Thursday, February 29, 2024

Saka and Bellingham shine for England, but Mbappe awaits …

Morning all, happy Monday and welcome to a brand new week.

Let’s start at the World Cup where England are through to the quarter-final after a 3-0 win over Senegal last night. The first half wasn’t great, the highlight for me was the dancing lion, and I thought Gareth Southgate’s side looked pretty ordinary. That was until Jude Bellingham burst into life.

He set up a goal for Jordan Henderson to make it 1-0; and then a superb driving run and pass to Phil Foden helped make it 2-0 just before half-time. I do love the ‘Get Bellingham to Arsenal now!’ stuff on Twitter. Which isn’t to say I disagree with it, I think he’s an incredible player and to announce himself at 19 years of age at a World Cup is really something special, but there isn’t a team in Europe who wouldn’t want him and I don’t think we can compete.

Should we try? Of course, so long as we’re not wasting time. I reckon he’ll have offers from every big club around, and as much as might like to think we have a chance, I suspect some of those will blow us – and even a club like Liverpool whose fans seem to think he’s a slam-dunk arrival for them – out of the water. This is a player with the world at his feet.

Personally, I think he should completely ignore English clubs (apart from Arsenal) and go straight to Real Madrid. Some of their midfield parts are pretty old at this point, and he’d be perfect for them. He definitely shouldn’t go to Man City, but I bet you any money they’re going to go for him and with their almost infinite resources, they’ll probably stand the best chance. Madrid is much nicer than Manchester. More sun, less rain. It’d be good for him, and all of us.

Bukayo Saka got England’s third, created by Phil Foden again after some lumbering ox almost lost the ball, and while the goal itself is really good, the replays show you something special about the Arsenal man. The way he quickly adjusts his feet to enable that finish is a perfect example of Saka’s talent. I saw a lot of people on Twitter questioning his inclusion, but that’s his third goal of the tournament and that says more than @jasonthfc022474774 and the rest of those wankbags ever could.

Saka was taken off, and I basically lost interest in the game at that point. I have no desire to ever spend time watching Eric Dier do anything unless I absolutely have to. There was no way Senegal were going to get back into it, so I watched the new version of All Quiet on the Western Front which, let me tell you, isn’t exactly a laugh a minute romp for a Sunday evening. Quite a piece of film making though.

Anyway, England’s win means they’ll play France on Saturday, and I bet Harry Maguire is sitting at their base camp thanking all the stars he doesn’t play on the right-hand side of the defence. Olivier Giroud may have become France’s all-time highest goalscorer with his opener against Poland, but Kylian Mbappe is the man who stole the headlines. Both his goals were extraordinary finishes. You look at them and you know what he has just done is not simple by any means, but he makes it look that way. Almost effortless.

I don’t know what the equivalent is in other sports, but he’s like a boxer with the power to punch another man out of the ring. Wojciech Szczesny has been one of the best keepers of the tournament, but he couldn’t get near the first one even though I think he knew where it was going to go. He did manage to get the slightest touch on the second but it only served to help the ball go where it deserved to go, into the top corner. Poland’s late consolation was just that, and having not really been tested as yet this tournament, it will be very interesting to see how England fare against France, and what kind of plan Southgate comes up with. Back three? I wouldn’t rule that out.

As for today, Takehiro Tomiyasu’s Japan face Croatia in the early game, before Brazil – without Gabriel Jesus but very much Gabriel Martinelli – take on South Korea. Let’s see how much Arsenal involvement there is in those games.

Jesus is probably back in England at this point, and until he’s been properly assessed by our medical team, there’s no official word on how long he’s going to be out. Let’s keep fingers crossed that it’s not as long as feared. Even so, as I wrote yesterday, this one injury really does highlight how much we need to augment the squad in January anyway. It’s not so much that we’re reliant on him, but without him, there’s a lot to ask of Eddie; we’re not 100% sure if Emile Smith Rowe’s fitness will continue to be an issue; and in Saka and Martinelli we have two 21 year olds who are going some distance into the World Cup and might suffer at some stage for that.

No doubt that’s all stuff Mikel Arteta and Edu are cognisant of, so let’s see what happens. Right, I’ll leave it there for now.

Till tomorrow.

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