Arsenal succumbed to a disappointing loss against Manchester United at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Before there was time to reflect, a host of Arsenal players had to dust themselves down and head off for international duty.
Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscienly, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczęsny, Per Mertesacker and others were as expected, all called upon to represent their countries in upcoming friendlies and qualifiers respectively.
Here is a summary of they performed.
Wojciech Szczęsny – Friendly: Poland 0 Ireland 0 (19/11/13)
After being rested against Slovakia in place of Boruc, Szczęsny was called up for the home game against Ireland. The game was a scrappy one and was probably one of Szczęsny easiest for Poland.
The little attacking threat that Martin O’Neil’s men offered was dealt with easily by Arsenal’s number one and he looked confident when the ball was played back to him and distributed well for the hosts.
His teammates couldn’t take advantage of the stability Szczęsny provided and the Polish midfield couldn’t create anything meaningful for Robert Lewandowski upfront.
It was a stroll for Szczęsny and he will return to Arsenal fit to face Southampton.
Santi Cazorla – Friendly: Spain 2 Equatorial Guinea 1. (16/11/13)
Perhaps not the hardest game on paper but the World Cup holders certainly made hard work of it. Cazorla won his 60th international cap and started the game for a weakened Spanish team.
He scored the first in a 2-1 victory over the minnows. The goal came in the 14th minute following a mistake from the home side’s goalkeeper, Danilo. Cazorla made no mistake finishing into the net.
The world champions didn’t have it all their own way, Bermudez headed past Reina to make it 1-1 ten minutes before half time. However the hosts couldn’t prevent the Spaniards from scoring again, this time through right-back Juanfran who scored just before half time.
The game was a good workout for Cazorla who has perhaps been short of match fitness since returning from injury in October.
As you would expect, the Spaniard was tidy in possession against a team happy to sit behind the ball and was willing to take the game to the opposition, winning free kicks in the final third and testing the goalkeeper on a couple of occasions.
With the result in the bag, Del Bosque withdrew the midfielder with just over half an hour to play.
Nacho Monreal was also called up but didn’t play with Del Bosque preferring youngster Alberto Moreno at left-back.
Friendly – South Africa 1 Spain 0 (19/11/13)
The second friendly for the Spaniards which saw both Cazorla and Monreal feature, the latter from the start.
It was a shock result for the Spanish, who fielded a strong side. The away side enjoyed possession in the early minutes and looked like they would create chances for Llorente and Villa up front.
David Villa did have the ball in the back of the net on two occasions but both were ruled out for offside.
In fairness to South Africa they recovered from a disjointed start and pressed the Spanish off the ball relentlessly and created a chance for themselves on 17 minutes but hit the bar. The Spanish had to become more direct with their passing and did get in behind the South African defence on a few occasions.
Monreal provided good width down the left hand side and tried to supply Llorente but none of his crosses managed to connect with the Juventus forward.
South Africa kept their pressure up and combined with some fantastic defending particularly from Bongani Khumalo managed to keep the Spanish at bay until half time.
The second half saw the introduction of Cazorla who replaced Llorente. The change added a creative spark in midfield as Cazorla looked to get in between the lines and play a key pass or execute a shot on goal.
Cazorla linked up with the other Spain midfielders well and the Spanish finally created a clear-cut chance but Iniesta failed to convert from close-range.
One minute after Iniesta failed to score in what was the chance of the game up until then, South Africa broke away at the other end. A free-flowing move by the hosts was finished by Melvin Parker who chipped Valdes to shock the world champions.
As Spain pushed for an equaliser, the hosts got deeper and deeper and made tactical changes that prevented the Spanish from regaining any sort of rhythm. It affected Cazorla and made what was a promising match, transcend into a scrappy affair.
Cazorla had a couple of long-range drives that were saved and the Spanish couldn’t make amends as the South-Africans claimed a famous victory.
The game was a high intensity workout for Monreal and Cazorla who both needed some game time under their belts. Whilst it was a frustrating evening for the duo they both had decent games in what has been a good warm-up for the Spanish. Both players are fit to face Southampton.
Mesut Ozil – Friendly: Italy 1 Germany 1.(15/11/13)
It has been said that the German superstar was suffering from illness against Manchester United which may have explained his below par performance. The German had no time to feel sorry for himself because he was on the bench vs. a strong Italy side at the San Siro – a stadium in which the Italian national team have never lost.
It was an experimental team picked by Joachim Low. Mario Gotze started in the “false nine” role with Toni Kroos occupying Mesut Ozil’s usual, central attacking role in front of Sami Khedira and Phillip Lahm.
Ozil was however introduced on the hour mark with the game tied at 1-1, courtesy of goals from Matts Hummels in the 8th minute and Ignacio Abate in the 28th.
The playmaker displayed his usual, languid playing style but wasn’t able to tip the scales in the Germans favour. He took up intelligent positions on the pitch an as the game progressed, it looked like the Italians would leave more gaps as both sides pushed for winners.
He did have a good chance to claim yet another assist. The Germans broke away and Ozil received the ball with the away side outnumbering the Italian defenders four vs. two, Ozil’s couldn’t produce the final pass as his attempted through ball to Thomas Muller flicked off the advancing Bayern Munich mans heel and the attack broke down as Barzagli cleared.
It wasn’t Ozil’s best game but he did show some nice touches when he came on. It was difficult game for Ozil to get a hold on because the Italians were dominant for large parts of the game. Abate provided a strong attacking outlet down the right hand side and Domencio Criscito kept Muller quiet while advancing down the left.
It was good game but both teams lacked quality in final third which is surprising given the talent on show. It was a positive game for Ozil who came away Scott Free but he should of done better with his pass to Muller to put the 24-year-old through on goal.
Laurent Koscienly – World Cup Play-off 1st Leg: Ukraine 2 France 0 (15/11/13)
The in-form Arsenal defender was picked to start by under fire manager Didier Deschamps in a crunch World Cup qualifier against a strong Ukraine outfit. Despite playing off the back of a 6-0 thumping of Australia and a 3-0 win against Finland, France have been struggling for goals when it matters most.
However, in this encounter, the defence were also at fault for Frances disastrous loss at the hands of Ukraine and unfortunately, Laurent Koscienly will be the man that most will point the finger at for this France defeat.
The Frenchman had a solid first half. Ukraine’s potent attack were not getting much change out of Abidal and Koscienly with the latter making a number of interceptions. But the second half took a turn for the worse for France who were trailing 1-0. Koscienly, who was outmuscled for the first goal made matters worse for France as he conceded an 83rd-minute penalty following a rash challenge. Yarmolenko stepped up and tucked away the resulting penalty, doubling Ukraine’s lead over the 1998 World Cup champions.
With France never really looking like scoring, The poor performance on a cold night in Ukraine was summarised by Koscienly’s late dismissal in the dying minutes. The centre back was sent off for lashing out at Kucher (who got a second booking for his role in the incident). The suspension ultimately meant that Koscienly would miss the return leg.
Olivier Giroud – World Cup Qualifier 1st Leg: Ukraine 2 France 0 (15/11/13)
The World Cup play-off saw a dismal performance from a number of French players including Ballon D’or nominee Franck Ribery who was closely marked the entire game.
Olivier Giroud was given the nod ahead of Karim Benzema for the starting berth but couldn’t replicate his domestic form on a night to forget for the former Montpellier man.
Despite the result, France did get off to a good start. Giroud managed to test the home sides goal early on but Andriy Pyatov saved. Apart from a long-range Paul Pogba effort, the Shakhtar goalkeeper had little else to do.
As the game progressed, the Ukrainians looked more and more threatening and France struggled to get a handle on the game. Giroud, renowned for his excellent movement, looked heavy and stagnant and had little to no service from his midfielders.
Ribery was non-existent and Nasri was completely ineffective for Les Bleus meaning Giroud had little to work with to try and drag France back into the game.
By the hour mark Deschamps had seen enough and Giroud was replaced by Benzema who endured a similar experience to Giroud.
Bacary Sagna was called up to the squad but Deschamps preferred Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy at right-back.
Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna – World Cup Play-off 2nd Leg: France 3 Ukraine 0 (19/11/13)
With Koscienly suspended for his horror show in Ukraine, Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna were responsible for flying the Arsenal flag for France, but had to do so from the bench, as the French looked to decrease the deficit.
France as a whole looked a lot more lively on home soil. Benzema looked like a man determined to regain his former personal glory and Valbuena added spark and guile out wide for France in place of Remy. The introduction of Cabaye in midfield also paid dividends as France could now initiate attacks from deep positions.
The changes to the team combined with the electric atmosphere at the Stade de France aided a much needed French revival.
With France 3-0 up, Deschamps introduced Giroud with 10 minutes to go, to help hold the ball up for the French. Although the Ukrainians were pressing he did have a chance to add a fourth late on but wasn’t able to covert the header.
Bacary Sagna added some brawn to the backline after replacing Debuchy in the 78th-minute as France looked to defend their lead.
Thomas Vermaelen – Friendly: Belgium 0 Colombia 2 (14/11/13)
The Arsenal captain was a surprise inclusion in the Arsenal line-up against Manchester United and put in a solid performance against the champions. He got another chance to impress, this time on the international stage against a strong Colombian outfit, four days later.
Both teams have been tipped to have successful World Cups but the Colombians overran the home side and claimed a 2-0 victory courtesy of Falcao and Ibarbo goals.
Vermaelen – who captained his side in place of the injured Kompany – put in another decent performance but was unable to prevent a talented Colombian quartet of Cuadrado, James Rodriguez, Luis Muriel and of course Radamel Falcao from causing havoc.
Colombia dominated for the majority of the game but Belgium may feel a little hard done by not to carve out a draw. The result was more down to the fact that Benteke, De Bruyne and Hazard failed to trouble the Colombia goal rather than the defensive shortcomings of Belgium.
The lack of an attacking threat resulted in constant pressure from the exuberant Colombia attack which included the marauding running of full-back Pablo Armero. The Napoli man provided yet another attacking outlet down the left hand side for the Colombians.
Vermaelen managed to keep a lid on the opposition for the time being but once the game approached the hour mark, the Belgian legs became weary and Colombia’s pressure paid off. Falcao struck on the 52nd minute and substitute Ibarbo again on 66′ gave Belgium a mountain to climb to get anything from the game.
Belgium manager Marc Wilmots made changes in the second half which slightly improved proceedings for the home side. Most notably the pace and skill of Dries Mertens.
However the Colombians proved too strong and condemned them to a disappointing defeat in what has turned out to be a demoralising week for Belgian football.
Friendly: Belgium 2 Japan 3 (19/11/13)
Despite the disappointing result against Colombia, Thomas Vermaelen and Belgium had another stern test in front of them in the form of Japan. A positive result would redeem the Belgians who haven’t been at their best since beating Croatia in the Group stage.
Alberto Zacheroni’s Japan may not be as hyped as Colombia but have been impressing which was evident with their impressive 2-2 draw with the Netherlands the previous Saturday. They also boasted the talents of Honda, Kagawa and Endo in midfield which have out passed some of the best teams.
Belgium had a much better start in this game and the changes to the team made by Marc Wilmots looked like it was having a positive affect. Everton’s Kevin Miralles scored for the home side on eleven minutes after good work from Lukaku. Japan equalised 20 minutes after, via a Honda header, after Alderweireld got caught napping at the back post. It was all down hill from there for the home side despite Alderweireld’s consolation 10 minutes from time.
Belgium played four centre backs in Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Vertonghen and of course Vermaelen, but still struggled to fend of the Japanese’ attack. Axel Witsel and Moussa Dembélé were picked to protect the back four but left the defence exposed. It gave Honda and Kagawa too much room to operate and ultimately led to Japan scoring two more goals.
It was a disappointing result for Belgium but Thomas Vermaelen can’t be held culpable for any individual error. The important thing is that Thomas Vermaelen started both games and played the full 90 minutes in both. He hasn’t been playing much so the need to get the cobwebs out was necessary. We are entering a busy period and our captain will surely have a significant role to play in Arsenal’s run into the new year.
Jack Wilshere – Friendly: England 0 Chile 2 (15/11/13)
England were giving a testing couple of days in this annual international break. With the English already qualified for Brazil, Roy Hodgon’s men were given the chance to experiment against a Chile team full of flair.
Jack Wilshere who hasn’t been a regular domestically since returning from injury is considered by many as the saviour of English football and was unsurprisingly giving a starting berth at Wembley.
Roy Hodgon’s fielded a fairly strong XI but did include Jay Rodriguez, Fraser Forster and Adam Lallana as part of an experimental England team.
The English got off to a good start and tested Claudio Bravo’s goal through a Phil Jones header following an Adam Lallana free kick from the left.
Soon after, Chile broke away and Alexis Sanchez headed home after some suspect defending from Leighton Baines. Following the goal, it was all Chile particularly possession wise, with the South American’s a lot more efficient with the ball. Jack Wilshere spent most of his evening chasing down the Chileans in midfield but Glen Johnson and Baines gave the Chileans far too much room out wide to create.
When Wilshere has been playing for England, he is the one responsible for creating attacks and is given more freedom in an advanced role. When he won the ball back he did manage to travel deep into Chile’s half but wasn’t able to unlock the Chile defence.
His passing wasn’t a crisp as it normally is for Arsenal but there was little to no movement from the England front line.
Alexis Sanchez’ rounded off his 10/10 display with a delicate chip over Forster in the dying minutes to give Chile a 2-0 lead but from an England perspective, Jack Wilshere along with Wayne Rooney looked like the only players capable of creating anything for England.
The midfielder played until the 71st minute until he was replaced by Tom Cleverley.
Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs – Friendly: England 0 Germany 1 (19/11/13)
A total of 4 Arsenal players could of featured in this encounter but Mesut Ozil was rested by Joachim Low. It mean that Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Per Mertesacker – the latter wearing the armband – were all on show.
Jack Wilshere was on the bench after playing most of the game vs. Chile so Roy Hodgson gave Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley a chance to prove his worth from the start. Kieran Gibbs also was handed an opportunity to stake a late World Cup claim but had to do so from the bench.
England got off to a good start and Wayne Rooney narrowly missed a header early on. But it was Germany who took the lead from Arsenal’s very own German, Per Mertesacker who towered above Chris Smalling to nod home a goal.
Joe Hart started a game for the first time since Chelsea in October and if it wasn’t for the Manchester City goalkeeper, Germany would have been out of sight before half time.
It wasn’t the most entertaining of games but Mario Gotze looked particularly lively for the Germans and created a number of chances for his teammates. The Germans were given a license to play because of the platform that Mertesacker and the other German defenders provided with a solid defensive unit.
33-year-old Weidenfeller made his debut for his country but England’s front line will be disappointed they didn’t test the Dortmund keeper more often.
Germany never got in full flow but did look dangerous from set-pieces courtesy of the aerial dominance provided by Mertesacker.
Gibbs was introduced on 53′ and got forward at every opportunity and managed to deliver a few testing crosses.
Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs both left the game frustrated but were fully fit and ready to face Southampton. Whilst Per Mertesacker had a very tidy evening for the Germans and was one of the standout performers for his country. It certainly looked like he has recovered from his illness.
There you have it.
A few ups and downs following the results but the positive thing from an Arsenal perspective is that we have no more casualties. Southampton will be a very tough game so the need to have everyone fit is essential.
Wenger will probably pick the team that started against Dortmund away but it will be a high intensity affair and we could see the return of Theo Walcott from injury.
After losing against United, getting a result against a Southampton team that sit 3rd will be of extra importance.
The international break may have come at a good time for some of the players as it hasn’t disrupted any momentum.
Lets hope the boys can get us back of track with a good performance against Southampton.