With half an eye on Saturday's Premier League fixture against Sunderland, Arsene Wenger was hoping for his players to come back from international duty unscathed.
A host of international friendlies took place on Wednesday, and most of them were mouthwatering to say the least. It began with the World and European champions, Spain, taking on the South American champions, Uruguay.
As expected, Spain picked up where they left off from Euro 2012, fielding a vast array of midfielders with ex-Gunner, Cesc Fabregas, taking the "false nine" role. It wasn’t surprising when the European champions got ahead through a speculative Fabregas shot that went in after a howler from Uruguay’s goalie, Fernando Muslera.
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla started as well and stamped his authority in a game clouded by midfield maestros like Andres Iniesta and Juan Mata. The diminutive midfielder picked up a couple of knocks, but he was replaced later on.
Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal got a run-out when he replaced Jorbi Alba, who was getting some stick from the Uruguay players. Alba was involved in a bust-up with a couple of Uruguayans, and things went sour for the Barcelona full-back as the game progressed.
Carles Puyol marked his 100th appearance for Spain, and he scored a goal that would have put him on the back pages but the offside flag ruled him out.
After Christian Rodriguez’ equalizer, a brace from another Rodriguez (Pedro) was enough to put Uruguay to the sword.
After enjoying the highly technical game between both champions likely to meet again in the forthcoming Confederations Cup this summer, it was time to witness the spectacle in Wembley with England hosting the 2014 World Cup hosts, Brazil.
Roy Hodgson fielded a very strong lineup and from an Arsenal perspective, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were in the starting XI as well. With a midfield triumvirate of Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and skipper Steven Gerrard, Brazil dominated the hosts in the early stages of the game and won a penalty through a Wilshere handball.
After conceding the penalty, I had imagined the backlash from the media on Wilshere, but Joe Hart did extremely well to save Ronaldinho Gaucho’s penalty as well as the follow-up before Cleverley cleared the ball to safety.
Wilshere atoned for the error by supplying an inch-perfect pass to Arsenal teammate Walcott in behind the Brazil defense. Walcott’s effort was saved by Julio Cesar, but Wayne Rooney showed good technique in the follow-up to pounce on the rebound.
Brazil’s Fred equalized after a Gary Cahill error, but Frank Lampard scored the all-important winning goal to give England the victory.
Singling out individual performances, Wilshere had an awesome game and deservedly won the Man of the Match award. After the game, England manager Roy Hodgson sang his praises, Lampard stated that he’s going to be an elite player (via Soccerway) and his captain, Steven Gerrard, was excited by his massive potential (via BBC Sport).
Theo Walcott, on the other hand, had a stormer and gave Adriano a torrid time at the back. I don’t know where he perfected that quick-footed skill from, but it worked a treat three times on Adriano. Eventually Luiz Felipe Scolari couldn’t take it anymore, he summoned Luis Filipe to replace the Barcelona full-back.
Walcott was also replaced by another speedster, Aaron Lennon.
After the game, England great John Barnes questioned Walcott’s eagerness to play through the middle, despite the fact that he has excelled admirably on the right flank (via ESPN).
Arsene Wenger heeded to Walcott’s demands, giving him a run-out in the middle in December, much to Olivier Giroud’s displeasure, as the Frenchman has finally opened up on staying on the bench while Walcott played through the middle (via Sports Campus).
Another exciting friendly worth an honorable mention was the crunch encounter between France and Germany in the Stade de France.
From an Arsenal perspective, Laurent Koscielny started the game alongside the ever-present Mamadou Sakho and Olivier Giroud came on as a late substitute.
There was a major concern when Koscielny limped off the pitch and was replaced at halftime by Adil Rami. According to Goal.com, Koscielny’s calf injury would now leaves Arsenal desperately short at the back.
Many Gooners had hoped to see Thomas Vermaelen on the left flank against Bayern Munich with Koscielny and Per Mertesacker playing at the heart of Arsenal’s defense.
At the point in time, Arsenal will be odds on to play Andre Santos (with Nacho Monreal cup-tied) against the German juggernauts, and I’m pretty sure that Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery will be licking their lips with the prospect of playing against the shambolic Brazilian.
The Welsh powerhouse wasn’t really missed by Chris Coleman’s team as their influential star, Gareth Bale, scored in the 2-1 win over Austria.
With Koscielny and Ramsey out of action, Arsenal will have to make do with the players they have with games coming thick-and-fast.
Injuries are part and parcel of football, so Arsene Wenger has to rally his troops as they go on a run of fixtures in three different competitions. They start with a trip to the Stadium of Light before hosting Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Blackburn in the FA Cup fifth round.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's blog, Gooner Daily.
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