearance against Sweden signalled the Three Lions’ most exhilarating spell of the tournament.
His 20-yard equaliser and superb assist for Danny Welbeck’s winner need little re-telling; although he was unable to make a similar impact against Ukraine or Italy, his contribution stood out in a side whose other attackers were unable to produce a great deal of note.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also returns with his head held high. A first international start against the French was never going to be easy, but the way in which he warmed to his task spoke of a long international career in the making. He might even have scored his first senior England goal shortly after coming on against Sweden, but Theo’s deflected cross was met by Steven Gerrard just ahead of the poised Arsenal youngster.
Alex impressed many off the pitch, too. Journalists who came into contact with him spoke glowingly of his articulacy, politeness and infectious enthusiasm. He was a fine representative of both club and country during his time away.
Laurent Koscielny’s stock continues to rise, even if he only made one appearance for France. The defender was drafted in for the quarter-final against Spain in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes, and was widely seen as one of Les Bleus’ best performers in a 2-0 defeat.
Following a year on loan at Sunderland, Nicklas Bendtner has been linked with a move away from the Gunners - and he certainly turned a few heads this month. After a responsible performance defending from the front against Holland, he scored twice for Denmark in their dramatic defeat against Portugal. He followed that with an assist in the 2-1 loss to Germany, and impressed throughout the group stage with his work rate and leading of the Danish line.
Tournament specialist Lukas Podolski, who officially joins Arsenal within the week, had a relatively quiet one by his standards although his left-sided shift against the Dutch proved crucial in stopping Arjen Robben in his tracks, while a deadlock-breaker against the Danes set the eventual semi-finalists fair for progress to the last eight.
Per Mertesacker, still regaining fitness after an injury that ruled him out of Arsenal’s run-in, failed to make an appearance, but his influence off the pitch was recognised by manager Joachim Low.
Robin van Persie might be among the more frustrated Gunners, his Dutch side having fallen far below expectations in losing all three of their Group D fixtures. The Arsenal captain’s own performances were as sharp and intelligent as ever, and he scored a superb right-footed consolation goal against the Germans, but he’ll look back on a couple of chances that might have helped make a difference for his troubled side.
Arsenal’s Group A representatives will look back on Euro 2012 with a mixture of emotions. Andrey Arshavin was influential in Russia’s first two outings, claiming assists in a 4-1 win against Tomas Rosicky’s Czech Republic and a 1-1 draw against Poland. Against all odds, though, the Russians failed to make the cut after losing to Greece - and a player who openly admits the importance of international fortunes on his state of mind will still be hurting.
Tomas himself saw his side perform admirably in reaching the last eight, but an Achilles injury forced him out of the Czechs’ last two games and he cast doubt upon his international future in a post-match interview with me.
Wojciech Szczesny, meanwhile, was a happy man at half-time of the tournament’s opening game, with a clean sheet looking on the cards against an unthreatening Greece. A Greek equaliser followed, though, as did a red card for Wojciech whose tournament was over almost as soon as it had begun.
A mixed bag for Arsenal’s delegation then, but with positives certainly outweighing negatives. If they’re watching tomorrow’s final between Italy and Spain, the chances are they’ll be tuning in during well-earned breaks in various locations around the world.
I’m still here in Kiev and will be at the game; in tomorrow’s blog, though, I’ll tell you about Friday morning’s Arsenal-related exploits that occurred 100 miles south of here.
EURO 2012 BLOG ARCHIVE:
- Lukas and Per head home
- Cool Cesc keeps his composure
- Hungry Germany seek revenge
- Over to you, Lukas and Per
- A long night in Kiev?
- Low keeps expectations high
- Off with their beards
- Czeching in to Warsaw
- And then there were six
- D-day for England and France
- Per proved right on Podolski
- Czechs keep their composure
- Electric Walcott makes his mark
- Kiev gets ready for England
- Dejected Dutch on the brink
- A decisive day for the Dutch
- Beaming Ox makes his mark
- Sun, streams and slagheaps
- Diligent Danes reap reward
- The Dutch and the Danes
- Running the rule over Robin
- From Gatwick to Kharkiv