Thoughts On Euro 2012 And That Fella Afellay
The European Championships draw ever closer with just five days to go until Poland kick off the tournament at home against 2004 winners Greece on 8th June. Nine Gunners will be part of their country’s squads for the tournament, ten if you include Lukas Podolski.
The last round of friendlies are being played this week. Last night, England beat Belgium by a solitary Danny Wellback goal at Wembley while Robin van Persie’s Netherlands thrashed an inexperienced Northern Ireland side 6-0 in the Dutch capital, De Kapitein scoring two and setting up two.
Roy Hodgson’s England continued to employ a disciplined unadventurous 4-4-2 formation against a Belgian side that should really have qualified for the tournament. The visitors were the far better side in the first period although the Ox provided the occasional spark to an otherwise dull English performance. Eden Hazard looked good to be honest, but does seem a little lightweight and will need some time to get used to the rough and tumble of the Premier league, you feel.
Recently, there have been calls for Arsenal to adopt a 4-4-2 formation because past teams have been successful with it. Yesterday’s game at Wembley showed exactly why the 4-4-2 is not the preferred formation of most coaches around the world when confronted with a three-man midfield themselves. England routinely conceded possession because neither Parker nor Gerrard, especially Gerrard, was able to keep the ball long enough. With the wingers hugging the touch-line and being well marked by defenders combined with the full-backs not coming up in support, Gerrard’s forward pass options were limited to long balls in search of Wellback and Young.
What made the system work though was that England immediately fell back to defend in two banks of four as soon as they lost the ball. Not pretty to watch but effective because if they had tried to be too attack-minded while losing that much possession, the Belgian’s would have found more space and created more chances. Maybe once the players adapt to this playing style and feel more comfortable in their roles, they may venture forward a bit more but at the moment it is an untra-defensive tactic geared towards playing on the counter.
At Arsenal, the 4-4-2 has a greater chance of being effective as an attacking formation because Mikel Arteta is a better ball-retaining playmaker than Gerrard. On the other hand, Arsene Wenger’s team is far more ambitious going forward. It’s easy to visualize a scenario where the Gunners’ wingers are way up the pitch in attack with the full backs also coming up in support. Losing possession of the ball with such a shape would set the opposing strikers directly at the two central defenders once the holding midfielder gets by-passed. For this reason, I think we’ll see Arsene Wenger employ the 4-4-2 only occasionally and during certain phases of matches.
In Amsterdam, Robin van Persie and his Dutch teammates bade farewell to their fans with a commanding 6-0 thumping of Northern Ireland. Captain Vantastic scored two and assisted two, both to his mate Ibrahim Afellay. The Dutch looked a more cohesive unit last night than in their previous outing against Slovakia. The front three of Van Persie, Robben and Afellay, along with Sneijder behind them kept interchanging all game and looked fluid and dangerous. The quality of opposition may have had something to do with it but if they play like this they have a good chance of topping the group of death.
RvP’s understanding with Barcelona man Afellay yielded goals. The 26-year old ex-PSV man was sidelined for most of last season with a cruciate injury. While he did return in April, the Dutch midfielder has only made five appearances for the Catalans this season, four of them from the bench. With new manager Tito Vilanova taking charge at Camp Nou, Afellay’s Barca future is unclear at present.
Should Arsenal target him? Unfortunately, the 26-year old has not played enough games in the last year to really judge his capabilities. Based on yesterday’s performance though, it’s easy to see that he is technically gifted, retains the ball well and can dribble past defenders. He can turn up on either wing, stretch the defense and possesses a lethal cross when playing wide.
But with so many wingers already, where would Afellay fit in?
I think the Dutchman is versatile enough to play on either side as part of a three-man attack or even as a central attacking midfielder. His understanding with Robin van Persie would be useful as the two seem to be on the same wavelength on and of the pitch. With Tomas Rosicky not getting younger, Ramsey’s recent form not comforting, Wilshere’s return date yet unknown and Diaby’s continued problems with injuries, Arsenal are a bit light on options in the central attacking midfielder role.
Even if Arsene Wenger is interested and the player wants to come to Arsenal, Barcelona may be reluctant to let him go. If that is the case, as I suggested on Twitter yesterday, maybe the Gunners should use Barca tactics against the Catalans themselves and ask Robin van Persie to drape an Arsenal shirt around Ibrahim Afellay at Euro 2012. That’ll teach them.