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World Cup – Who’s Your Money On?

Now the Premier League is over, we need our fix.

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:

Croatia

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.

Germany

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.

France

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.

Argentina

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.

It makes for a mouth-watering prospect.

So who’s your money on?

Kenny Sansom – A Great Gunner

Mention the name Kenny Sansom to most modern day fans, and the former Gunner’s recent battle with alcohol addiction will be what is conjured up in their minds. 

This is a great disservice to a player who served our club with such distinction, so this article is here to set the record straight.

Kenny joined the club in 1980, after blazing a trail with a highly impressive Crystal Palace team which tore up the Third and Second Divisions. His acquisition should have told Gooners what to expect, as Arsenal gave the Eagles Clive Allen in a swap deal with cash involved. Allen was also highly rated and had been bought just weeks earlier and had yet to play a game in anger in a Gunners shirt.

So it is fair to say there was a fair amount of pressure on Sansom’s robust shoulders from the moment he signed. 

Sansom never missed a game in his debut season and the next season saw him win the club’s Player of the Year gong. His style of play was a projection of where the game was going; more focus on attack from the full-backs, with pace and strength in equal measure. The hirsute defender was as adept at holding the famed George Graham backline as he was adding another asset to the attack. Sansom was the perfect player for George Graham, but the majority of his career was not spent under the tutelage of the Scotsman. 

The left-back was signed by Terry Neill, and spent three years under him, Don Howe, and less than two months under Steve Burtenshaw, until Graham arrived in 1986. George should have loved Sansom and what he offered to the team, but the relationship between the two is what caused Sansom to first lose the Captaincy to a green Tony Adams, before leaving the club in 1988.

In eight years at Arsenal, Sansom may not have been snowed under with accolades, but he raised the bar in terms of consistent excellence. Just one League Cup in 1987 was the sole piece of silverware for Sansom, but what he lacked in baubles, he more than made up in other ways.

For example, Sansom earned 86 caps for England, and this was a record for an Arsenal player until Patrick Vieira broke it twenty years later. Sansom was pretty much unrivalled in terms of delivery of the ball from out wide, and could put the ball on a sixpence whilst on the move too. Whether it be for his country or in an Arsenal jersey, Sansom almost always made a difference. Kenny was part of a pretty fantastic group of England players who were amongst the elite of the game and had real shouts for tournament glory. Sansom would have fitted into any setup around Europe on a tactical basis. He had every tool a coach could wish  for, and he held the respect of his teammates. 

In total, Sansom played 314 games for us, and made the First Division Team of the Year every season from 1979 through till 1987. His fantastic hair, his moustache were just as much his trademark in the end as his rapier runs forward and his hustling of opposition wingers. 

What really is a testament to what he gave us though, is that Sansom adorns the outside walls of our Emirates stadium, as part of the 32 legends that are part of the external circumference of the ground. Arsenal recognise his worth, and we all should too. 

Club Vs Country.

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.