Euro 2012 Preview: An Arsenal Perspective
It’s fair to say that the build up to Ivan Gazidis’ Q&A was probably more spectacular than the event itself. Judging by the live tweets of some of the attendees, the Arsenal CEO seems to have only reiterated the points he made the day before in his interview, while easily deflecting the more pointed questions. A video of the event will be on Arsenal.com later in the day, do have a look if you didn’t follow the tweets last night.
In yesterday’s post, I stated my opinion that supporter orgs should remain independent of shareholders. Last night’s event only reinforces that belief. However, there are sound valid counter arguments to buying into your own club via a
supporter shareholder group. Phil Wall has written a very informative post on this yesterday that explains the objectives behind the exercise.
I remain unconvinced that shared ownership of such miniscule proportions is going to have a major influence on the club’s running. In fact, I see other pitfalls with this particular strategy but that’s a post for another day. Competitive football returns tomorrow in a big way, so let’s leave the boring stuff aside for now and talk football.
The European Championships kick off with Wojciech Szczesny’s Poland taking on 2004 winners Greece. I am doing a quick group-by-group round-up today. From the start of the tournament tomorrow, there will be short reviews of the previous evenings’ games with emphasis on the performance of Arsenal players.
Before that though, I recommend you read the team previews posted by Michael Cox at Zonal Marking. Each article is thoroughly researched, covers every tactical aspect and highlights key players. I found it particularly useful for the insight it provides into the lesser teams – the Greeks, the Croats, the Ukrainians.
Group A – Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic
The Russians and Czechs are favorites to progress. Andrey Arshavin’s role on the left of the Russian forward line will be crucial to their threat going forward. Tomas Rosicky will play as an attacking midfielder for the Czechs and Little Mozart’s form will be even more important for his country due to a lack of other creative options. I favour Russia to go through as their players have a far better understanding, almost all ot them playing for either Zenit or CSKA.
Greece can cause an upset as well, their defensive discipline in 2004 brought them the title. I doubt they will manage it this time though because the other teams in their group will not be too adventurous going forward, which reduces the possibility of the Greeks nicking something on the counter.
On the other hand, I believe Poland will surprise a few people by getting through to the knockout stages. They have home advantage, three players who have just won the German double (Piszczek, Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski) and of course have our very own Wojciech between the sticks. If they can hold their nerve and beat the Greeks in the opener tomorrow, I think they have a good chance of making it to the quarters.
My picks to go through: Russia and Poland
Group B – Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Denmark
The group of death. The most exciting group. The group with most Arsenal players. Although a tough test is expected, Netherlands and Germany are joint-second favorites for the title and should go through from Group B.
In Holland’s last friendly game against Northern Ireland, Bert Wan Marwijk employed a fluid front four of Robben, Van Persie and Afellay with Sneijder playing in the hole behind them. Van Persie scored twice and set up two for Afellay. If the Dutch have to go far in the tournament, it’s this combination that looks to be most dangerous for them.
The Germans are pretty much unchanged from their World Cup campaign – only older, wiser and more mature. Lukas Podolski will be on show on the left but I am more worried about how Per Mertesacker will stand up to the test of Van Persie and the Dutch forward line. The tall Arsenal defender is just returning from injury and looked suspect in the friendlies, especially in the shock 5-3 defeat to the Swiss. Still, they have a well-balanced squad and if Ozil can replicate his Real Madrid form, the Germans will justify their tags as being one of the favourites.
Cristiano Ronaldo may have to come up with some individual brilliance to see Portugal through because overall their team does not look very strong. The Danes are always the surprise package and perennial underdogs and Nicklas Bendtner’s finishing will be vital to their chances.
Although it’s a tough group, I think the Dutch and Germans will both go through if they can avoid losing to each other. They play each other on 13th June in their second game. Whoever loses that match would be left in a precarious situation. Which is why I think that clash may not live up to the expectations of fans and will be more of a cagey affair.
My picks to go through: Netherlands and Germany
Group C – Spain, Italy, Croatia, Ireland
The Irish will work hard as always but you have to question whether they possess the quality to get through the group. The Croats are not very strong either although they may spring a surprise if one of Slaven Bilic’s tactical experiments bears fruit. But the teams to watch in this group are obviously Spain and Italy.
Spain are still favourites to retain the trophy although history is very much against them – no team has ever managed to defend their Euro title. Tiki-taka and possession football is very much a part of their game plan but Spain may suffer the recent problems of Barcelona i.e. not having the finishing of David Villa against teams that won’t bother challenging them for possession. In addition, Carlos Puyol is out too so they are more susceptible to counter attacks themselves. Ex-Gunner Cesc Fabregas may again be relegated to the bench, so fierce is the competition in that Spanish midfield.
The other issue for the Spaniards will be tiredness. Most of the contingent is made up of Barcelona and Real Madrid players and many of them have played late into the season. While I think they’ll get out of the group stages comfortably, they may be the most boring team to watch simply because every team playing them will drop deep and hope to hit them on a quick counter – I am very much expecting a Barcelona v Chelsea scenario in most of their matches – not entertaining for the neutrals.
The best match of the league stages could be the group opener between Spain and Italy. The Azzurri play a more attack minded open style of football these days and some of their defending in the friendly loss to Russia was questionable. They should have enough to get past Croatia and Ireland but their relative weakness in defending combined with forward thinking approach could lead to a rip-roaring game against the Spaniards on 10th June.
My picks to go through: Spain and Italy
Group D – France, England, Ukraine, Sweden
As co-hosts, Ukraine also enjoy home advantage. But unlike the Polish, it’s difficult to see them progressing into the next round because of the quality of the squad – or lack thereof. Sweden could cause an upset though, they are a much more attacking team now and Ibrahimovic has had another fantastic season at Milan.
France and England meet in the group opener on 11th June. I think the timing of the match will suit England more. Roy Hodgson has clearly set his stall out to defend in two banks of four and play on the quick counter. If England can draw or even beat France, I think they might be slightly more attack minded in the remaining two games.
The danger of course is that if they lose to France, England will be forced to play a really open attacking 4-4-2 and against Sweden who retain the ball well, that could be a recipe for disaster. Theo Walcott should start on the right side although if Roy wants to play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left, Theo may lose out to James Milner. Personally, I think Walcott and Milner will start on the wings and will be instructed to stay deep. It’s a game plan not suited to Theo Walcott’s play and he might end up looking ineffective.
Later on in the match, if England are drawing or losing, AOC may be brought with a brief to be more direct and attack minded. Unfortunately, fans rarely take these factors into account and I am genuinely concerned that the tournament will dent Walcott’s confidence at international level even further.
France look a more solid unit this time around and are finding ways to win games even after falling behind. Benzema, Nasri and Ribery form a formidable front three and should cause problems for defenders with quick passing and intelligent runs. Laurent Koscielny is unlikely to get a start with Rami and Mexes being preferred by Laurent Blanc. While Mexes is very powerful, I think Koscielny is better at anticipating and tackling. Hopefully, we’ll see Arsenal’s best defender getting a start for his country.
My picks to go through: France and England/Sweden (England if they draw/beat France, Sweden if England lose to France)
More thoughts on the opening matches tomorrow. Ciao.