World Cup coverage of Germany’s downfall and the continuation of the Champions Curse centred mainly on one man.
Was this just? With Loew’s team falling way short of the standard that is expected, was one man really responsible? Or was it the media having an agenda that garners the most engagement?
No domestic football means a real shortage of actual football to generate headlines, and it means that with less news, the quality of stories coming from the mainstream media is watered down a tad.
A great example of this is the lines zoning in on a certain Mesut Ozil. The player that journo’s love to write about. His lackadaisical mannerisms are manna from heaven, and it is easy to wrap stories around this, painting a picture of an entitled enigma, a player who rarely puts in a shift, and his injury woes toward the end of the season were illustrated to look like the German was taking a break rather than attempting to recover from a back injury.
At the time, a large majority of us questioned Ozil’s absence. An abrupt omission from the squad in the last few games of the season did raise some eyebrows, but his back problem was confirmed by both Arsene Wenger and Joachim Loew, and Ozil was forced to take it easy in the run up to the World Cup.
Ozil’s recent poor form though, is now being used as a stick to beat the playmaker, and recent TV coverage of Germany’s loss to South Korea had German fans actually blaming Ozil for their country’s early exit.
Radio stations, newspapers, websites, all have shone the light of blame on Ozil, his petulant behaviour and failure to exert his influence on proceedings are the sack that has been flung over Ozil and used to chuck him out to sea.
The thing is though, is that Ozil performed his job against South Korea, and he did it very well.
One key stat is the purest evidence of this, and one that was hidden from the majority, for fear of destroying the shroud of blame that currently hangs over Ozil.
The German number 10 is the creator, he is on the pitch to make chances.
Well, he made more chances in the loss versus South Korea, than any player in the entire World Cup had made so far.
That’s right. The underperforming, misfiring misfit that is Ozil, hung out to dry by all and sundry, made more opportunities for his team than any player at the entire tournament had made in total.
Yet Ozil was the reason Germany limped out.
Every piece of visual coverage that looked at Germany’s losses to both Mexico and South Korea went predominantly with an image of a tired-looking Ozil. His image attached to the misfortunes of his national side.
Forget Mats Hummels, who seemed to forget he was a defender in all 3 games. Forget Manuel Neuer, who has only just returned from serious injury and his insistence on playing in midfield cost Germany their second goal.
Forget about Khedira, Boateng, Timo Werner, Mario Gomez. These players were severely under-par, and yet not one finger points at them and demands they face the baying mobs.
No, because their face doesn’t fit the agenda. Mesut Ozil bashing gets headlines, clicks, calls on the radio show. When Ozil gets lambasted, then engagement levels go up.
It can be the only reason for it, given Ozil performed way above what he was given scant credit for.
Then there was the reports that Ozil suffered racial abuse from his own fans. From World Cup hero and Germany’s Player of the Year on many occasions, to derided zero, now not worth an iota of support.
It’s hard to think of another player right now that suffers in the same way. Is this targeting of Mesut simply down to his lack of emotion? If so, there are other players who come across like an automaton on the pitch and in interviews, yet they don’t suffer in the same way. Is it his effortless style? Because his neck veins don’t rise to the surface while straining every sinew?
The naysayers point out the 2-1 win over Sweden when Ozil was dropped. They say that this shows that Joachim Low was carrying Ozil, and as soon as the number 10 came back into the side, they lost again.
Well, anyone who watched Germany versus South Korea could testify that Ozil wasn’t to blame.
The whole team were utterly abject.
So, as Gooners, retain some common sense. We should be glad Ozil will at least now get some rest before what is sure to be a huge season for Arsenal. We should back our man. He could do with the support. Who knows, it could just pay off.
Did you know that Joel Campbell is now our fourth most capped player – ever?
He earned his 72nd cap as an Arsenal player in the 2-0 loss to England in a pre-Cup friendly which made him our 4th highest at the club, level with David Seaman.
Looking at it from a distance, this is quite some achievement. Yes, Costa Rica doesn’t have a plethora of competition for places like other nations, but a fine injury record and a maintenance of form has seen Campbell rack up the appearances for his home nation.
What really puts it in perspective though, is when you consider how little he has played for his club – and the lengths he has had to go to in order to get gametime.
Campbell has been with us for seven years. That’s a mighty long time, and yet his Arsenal appearances amount to just 23 – most of those during 2014-2016.
To get that crucial time on the pitch, Campbell has gone on loan spells to Ligue Un with Lorient, La Liga with Real Betis and the Greek SuperLeague with Olympiacos – in all of those seasons he earned more starts than in his combined and lengthy Arsenal career.
What has the Costa Rican done to be shunned like this? Is it a limitation on talent? Certainly not. He may not be a permanent starter, but in his time in an Arsenal jersey he showed exactly what he has to offer. He has incredible strength, he can adapt across the forward line, playing wide and cutting in, or ploughing a lone furrow up top. He has an assured touch and isn’t terrible in front of goal. Campbell is more than good enough to be an option in the squad.
And yet we will never see him wearing an Arsenal shirt again. After seven years as an Arsenal player in nothing but contract, Campbell will never play on our Emirates turf.
This will be his second World Cup at just 25 years old. He has amassed experience across many corners of Europe and still has potential, but Campbell has worn an Arsenal shirt for the last time.
If he did manage to assuage Unai Emery to grant him a squad place – a place on the bench would be tough enough to acquire.
As a wide forward, he faces competition from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
As a centre forward, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah are his opponents.
With our attack well stocked, it is likely we have seen the last of Joel Campbell, despite it being unconfirmed as I write. He can consider himself unlucky to not have been given a fairer crack of the whip, but the Costa Rican can hold his head up high when he did play for us.
Chances are that Campbell will join Galatasaray, and a lengthy Arsenal career that never truly threatened to take off, for whatever reason that is, draws its curtains.
The World Cup looms large on not only every football fixture schedule, but every player and manager.
International football may have taken a backwards step in terms of priority for fans and players alike, but the World Cup is a festival of football that ignites passions unlike anything else. It has no peers, and the 2018 tournament in Russia promises to be memorable for many reasons. Players in the last few months have had the competition in the back of their mind every time they take to the field in the colours of their club. Players have said this is the case in the past, and appearing at a World Cup will be the pinnacle for many players, so attempting to avoid injuries that curtail their World Cup dream could have impacted their performance.
Regardless, these professionals will hopefully have done all they can to book their ticket on their respective nation’s squad flight. They may be wary of injury, but they also had to maintain form and remain in contention for selection.
Managers will be looking at the World Cup for very different reasons.
The season will have ended and weaknesses that have to be remedied will be first and foremost in their minds. The World Cup is the biggest shop window in football, and this is where the thoughts of players and managers unite.
Players will be looking to put themselves in the shop window – and Managers will be looking for those who do so with the most panache.
Unai Emery and his back room staff will be very conscious of what he needs to address, and his experience will also have given him the heads up that this international competition will ramp up any prices of a player who dazzles on this large stage.
Emery must act quickly if he is looking to do business for a player who is doing the business for his country. One match where they look like a world beater and not only will the player know they can ask for more than before their performance, but their agent will have left them 50 voicemails telling their client to hold out for the best offer.
It will spark a bidding war, and the selling club and the agent will have dollar signs spinning in their eyes.
Arsenal’s recruitment team has no excuse to stand on ceremony. They know that to acquire targets, we must be decisive and move early to get what we need. We now have the added bonus of Raul Sanllehi to aid our transfer endeavours, and the man from Catalunya could well be the secret weapon we need to make sure our own armour chinks are welded over in the most effective manner.
The World Cup is going to unearth some real talent, it happens every time. Players that were previously loosely monitored then show the largest audience that they indeed have the minerals to make it at the top. That they have what it takes to make the difference at our clubs. With our defence needing major reinvention and our midfield lacking balance at times, all and sundry can see where we will need to invest, and Sanllehi will have a very small window to make it happen before the bidding war starts.
What are we going to do to provide our football buzz?
Thankfully, there’s the small matter of a World Cup taking place less than a month away to sate our withdrawal symptoms.
Like footballing methadone, the World Cup will fill the gap in our lives as we go cold turkey from a lack of Premier League action. The World Cup is a festival of football that will provide daily thrills and spills, but how can we replicate the drama of watching our beloved clubs do battle?
Let’s face it, aside from the few England matches that will take place before the inevitable Last16/Quarter Final defeat, there will be plenty of action, but not enough to really make you care who exits and who carries on toward the famous trophy and the potential to be World Champions.
Spicing it up with a wager always helps.
I’ve consulted stats, a concise world cup betting guide, and the FIFA rankings to gauge who will be the teams to back with your hard-earned dough – or alternatively – just to win points with your mates and make you look like the ultimate football nerd.
Here are the teams who could pull up trees in Russia:
The Croats have Nigeria, Argentina and debutants Iceland in their Group and it’s fair to say that they’ll give top spot a run for its money.
They have AC Milan’s Vrsaljko in defence, but it is in midfield that they are near unrivalled.
Inter Milan’s Brozovic, Real’s Kovacic, the electric Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic who plays for Barca and then the jewel on the crown is Luka Modric of Real. Up top they have Juve’s Mario Mandzukic to profit from the plethora of chances too.
If they can avoid the big guns at the Last16 stage, then a Semi-Final spot beckons at least – much like France 98.
The Germans are the holders, have continuity with the retention of Joachim Loew as Manager, and much of the World Cup winning squad is still present.
They have liberal sprinklings of brilliance throughout. Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Leroy Sane, Julien Draxler, Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Ilkay Gundogan and the safe hands of Manuel Neuer to compliment this star-studded squad.
That is just the tips of the talent, and the bench for Germany will be nearly as strong as the first eleven. Whoever wins the tournament will have to get past the Germans, who always represent in the latter stages.
There have been recent signs that Les Bleus have been on the recovery path. A whole new squad, filled with electric young players, has given manager Didier Deschamps a few selection headaches, but what a choice to have.
There’s the record-breaking Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir – and some of these may not even make the final cut!
Whatever the side that rolls up in Russia, know that France qualified quite easily for the tournament, and will take some beating in the knockout stages.
This may be the team to back. Always blessed with a squad to be jealous over, the South Americans have failed to show in a World Cup since a certain Diego Maradona lit up the stage.
That’s what makes them a great punt for your money. Most will be expecting another Quarter-Final exit, but this year may just be their year.
They have the most fearsome attack in the world, with Lionel Messi, Paolo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez making up the front line. With Man City’s Nicolas Otamendi and United’s Marcos Rojo in defence, they will be well armed to deal with opponents too.
The biggest change though? They have Jorge Sampaoli as coach. The former Chile man was hot property before deciding to take charge of Argentina, and if they make it to the final, they’ll come up against holders Germany.
There are plenty of other contenders too. Spain and Brazil will be looking to lift the trophy again, and Belgium have perhaps the strongest squad in the tournament.
Mark Sampson became the England Women’s Manager in December 2013. In his four years at the helm of the Lionesses, the Welsh coach has lifted the team into a position as worthy challengers for top honours.
In only two years, Sampson engineered a Semi-Final place for England in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. It represented the best showing of an England team – male or female – since 1990. After losing to Japan at the penultimate hurdle, England’s women then defeated Germany to finish in a fantastic 3rd place.
Hopes were inevitably high for the recent Euro2017 tournament after such a wonderful run.
Could Sampson prove that this is the level that his charges are at? The World Cup drew in amazing viewing figures – both on TV and spectators in the grounds – and the interest level was growing in female football.
Euro2017 then took it to another platform entirely. Terrestrial TV picked up the rights to the competition, giving the chance for so many people to watch events unfold, and it paid off.
England’s women played marvellously as they again made their way to the Semi-Final stage – this time falling to an impressive Netherlands team who were playing in their home country.
It was another wonderful display for Sampson and the girls, but it was again a tumble just before the biggest of all stages. Whilst the Semi-Finals twice in consecutive major tournaments represents a huge achievement – it leaves one question;
Do England have what it takes to win a big competition?
On first appearances, the answer would be an emphatic yes.
England have defeated both France and Germany recently, and both nations are powerhouses of women’s football. A win in the knockout stages of the Euro’s and a World Cup mean Steph Houghton and co are more than capable of keeping company with the best in the business.
There is a confidence within each and every one of the squad, cultivating a mentality that gives this team that surety on the pitch that all great teams have. The respect shown by each member of the squad is reciprocated unequivocally – and this has been the foundation for the improvement shown.
They have beaten the USA, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden in recent years. They have been hobnobbing with the elite for the last two years, and the strength of the WSL means that England should have enough resources to stay at the top table.
Which is of paramount importance. With Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea Ladies all recruiting top talent, it means the youth at each respective club will both benefit from training with these superb players, but they will also work harder to force their way through the enhanced competition for places.
The youth at each club will be responsible for picking up the baton left by the current pride of Lionesses, and they have one hell of a job to fulfill.
Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Millie Bright, Isobel Christiansen, Jade Moore, Jordan Nobbs, Karen Carney, Toni Duggan, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris and Ellen White are the players who will carry the team forward to the 2019 World Cup – with all of the above being in their 20’s. There is the small matter of attempting to replace some real quality in the squad though.
Jodie Taylor, Fara Williams, Jill Scott, Jo Potter, Casey Stoney, Alex Scott, Laura Bassett, Siobhan Chamberlain and Karen Bardsley are all 30 or older, and whilst some may still be at the pinnacle of the game, they will not represent the future of England Women.
With Steph Houghton and Karen Carney both 29 as well – how do England go about replacing the experience that 1036 caps brings?
More importantly, who will take the reins after Sampson?
England really do have some bright talent shining through. Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze will all be cornerstones of the side in years to come, and Jordan Nobbs is only going to get better, which is a scary prospect for opposing nations.
Do the WSL youth facilities and staff have what it takes to produce and replace what has already been?
Was this the ‘Golden Generation’ that should have perhaps achieved more than they did?
This is definitely the strongest squad that an England Women’s Manager has had to call upon, but in terms of achievements, it could be looked at another way.
The Euro 2009 Final and the last two Semi-Finals may not have garnered a ticker-tape parade and winners medals – but it has supplied the growth in the sport that it so badly warranted. The WSL now attracts talent such as Carli Lloyd and the cream of the Netherlands. It also can now look forward to appropriate levels of TV coverage thanks to a new deal with BT Sport, which in turn means better levels of funding for the League and its participants.
What has been engineered has meant that the England Lionesses have a fighting chance of glory in the future. The respective new manager’s charges have put the sport firmly at the eye level of a bigger audience. It means that young girls will seek a career, rather than see it as just a hobby.
The Euro2017 defeat to Netherlands may have smarted, but it is just a service station on the journey. England Women are not finished yet.
Returning to the site of a former glory is never advised.
Upon leaving after making your mark, the temptation looms large to attempt to recreate the halcyon days of the past.
The thing is though, that it rarely goes according to plan. The circumstances change and when you return, it is never how you remember. The very fibre of the place feels different somehow, even though visually things have stood in place from how you recall.
It is very much the case for football players. With the transfer windows orchestrating a crazed merry-go-round of sorts, it sees players often look to their former clubs for employment. With clubs involved in either the push for promotion or the desparate escape from the relegation trap door, managers often seek out the fillip that will aid their cause.
What a boost it would be too. The fans always enjoy a hero returning home, and memories of the heroics they had performed rise to prominence. There is no risk involved, surely?
When there is a legacy involved, tarnishing its lustre is often unavoidable. Can they return to the heights of the past?
Cesc Fabregas had forged a bond with Arsenal before he unceremoniously left in 2011 to return to his homeland. From his debut in 2003/04, to filling the gargantuan aperture left by Patrick Vieira in 2005/06, Cesc Fabregas embodied everything Arsenal attempted to do on the pitch.
Stylish, inventive and with a penchant for swift, ruthless attacks – Cesc was the tangible element of Arsene Wenger’s musings. As each year progressed, the Spaniards importance grew. From playmaker, to enforcer to captain – Cesc was the lynchpin of the club for the best part of five years.
To see a youngster evolve in front of your eyes is something to behold – and it endeared Cesc to the Arsenal faithful. His never say die attitude and fierce competitive edge, allied with the skills of a razor-sharp fencer, was everything Gooners wanted.
Which made his departure that little more accrid on the tongue.
It was understandable that he wanted to go back home to Barcelona. After winning the World Cup in 2010 with Spain, he was even forced to wear the Barcelona shirt by a teammate, such was the clamour for this wonderkid to come back to his roots.
So it happened, and Arsenal were left rudderless. The entire team had been built around Cesc, and Arsene had to adjust his plans quickly. Cesc soon found out though, that the grass is not always greener when he signed for the Catalans.
His three years at the Camp Nou were mixed. The entrenched genius of Xavi and Iniesta saw his favoured position taken, which meant the new boy had to adapt.
Cesc played in a few positions, mostly in the forward line, but that impacted upon what he was capable of. He never truly showed his worth.
To add to Arsenal’s woes, Cesc left Barcelona for London rivals Chelsea in 2014. Some say that Cesc was offered back to Arsene before he went to Stamford Bridge, but Wenger opted for Mesut Ozil. Regardless, Cesc now plays for the Blues – and aside from his first season has never nailed down a spot in the team.
Now approaching thirty, Cesc is not playing regularly. This is the age when they should be playing as many games as possible as the peak for footballers is short-lived. Instead, he is seen as a change in approach mid-game for manager Antonio Conte.
During this time, Arsenal seem to be in a rut of sorts. Mesut Ozil is clearly not firing on all cylinders – and his protracted contract negotiations may be taking their toll on his effectiveness. Is he sure that he wants to stay? Is his mind made up?
The perfect contingency plan is available if Ozil decides to depart from London. The player to come in speaks lovingly every year about his time at Arsenal – and even credits the club for everything he has achieved. Cesc is the man who may just be able to come back and actually enhance his reputation within the fans.
With Santi Cazorla increasingly injury-prone and coming close to his twilight years as a player, Cesc could slot into a setup he is already familiar with and with regular games he could really light up the team. Is this a possibility though?
If Jose Moutinho was still at Chelsea – the answer would be an emphatic no. Antonio Conte may just let Cesc leave though. It is clear that Fabregas is not part of his immediate plans, and would Cesc sign for us? I have no doubts he would.
Could a player return to a place of former glory and buck the trend? Could Cesc come back and boost our side? Most definitely. He has made twenty appearances at the time of writing. These appearances have not allowed for any rhythm whatsoever as they have been broken up. He has still amassed four goals and seven assists in those games.
Just imagine what he would do with a constant stream of games.
When looking for players to prove that theory, just ask Thierry Henry about his loan spell back at Arsenal.
There are images and thoughts in your head that rarely become tangible. Those things that you stow away for when you’re having a particularly rough day, that lift the gloom.
Well, meeting Thierry Henry has always been one of mine. It sounds corny to use the word ‘dream,’ but it’s as close as I can get.
Much like every other Gooner, I have probably seen every minute of his beautiful career with our club. He is cast in bronze outside our stadium for good reason. To actually meet him though?
To do this tale of supreme Fanboy-ism justice, I must start at the beginning….
I have been plaguing Lee Dixon – another Gunners icon – with tweets. Desperate as I am to incorporate him in my project, I have tweeted him repeatedly, but to no avail.
Step forward the owner of Piebury Corner – Paul. He noticed my plight and said that the former Number2 had made an appearance in the restuarant recently and he could introduce me to him if I turned up to an event.
I was as good as there.
I booked my ticket, and was then told that another guest would be making an appearance.
Be still my overworked brain! As soon as the name was mentioned, I was a wreck, but I remained rational until I set foot on the DLR to make my way to the night.
Once in the train, my own personal highlights reel of Henry moments ran through my head.
His goal against United that looped over Barthez, his four goal demolition of Leeds United, when Jamie Carragher attempted to stop him and ended up as twisted as a pretzel……
I calmed myself by remembering previous events I had been to, where the headline act had pulled out inexplicably. This would surely happen again, Thierry must be overloaded with work…
I made my way to the venue – the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park – and stood outside. I waited for the stars to arrive like a pitiful autograph hunter, but I wasn’t ashamed. I just adored these men who had given me so much joy, and I dearly wanted to thank them. As I smoked what must have been my third cigarette in about fifteen minutes, I spied Tom Watts – perennial Arsenal host – lugging audio equipment into the theatre.
Not the best time to say hello, so I peered inside, where the ground floor bar was located. Standing at the bar, was none other than one part of the finest defence ever to grace these shores. Lee Dixon.
He was surrounded by people, and it was the wrong time to approach him, marker pen in hand, asking for an autograph, so I chose to keep my distance and gaze from afar, waiting for the prime moment to make my move.
It never came, so I made my way upstairs to where Piebury Paul was spinning some excellent tunes on the decks. I propped myself up at the bar and ordered a whisky. Then, Lee made his way up the stairs.
Once again though, I was foiled in my attempts to fawn over a Gunner, as he was ensconced in conversation as he walked past me, with none other than Le King.
They made their way to the corner of the room, and were untroubled as they remained in conversation. It was clear that this once again wasthe wrong time to approach them with my gushing sentiments, so I stayed in place, content to look from a distance at the men who have never been closer than they were at this moment.
Time slipped by as I watched them, and it bordered into creepy territory but I couldn’t look anywhere else. The doors to the theatre room opened and we all made our way down the stairs. The room to which we all would be treated to Thierry Henry and Lee Dixon soundbites was comfortable, open, and small enough to invite feelings of exclusive conversation. It felt as if we were having a house party, sans loud music and alcohol, but two of the guests were so captivating that everyone crowded around to hear their stories.
Tom Watt, master of ceremonies, took to the stage, to introduce the former players, and then, Lee Dixon’s wife, Yolande, was invited in front of the audience to explain the reason why this event is taking place – which is Yorke Dance Project.
Soon, the Thierry stories were flowing, from his World Cup win, to his inauspicious beginnings at Arsenal, interjected by Lee to great effect. Of particular resonance was when Thierry credited not only Arsene Wenger, but the core group of English players, such as Keown, Dixon and Adams, for helping him become the player he went on to be.
Thierry was inevitably charming, but what really became apparent was his love for the club. He credits his comeback goal against Leeds United as his favourite goal as it was the only time he was able to “score a goal as a fan” and when speaking about the club, he sheds his media shield and his tone changes. It is him speaking from the heart, and everyone was hanging on his every word.
Lee spoke of his punditry work with Roy Keane to great hilarity, and was abundantly clear was the rapport between the two men. Born in different countries yet they share a common strand within themselves, and the respect between the two is born from the time they taught each other valuable lessons.
Ninety minutes passed quickly, and it was quickly wrapped up, so the crowd funnelled through the doors and up the stairs for a pie and a drink. I shuffled towards the stairs, my mind whizzing through the different anecdotes I had just shared with the men on stage, and also from being so close to them! As I struggled to the stairs, I looked to the top of them, and Thierry was swamped by the crowd as he signed autographs and posed for endless photos.
I managed to get to the summit, but the hubbub around Henry was manic. I was going to patiently wait for my slice of Thierry time, but I was at the top of the stairs and my frame was blocking people keen to get a pie. I sloped off, worrying that my chance may be slipping away to bathe in the glory of the King – and show him my Thierry Henry branded socks….
I took solace in my pie, which was obviously a Thierry Henry, and spoke at length to Paul, who was again presiding over music.
Whilst the music was pumping, I went over my newly revised gameplan. I would wait ten minutes for the crowd downstairs to dissipate, then I would swoop in for my moment with the King. Then, I would ruthlessly seek out Lee and tell him why his contribution is so important.
I polished off my pie, downed the remains of my second whisky, and made my move. As I went down the flight of steps, the previously packed room was ominously empty.
Panic rose through my stomach like an icy eel, and I took the second flight of stairs two at a time (not a big deal to the average male, but I’m closer to a hobbit than an average man). I headed straight for the exit, and Thierry was there, saying his final farewells……
DJ Spoony was responsible for all the audio equipment for this special gig, and he was saying goodbye to Henry, whose cab was waiting. There were a few other chaps involved in the conversation, but no needy fans harrassing him – aside from me.
I would never forgive myself if I had let this chance slip, so I had to let go of my polite sensibilities and thrust myself into their proceedings. I did this by inching ever closer, so close that it was impossible for them to ignore my large melon creeping into their eyeline.
Bless DJ Spoony, he was the man who acknowledged my crazed presence, and told Thierry that I wanted to say hello. For this Spoony, I thank you. This is where the story really pays off….
Thierry turned ninety degrees. Despite his cab running and him quite obviosuly having other things to do, he looked at me, smiled and offered his hand. I grabbed it like it was the last piece of chicken in the bucket, but I managed to remain dignified when I shook it – apart from the fact that I didn’t let his hand go…..
I spoke to him. These were the words I uttered:
“Thierry, you are a hero of mine. I want to say thank you for what you did for our club, it means so much.”
Then, Thierry managed to shake off my clinging grasp, and put his now free hand to his heart, whilst simultaneously saying “thank you for this.”
I watched him enter his cab, and then as the vehicle left the scene, much like a farewell in a big screen movie – at least in my head. I smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves, and then began to hunt for my raison d’etre – Lee Dixon.
He was on the ground floor, and again it was DJ Spoony who enabled me to speak to Lee. I told him of my book and that I would love his experiences within the pages, and he agreed to give me his words.
I grabbed a photo with him, and then made my way upstairs. Mission accomplished. The rest of the night went well, and I met some great people, but it was Thierry and Lee that will remain ingrained on my memory.
The journey home was a blur, and the highlights reel that runs in my mind of Henry’s greatest exploits, now has a fantastic ending, when I met him.
His bronze-set form sits outside the Emirates as a constant reminder of his record with us, but Gooners don’t need a reminder. Meeting him was just as good as I had envisioned – but it could have been perfect……
The groans that were emitted could be heard far and wide across the twittersphere, as the Premiership ground to a halt for the second time since the season started, and the negative noises for once, were shared by the majority.
As football news shifted to Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge of the Three Lions, the talk amongst fans still centred on their respective clubs – at least it did amongst Gooners. Theo Walcott’s return to the international fold, Mesut Ozil’s exploits for Die Mannschaft, and then late call-ups for our pair of left-backs – Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs.
Somewhat perplexingly, our very own beacon of consistency Monreal, had not received a call-up to the Spanish team since 2013, but a change in manager to Julen Lopetegui has seen our own Spanish defender called up as cover to Jordi Alba.
Then, with Ryan Bertrand injured early in England’s insipid victory over Malta, Kieran Gibbs was called up to Southgate’s squad. Despite Gibbs not being able to nail down a first team spot for two seasons, Keiran has been the model of professionalism, and in each of his sporadic appearances since being forced down the pecking order he has performed admirably.
In both cases, the players involved would have been overjoyed to resume their international careers. Playing for your country represents the ultimate accolade, and even though club matters now overshadow international meetings, the players can feel nothing but pride when pulling on the shirt of their country.
For fans however, it has become an irrelevance, or perhaps even a scouting mission. With each match, the majority of fans I speak to simply watch the matches to keep a watchful eye on the players hailing from the clubs they support. Injuries crop up with alarming regularity, and the merest hint of a muscle strain sets panic aflame across social media.
It has become a procession of worrying for most fans. Hoping and praying that their star players return unscathed from international duty. The result is found far down in the list of importance when international football rears its boring head. We want our players to perform well and get on the pitch, but the crux of the matter is that we want our boys back safe within the sanctity of our clubs.
We all revelled in Monreal being called up to the Spanish squad, but we mainly want him to return unharmed. With England performing so disappointingly for so long, the passion for the Three Lions appears at an all time low. The club vs country battle that exists still wages on, but if it were fought in the stands, then country would be nursing a bloody nose by now.
The clubs pay the gargantuan wages that the majority earn, so when players return from their exploits overseas, or even from Wembley and the Millenium Stadium, then it would be nice to see these players not appear so jaded on their first game back in their club jerseys – as so often happens.
Knowing that Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are pivotal players for their countries does shine well on our club. When players such as Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers receive an international call-up, we fans cannot help but be pleased that they are gaining the recognition they warrant. When Germany won the last World Cup, how fixated were we as Gooners, that Podolski, Ozil and Mertesacker were part of the team?
We take joy from it, but international football, especially qualification, has morphed into a series of worries and voyeuristic looks into how certain players are performing.
Whether some agree or not, the priority for players must be their clubs. It is how they gain international recognition in the first place – and it is supposedly how they maintain their place in their respective national ranks. Players are not supposed to be able to earn a place through reputation (Rooney, we are all looking at you), so how they play for their clubs is of the utmost importance. Not only this, but money talks. The torrents of cash that is pumped into the players bank accounts by the clubs demands that the players owe it to their clubs to be able to perform when they return from national duty.
It is cynical, and why shouldn’t these men, who are trained to the peak of physical fitness, be able to perform feats of wonder for their country AND their club?
Nacho Monreal and Keiran Gibbs rightfully must be swelling with pride after returning to their international sides, but most fans just want them to play well, and return injury free.
The result pales into insignificance compared to years gone by.
Arsenal finally announced the capture of Shkodran Mustafi, and the German could be the long term answer to our clubs defence.
Whether you agree with Arsenal’s transfer methods or not, the signing of defender Shkodran Mustafi must be taken as a signal of intent.
The German international has officially put pen to paper on a five year deal, and the £35m signing has the pedigree to go with the mammoth transfer fee.
At just 24 years old, the full German international is more than the stereotypical astute German defender, and his experience in his relatively short career give him an edge over many.
Here are some things you may not know about Mustafi, and why we Gooners can look forward to an assured presence at the back.
Mustafi is a former Toffee
Yup. Starting his career at Hamburg SV, he was snapped up by Everton in 2009 and played for their youth team for three years, and making one substitute appearance for the first team in that time. It means he will have an advantage regarding acclimatising to the fast paced Premier League, and can hit the ground running.
He has played in Italy, England and Spain
Leaving Everton for Sampdoria for a mere £64k, he went on to make 53 appearances in his time with the Italian club, which attracted Valencia to shell out just shy of £7m for his signature in the summer of 2014. Testing himself against a wide variety of opposition, and being able to settle in to life in different countries, means that Mustafi possesses a mental toughness which will be invaluable as a defender.In fact, he is the only German World Cup winner never to have played in the Bundesliga.
He can fill in at Right-Back
Mustafi earned the greatest accolade of his career – the World Cup in 2014 – largely being played out of position. Primarily a centre-back, he gained worldwide recognition slotting in on the right of Germany’s defence. A pretty valuable asset given our woeful injury record year after year!
He isn’t simply a defender, he’s far more than that
Type his name into the video section of your search engine, and there are a plethora of montages showing our new German displaying some rather excellent ball-juggling. He certainly possesses more than just a clearance, and playing out from the back is certainly within his skillset. For Valencia, especially last season, his coolness under pressure was tested to the max as his side struggled at times, but Mustafi performed well.
There are many other parts that make up the defender, but those above are relevant as to how he will benefit our side. He is known to be good friends with Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker, and solidarity amongst his teammates cannot be underestimated.
His price tag may be an albatross around his neck, but so far, nothing seems to have been too tough a challenge, from moving countries to learning new tactics implemented by the variety of coaches he has worked under.
What has been noticed in his time at Valencia, is that technically he is sound, but he is not the shouty leader that many central defenders evolve into – although he certainly lets his teammates know about their errors if needs be! He showed enough to earn the captaincy temporarily for the Spanish team, so he can adapt if the need arises.
So, we have acquired a young, talented World Cup winner who has experience playing in top leagues and can immediately make an impact upon the team. Shkodran Mustafi may be a masterstroke in the transfer market and he has the potential to be a cornerstone of the side for many years.
The Under17 World Cup in Chile during the latter part of 2015 would have passed under the radar of even the most die-hard of football fans. Even the most zealous of hipster may have missed out on proceedings, leading to them sobbing into their neckerchiefs.
What happened on the pitch was that Nigeria were crowned champions for the 5th time, defeating surprise finalists Mali in the final – and sweeping all before them on the way. The top scorer was Nigerian. All opponents struggled to compete against the powerful African nation, and the best player of the tournament was Nigerian too.
That player was Kelechi Nwakali – and he is finally an Arsenal player.
Arsenal chased after Nwakali straight after his imperious showings in the tournament, and in January, Arsene Wenger commented on the player and his imminent transfer to the Gunners –
The transfer has taken from that moment until the 4th of August, but finally the Nigerian attacking midfielder has put pen to paper. International commitments, work permits and various other troublesome strips of red tape have combined to delay Nwakali joining up with the Gunners squad, but it has now been confirmed by the club that he is indeed an Arsenal player, and through the marvels of social media, we have seen the player himself post pics of him at London Colney.
Is this another damp squib of a youth signing? A player of mysterious potential destined to disappear to other shores and ultimate ignominy? Or does our club’s dogged chase of him for over half a year speak of a player who can make a huge difference in the future?
Nwakali was the fulcrum of Nigeria’s attacking intent during their run to victory in the Under17 World Cup. Scoring three goals, and laying on the majority of goals for 10goal hitman Victor Osimhen, Nwakali was awarded the Best Player in the tournament for good reason.
Can he convert his talent to the Premier League? His next step will perhaps be the most vital. A season on loan is the next step, and he will need to impress immediately.
All of this is pure projection however. Gooners can take pride in the fact that we have captured one of the brightest talents in youth football. Only Nwakali can answer the questions regarding his future.
Nwakali could join Nwankwo Kanu and Alex Iwobi as other Nigerians who have made their mark on Arsenal’s first team, and will have the best of resources to make that happen.