What an extraordinary day of football we got yesterday. It seems remarkable that Spain’s 5-3 win over Croatia is almost an afterthought, but that’s kind of how it feels after the France v Switzerland game last night.
Earlier in the day, we had an incredible own goal to put Croatia ahead, but Spain looked certain to go through, leading 3-1 with just a few minutes to go. By the end of normal time it was 3-3 and we went to extra-time. The Spanish just had too much in that period, scoring twice to secure their passage to the last eight, but as a game of football it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Hard luck to Croatia who really showed character and quality when it was needed, but Spain have now scored five goals in consecutive games. For a team which began the tournament with scoring problems, that’s got to be a real confidence boost. Alvaro Morata, emblematic of their issues in front of goal, banged in a scorcher in extra-time, so they are going well.
Then it was France v Switzerland, and there was much discussion of Didier Deschamps’ tactics in the first half because his side played so poorly. The three at the back did not work, Switzerland went ahead and were deserving of their lead at the break. They also should have been 2-0 up but Roberto Rodriguez – a player linked to us some years ago – fluffed his lines from the penalty spot. I guess it’s a personal thing, how much you see it as a good save from Hugo Lloris or how much it’s a bad penalty from the taker. For me, it was much more the latter than the former.
What a price Switzerland paid then. Within minutes France were level, Karim Benzema’s first touch for his equaliser was glorious, and he then finished off a slick move involving Griezmann and Mbappe to head home at the far post. From being in a position where they should have been relatively comfortably ahead, Switzerland were now behind, and France’s lead was extended by an exquisite third goal from Paul Pogba, curling it nonchalantly from distance into the top corner.
At 3-1, having missed a penalty, and facing a team with the attacking talent of France which had clicked into life in the second half, surely that would be that for Switzerland. But no, they raised the white flag of war, and with just 9 minutes left Seferovic headed home his second of the game. Then, as we went into injury time, Granit Xhaka played a superb pass into Gavranovic whose touch and turn inside the defender on the edge of the box was quality, bettered only by the unerring finish inside the post to make it 3-3. Unreal. There was even time for France to hit the crossbar before we went to extra-time, and ultimately to penalties.
Xhaka gave his team a rousing pre-shoot out speech, and the quality of spot-kicks from each side was ridiculously good (bar one which the Swiss got a bit lucky with). Then, at 5-4, it was down to Mbappe to keep France in it, but it was Sommer-time, and now France can sit back and unwind having gone out. The PSG forward had a poor tournament, failed to score, missed a great chance in extra-time, and you wonder if – for the next stage of his development as a player – he might need to consider a move somewhere else. It was good of him to push his price down and I hear he’s looking for houses in North London etc etc blah blah.
Anyway, there was a lot of Arsenal fan focus on Xhaka who had a sensational game for his country, and lots of questions about why he could never do that for us. I do think that’s unfair. I believe it’s time for him to try something new, and it’s time for us to go a different direction in midfield, but he’s had games like that for us down the years. I don’t think it’s quite a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but perhaps familiarity breeding a perception of a player that’s now just too hard to shake.
An an individual level, all things considered, he had a good season with us, and played consistently well for the most part, but when you think back on it, those two Burnley games and the incidents he was involved in cast a big shadow over everything. It’s a bit like having a postman who delivers 99% of your mail perfectly, but twice a year chucks a brick through your front window. Also, playing well for a team which finishes 8th isn’t going to get people overly excited. Still, I was happy to see him do well, and as we continue to try and squeeze every penny we can out of Roma, a performance like that won’t hurt one bit. Pay up you Romans!
Final thought on France as we head towards the World Cup in 2022: wouldn’t it be fun to see Arsene Wenger in charge? I don’t think he’d have set up so conservatively last night with those players at his disposal. I, for one, would love to see it. Plenty for the French to reflect on today, and congratulations to Switzerland who now face Spain. I am looking forward to their 6-6 draw.
Today, Sweden v Ukraine in the evening, but all eyes will be on Wembley first as England face Germany. Please see yesterday’s blog for some thoughts on that when I got my timings all mixed up. It’s hard to imagine today won’t be anything other than an anticlimax after what happened yesterday, but you never know. Football eh? etc etc.
In brief from an Arsenal perspective: Jonas Eidevall was announced as the new Head Coach of Arsenal Women yesterday. Tim managed to snag a quick interview with him, which you can find here.
There was also some interesting stuff from Vinai Venkatesham about the process, increased investment in the Women’s team, and more. At a time when we’re all looking to see what this new and fairly inexperienced executive team now running the club will do, there is some encouragement to be found in this kind of appointment. Obviously it’s too soon to say if it’s a success or not, but it is quite a forward thinking approach, and perhaps that augurs well for what’s to come elsewhere. Early days, but let’s hope so.
Things continue to tick over with regards to transfers, with reports the Benfica left-back, Nuno Tavares, is very much on the radar. There was also another bid from Aston Villa for Emile Smith Rowe, which is great for a player who heading for more intense contract negotiations. However, this isn’t some game being played just to get him a better deal, it’s clear Villa are interested, and Arsenal need to wake up to this situation.
I don’t feel too worried, simply because there’s just no way we, as a club, could sanction Smith Rowe’s transfer to Aston Villa and then expect to be taken seriously anymore, regardless of how much money was on offer. We do have to sort it out though, it shouldn’t take this long to agree a deal with an Academy graduate who should be rewarded for his performances and his potential. It ought to be one of the easiest things we can do this summer, and if we thought it was something that could wait as other issues had greater priority, Villa’s continued interest pushes it up in the to-do list in a big way.
Right, that’s it for now. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast Extra. Enjoy.