Sunday, July 21, 2024

Arsenal men important for England as Bellingham shines

Morning all.

So England got off to a winning start at Euro 2024, thanks to a superb goal from the superb Jude Bellingham. Bukayo Saka was involved, his cross deflected into the middle for the Real Madrid man to meet with a thumping header. It wasn’t just brilliantly timed and well executed, it was brave too because the defender knew he wasn’t going to get the ball and tried to clatter the man instead.

Bellingham was outstanding in the first half, and I think Saka had a really lively opening 45 too. Especially when you consider he’s been struggling with injury having missed the final game of the season due to a groin problem. Along with Declan Rice (more on him anon) and Marc Guehi, they were the England players who played at something close to their best level, but those two in particular stood out.

It wasn’t just what they did with the ball – and we know how much quality they both have in that regard – it was the way they worked for the team, and the way they made themselves available to teammates in difficult situations. In a first half when the England captain ambled around having just one touch of the ball in 45 minutes, and the so-called Player of the Season Flat-Track Phil Foden dropped an absolute stinker, it was Saka and Bellingham who were the heart of the England side.

In the second half, Serbia got back into it and England became a bit disjointed. Trent in midfield didn’t really work, which isn’t necessarily his fault because he’s being played out of position, and I while I don’t particularly rate Conor Gallagher, he is at least more naturally accustomed to playing in that part of the pitch. Where England can be thankful is that Declan Rice demonstrated his ability to be basically everywhere he was needed last night. The amount of times he popped up to make an interception, or win a tackle, was important as England struggled to find any fluency and Serbia looked for an equaliser.

They had some half-chances rather than anything clear cut, while up the other end I think we saw the save of the tournament so far as Predrag Rajkovic denied Kane, but by that time the game had descended into a low quality scrap with little meaningful quality from either side. England won’t care too much, I’m sure – a win is a win and teams can often grow into a tournament – but I don’t think that midfield balance is quite right and I wouldn’t fancy it against better opposition. Plenty for Gareth Southgate to think about ahead of their next game against Denmark on Thursday.

Speaking of whom, they drew 1-1 with Slovenia. Christian Eriksen scored the opener, and when you consider what happened with him at the last Euros, this was a big moment for him and for Denmark. A deflected second half goal earned Slovenia a point, and I was curious to watch Benjamin Sesko after our interest in him. There was the eye-catching moment where he hit the post with a fierce shot (having put one just wide in the first half), but I think you can see how staying at Leipzig might just be the best thing for him at this point in his career. There are some raw ingredients there, for sure, but they are very raw right now, and perhaps the right environment to develop is one where he can play more regularly without the demands that would come with being a player for a team hoping to challenge for the Premier League.

In the early game, I thought Jakub Kiwior did well for Poland, but their day ended in disappointment with a 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands. Having gone ahead, Poland were pegged back by a deflected shot which wrong-footed former Gunner Wojciech Szczesny, and a late goal from Wout Weghorst (which I wonder if Szczesny could have done better with) sealed their defeat.

Today, we’ve got Romania versus Ukraine in the opener, with Arsenal interest coming via Oleksandr Zinchenko. In the afternoon it’s Leandro Trossard’s Belgium against Slovakia, and in the evening France face Austria. Will William Saliba start? We’ll find out later on.

For more on the Euros, join us over on Patreon a bit later this morning as we recap yesterday games in our ongoing podcast series, and we’ll also have an Arsecast Extra for you – but not until this evening. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re an Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

For now, have a good one.

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