‘Arsenal win the World Cup’ was the headline on the front page of the Daily Mirror on July 13, 1998.
France had triumphed on home soil, of course, but the clinching goal saw Patrick Vieira striding through the midfield, and teeing up Arsenal colleague Emmanuel Petit for a fine finish.
Since then, Gilberto signed for Arsenal in 2002 having just won the World Cup, while Cesc Fabregas set up the winner in 2010. Ten more players, for four different nations, are hoping to lift the trophy as an Arsenal player this summer, and here’s a look at their probable role within each team.
Santi Cazorla - SpainNo other country possesses as many top-class options in one position as Spain’s attacking midfield department.
With Vicente Del Bosque likely to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the option of switching to 4-3-3, Santi Cazorla is battling with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Juan Mata, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro Rodriguez and Koke for a position in support of Spain’s lone forward.
Cazorla might have to be content with the odd substitute appearance here and there. But Spain’s key man at the last couple of tournaments has been Iniesta, and Cazorla is arguably the best deputy for the Barcelona man - so he could turn out to be crucial if Iniesta gets injured.
Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna - FranceOlivier Giroud has been in long-standing battle with Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema for the lone striker role.
While Benzema was considered the favourite to start up front, Giroud has impressed in pre-tournament friendlies and offers better link-up play than his rival, which works well with onrushing midfielders.
"Wilshere's directness in possession could be precisely what England need... he can provide a surge of energy and some clever passes into attack"
However, in the astonishing 8-0 thrashing of Jamaica in France’s final warm-up game, the two played in the same side - Benzema coming inside off the left, and Giroud up front. France have a reasonably easy group stage draw, and Didier Deschamps could field his two strikers in tandem.
At the back, half of France’s backline could be comprised of Arsenal players. Laurent Koscielny faces a battle to be a regular because Deschamps possesses such strength in depth, but he seems perfect for a side set to use a high defensive line, allowing a powerful midfield trio to press. As at Arsenal, he sticks tight to his opponents, tracking them into deep positions.
Bacary Sagna, too, has a battle on his hands against Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy, another talented right-back. But Debuchy picked up a knock in the Jamaica victory, so Sagna could start the tournament: he’ll skip down the outside of talented playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, who loves drifting inside from the right wing.
Thomas Vermaelen - BelgiumBelgium have a plethora of talented centre backs but almost no options at full back, which means both Vermaelen and Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen were often fielded at left back during the qualification campaign.
But it seems Vermaelen will be fielded in his favoured centre-back role alongside Vincent Kompany, and Belgium play to the strengths of the Arsenal captain - they often leave space between the lines, and leave it to the centre backs to close down players in that zone. Vermaelen often charges up the pitch into tackles, and in possession he’s comfortable moving forward to start the attacks, too.
Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil - GermanyWith Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng’s positions undecided, Per Mertesacker is the rock at the heart of the German backline.
Regardless of his defensive colleagues, Mertesacker’s cool, calm style is obvious from his Arsenal displays. While sometimes criticised for a perceived lack of pace, it’s actually extremely rare to see Mertesacker caught out in this respect, because his positional play is so intelligent, and he reads the game beautifully. He needs another good tournament if Germany are to triumph.
Further forward, Mesut Ozil will play the No 10 role. There are various other players capable of performing that task, but with Toni Kroos fielded deeper, Thomas Muller favourite to start on the right and Mario Gotze deployed up front as a false nine, Ozil should play in his preferred position.
His movement is crucial, as others are always drifting into his space. Ozil can move to the flanks to ensure Germany retain width, can drop back into midfield to create overloads, and can dart in advance of the striker to provide a goal threat.
Having broken onto the world scene four years ago in South Africa, Ozil will be desperate to shine at another World Cup.
On the left, Lukas Podolski’s chance of starting matches has improved after Marco Reus was ruled out of the competition through injury. Reus was the most direct of Germany’s front four, and Low will keen to have someone else providing that from the left.
Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle could be the best like-for-like replacement, as he also cuts onto his favoured right foot. But Podolski never lets Germany down - with 47 goals in 114 caps, many of them from the left, he’s a reliable goalscorer. He scored at World Cup 2006, Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, and there’s no reason he can’t make it five major tournaments in a row.
Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - EnglandJack Wilshere is battling with Jordan Henderson to be England’s midfield partner for Steven Gerrard, although Henderson has the upper hand, having played alongside Gerrard at club level for Liverpool all season.
"Oxlade-Chamberlain could become England’s key player in Brazil"
Wilshere offers more technical quality, though, and his directness in possession could be precisely what England need. In the pre-tournament friendlies their passing has been slow, and Wilshere can provide a surge of energy and some clever passes into attack.
There were concerns Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would miss the tournament after picking up an injury in the 2-2 draw against Ecuador, but he’ll recover in time to play some part in the tournament.
Of all the players in England’s 23-man squad, Oxlade-Chamberlain is arguably the most suited to Hodgson’s football. He starts wide but charges inside off the flank, and is excellent at taking the ball on the run and converting defence to attack smoothly.
England have other options on the flanks, but Oxlade-Chamberlain could become England’s key player in Brazil. He scored against Brazil at the Maracana last summer - what price him doing the same on July 13, in the final?
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