With Greece squeezing through their group ahead of Russia and Poland, Twitter’s @sleepy_nik agreed to write a piece for CoA on his country’s hopes. Nik can be found posting at the excellent Manchester United site Stretford End.
In response to the title, logic tells us most certainly not, but since when has the beautiful game been defined by logic? Germany remain 2/1 favourites to lift the trophy, and have a wealth of attacking talent only matched by the Spaniards (Goetze is yet to take to the pitch). Yet Greece are here on merit, and needing to find no extra motivation on Friday night, coupled with an eloquently prepared coach at the helm in Fernando Santos (and not too distant memories of the raid on Lisbon), there is always a chance to cause an upset.
Here I’ll take a look at what the Greeks will have to do in order to achieve the impossible.
Santos must continue to use his instinct
Recently voted coach of the decade in Greece for all his work with teams such as AEK Athens, PAOK Salonika and Panathinaikos, the Portuguese coach couldn’t have settled in much better since the departure of King Otto. Only two defeats in 21 games, a tactical whiz (particularly after the break) and with the added bonus of applying greater risk than Rehhagel, Santos has already achieved what he desired from the outset: quarter final qualification. He will recognise that his team starts as the big underdog, especially without his key centre half (Avraam Papadopoulos) and central midfielder and captain, Karagounis – but his self-confidence and belief in his team’s capability remains unbroken. If his players can follow his strict tactical instruction (shape and through marking), they have a chance.
Of potential importance could be the surprise inclusion of Ninis. The soon-to-be Parma youngster started the first game of the tournament here, but due to a combination of having limited time on the ball and a lack of fitness having not played too many competitive games since his long injury lay-off, has been overlooked ever since. The talented youngster (who will be aiming higher than Parma in the years to come), could and perhaps should, come in for Gekas, providing greater authority in possession than the veteran (who has had the least possession in the tournament), battling qualities when retreating into defensive positions and a creative aura when in the attacking third. Gekas’ strengths are his wily opportunism, getting in behind the centre half and goal poaching – none of which seem suitable to this game, especially when the emerging talent of Hummels has played without breaking a sweat thus far.
Santos has used Ninis, Salpigidis and Fortounis with great aplomb from the bench, and has selected the right eleven to do the job in each game – Ninis will surely be his instinct for this one (as it may have been anyway to freshen up a jaded midfield), but will he trust it?
Wide forwards must stay disciplined
The roles of Salpigidis and Samaras are very much different to those of Muller and Podolski. Both players have worked fantastically hard to keep the defensive shape of the team, despite often being the only key out-ball too in an attacking 4-3-3 template, whereas their German counterparts have stayed high up the pitch. Samaras in particular was a shining example of this versus Russia (in the ‘Charisteas role’), tracking Anyukov doubling up on Dzagoev, but also using the ball wisely when in possession. Despite finding himself deep with the ball, he was often able to bide the team time by dribbling out of the defence, awaiting the support. There will be occasion, albeit very rare, where Samaras or Salpigidis may have the chance to get in behind attack minded fullbacks Lahm and Boateng; Samaras’ opportunism versus the Russians through the left of centre was superb, but Greece will have to be precise in their direct play, and hurry to support these attacking moves.
It is in such attacking transitions that the German team is at its efficient best, and Santos will be well aware of the threat they pose, even when on the ball within their own half. The underrated, Khedira opitimises the functionality of their midfield, and with Schweinsteiger and Ozil just ahead, the combination play can often be irresistible. Khedira’s defensive energy is well known, but less understood is the benefit of his off the ball runs, creating space for the two creators to, well, create and bedazzle at will. Makos must keep his discipline in his own half, ensuring that the shuttling runs of Katsouranis and Maniatis are infrequent. The bank of four, and bank of five as we saw versus Russia in defensive transitions will be absolutely crucial given the German attacking talent.
The fullbacks must perform
Schalke 04’s Papadopoulos has been superlative thus far, especially in terms of his aerial ability, but the work of right fullback, Torrosidis (linked with Manchester United recently) should not be overlooked. It was his cross in the first game that led to Salpigidis’ goal, and he also fed the ball through to Karagounis (albeit due to a defensive error) who finished tastily against Russia. He is pacey, energetic and importantly, a good decision maker; he knows when to stick and when to twist, and coming up against record-breaker (and recent Arsenal signing) Podolski, he will have to be at his concentrated best, showing the player down the outside and watching for supporting fullback, captain Phillip Lahm – Torrosidis will pull Salpigids all the way back to the by-line at times.
Tzavellas’ left foot must be as crucial as Ozil’s (!)
Vital to the win versus the Russians, Tzavellas (who replaced the previously hapless Holebas) kept Dzagoev quiet by showing him down the outside at every opportunity, where the creative forward typically has success coming into central positions. Against Germany, Muller will offer a different type of threat, staying high and wide on the right side, causing exceptional danger when making sharp diagonals off the ball into the box. It is essential then that Tzavellas does not only marshal the German, but work in tandem with Papadopoulos (who has been sensational since his introduction when his more senior namesake had to depart due to injury) to forgo Muller, and indeed Ozil who likes to drag defenders out wide in the first instance, the space in which to cause the danger.
At the opposite end of the field, Tzavellas will pose a threat from set pieces, taking over from the suspended Karagounis. Corners and freekicks are his specialty (as Eintracht Frankfurt already know), and as we saw versus the Russians where he hit the post from 30 yards, his dazzling wand of a left foot must be utilised. Santos will be hoping he has a second chance on Friday evening.
(Greece actually have a tradition of producing splendid freekick experts, from Tsiartas to Basinas, but none more so than perhaps the greatest Europe has seen, PAOK legend, Kostas Frantzeskos.)
Will we see Ninis in the Fabregas role, or will Salpigidis or Gekas spearhead the attack? Can Samaras replicate his form shown in the game versus Russia? Will Greece have vital opportunities from set pieces? Carrying out tactical instruction is no mean feat. If Santos can enable this, he knows that taking the game into extra time, at the very least, is possible. The emphasis on the ‘if’ then, and ensuring a collective unity, communicating throughout, and the team imparting the changes Santos wants to see. Low will not underestimate the tight Greek system, but nonetheless will remain quietly confident that they can get the job done – and with ease if they are able to breach the defence early on in the game.
Referee: Damir Skomina (SLV) – fantastic tournament so far; a commanding performance here could give him the nod for the final, especially since Kassai has been sent home.
Home to some of the most talented players in the world, the Eredivisie has given a lot to Arsenal with players like Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Robin Van Persie only being the tip of the iceberg. The Simple Ball’s creator, Kevin Bakx joins us once again to share some of the best talents coming out of the Netherlands.
Yet another Eredivisie season has come to an end, with Ajax clinching the title for a second year running and Feyenoord surprisingly snatching Champions League football away right in front of PSV’s nose. Twente had a disappointing end of season, only reaching European football because of the UEFA Fair Play awards, Heerenveen experienced a good run with their wonderful forwards and AZ were eventually let down by their squad-depth in the title-race. In short, it was another exciting round of games.
In similar, spectacular fashion, the Premier League season came to an end, with Arsenal qualifying themselves directly for the Champions League on the final day of the season, and in the process also finishing above Tottenham which made for another St. Totteringham’s Day.
As internationals partake in an all-important European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine, the hunting season has begun again though and Arsene Wenger will quite certainly not sit back as his side endure an on-going trophy drought. In his search for new additions, he will surely look at the Eredivisie too, for its big reputation regarding talent refinement is practically unrivalled. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride as I take you along in a tour around the best possible signings from Holland that Arsene can make.
Adam Maher – Central/Attacking Midfielder – AZ
Recently being voted Eredivisie Talent of the Year, Adam Maher has turned out as one of the brightest young midfielders in the world at AZ. The 18-year old was promoted into the senior side by manager Gert-Jan Verbeek and impressed the match fitness guru so much in training that he gave him a starting spot right away.
As the season progressed, Maher paid back the faith put into him and became an important cog in AZ’s title-race with his tireless running, dribbling technique and great composure in front of goal. Oranje manager Bert van Marwijk also believes in Maher, recently selecting him for a training stage with the senior national team in Lausanne. Whilst still not the finished product at all, he’s got amazing potential and could become one of best midfielders in the world.
Kevin Strootman – Central Midfielder – PSV
Strootman’s career has been a fairytale so far, working his way up from Sparta in the Dutch 2nd Division (the Jupiler League) to a starting spot with Eredivisie title contender PSV and a regular spot in Van Marwijk’s national team selection. He’s a man whom adapts quickly to his surroundings and despite his minor set-back this season, he’s still one of the best midfielders the league has to offer.
The 22-year old’s game is based around incisive passing, vision and driving runs into the box, qualities that all suit the English game. Defensively, he could still learn a thing or two but his physical build allows him to best his opponents, an aspect that’ll surely be developed even more in England. In short, Kevin’s a bright talent and one Arsene should surely consider.
Jordy Clasie – Central Midfielder – Feyenoord
This short, frail and above all inexperienced central midfielder surprised both friend and foe in his first season at Feyenoord, grabbing the side by the scruff of the neck and guiding it to Champions League football alongside Guidetti, El Ahmadi, Vlaar and Koeman. His diminutive style of passing has led to Xavi-comparisons and indeed, his quick, agile physique combined with an array of both short and long balls does make you think of the Spanish metronome.
Clasie isn’t just an asset to the offensive side of midfield though, as his game contains much more than just glamorous through balls and sweeping cross-field passes. He’s a very capable standing tackler and knows how to make good use of pressure from his deep, midfield spot. Perhaps not a direct strengthening to this Arsenal, like the above two are, but quite certainly one to watch for the future.
Christian Eriksen – Attacking Midfielder – Ajax
This young Danish playmaker didn’t catch many headlines in the past season, often being labelled as one of Ajax’s biggest disappointments this year. But don’t believe everything they say, as this past round has proved to be Eriksen’s most productive assist-season in his career. Forming an excellent tandem with Siem de Jong, he compensated his lack of goals with an overflow of assists.
But Eriksen’s not just an asset on the pitch, he’s also a fine persona to have in the dressing room; a consummate professional, he demands the best of himself and his teammates. He has his feet set firmly on the ground, works hard and tries to put his mark down on the side through his one-touch balls and intricate, lofty crosses. Despite indicating he’s not ready to leave Ajax yet and probably costing a hefty fee, Wenger will do good to consider this young Dane as a possible addition.
I was invited to the Indesit Football Event, but due to school commitments couldn’t make it (that means it’s education 1-0 me), so they sent this Michael Keshani fella in my place. Well, I put his name forward, and with good reason – he’s a brilliant follow on Twitter. What are you waiting for?
On 16th May 2012 I had the pleasure of attending the Indesit Football Tournament at the magnificent Emirates Stadium, among the esteemed company of Sian Macalarny, the Goonerholic, Rob Marrs and Dan Mobbs, among others.
Before the actual football started, we were congregated on the pitch, by the dugouts, when Dan and Adam took a football and despite not strictly being allowed, ran onto the empty pitch. I quickly followed, and here I opened my Emirates Stadium account; an account which was promptly closed a few minutes later. But still, I’m basking in the glow of scoring a rebound tap-in at the Emirates, after my attempt at a Panenka-esque chipped penalty was saved.
The four teams competing were Arsenal, managed by club legend Robert Pires (more on him later); Shakhtar Donetsk, managed by the brilliant Jean-Pierre Papin; Paris Saint-Germain, with Gianfranco Zola at the helm and AC Milan, who were being coached by former Milan forward Daniele Massaro. The first game was contested by the hosts and their visitors from Ukraine. The final score was 4-1 to Shakhtar, in a comprehensive victory, illuminated by a glorious chip on the 18 yard line by the one Shakhtar man with no number on his back to make it 3-1, as well as a free kick closer to the centre circle than the penalty box which put the proverbial icing on the cake, paving the route to the final for The Miners, and confining Arsenal to the third place play-off, wherein they would face the loser from the game between PSG and Milan which would follow.
While the Parisians provided a stronger challenge for their counterparts than Arsenal had Shakhtar, they were cast aside by the eventual champions. Milan had an unrivalled efficiency and verve in their games, and eventually ran out as deserved winners, reigning victorious in the final. Although Arsenal took the lead in their third place play-off with a delightful outside-of-the-boot shot from their only female – and incidentally their best – player, they were unable to stop PSG clawing them back and grabbing the lead, and taking the third place spot. Third and Fourth places both got trophies for their troubles, which I am sure will have delighted Arsene Wenger, in the ground his side call home! On Arsenal’s team, there was a player clad in the number 2 with the surname ‘Pastore’ above his name. Was this perhaps a first Emirates outing for a potential Arsenal signing?
The main event of the day for me personally was the half an hour granted to the other bloggers and me to talk with Robert Pires. In spite of his slightly fractured English and my worse French, the six of us were engaged in a conversation which took in everything from his favourite goal for the Arsenal to his potential plans for the future and whether he wished to make the leap into management, while not yet being retired from the game. The former number 7 managed to look resplendent even in a white Arsenal tracksuit, and does not appear to have aged a day since 2002. If anything, he may even look slightly younger.
The highlights of our conversation were his description of Arsene Wenger as a “second father”, saying he was “fantastic” both as a man and a manager. His favourite goal, unsurprisingly, was this piece of artistry against Aston Villa, while he confirmed the rumour that in his short time with the Villains, he did in fact stay in his flat in the Highbury Square Development and take a taxi up to Birmingham every day. He discussed the idea of becoming a manager, but admitted that the pressure of the job would be difficult to handle and that his preference would be a role in the backroom staff (although there are no instant plans).
What was very heartening to hear was him talk about the friendships he has retained from his time at Arsenal. In recent years, yet far less so this season, Arsenal have had a very split squad, in contrast to the Invincibles, whose unity one of their overriding features, and was no small factor in their success. He talked about the contact he maintains with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, as well as Jens Lehmann, with whom he played five-a-side a few weeks previously (though claims he was “not very good” outfield), although he has forgiven him for his Paris (ahem) misdemeanour. Another he mentioned was Patrick Vieira, whose Twitter feed makes for painful reading for Arsenal fans, but he alluded to his happiness for his friend, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri, the latter of which was greeted with something of a swift silence among the Arsenal contingent at the table!
Though this silence was nothing compared to the brief moment of terror caused by a brief miscommunication on the part of the language barrier. Sian, asking a question so many Arsenal fans have asked of one another, asked of Pires “what do you think of Tottenham?” Those who knew the terrace chant smiled among one another, though these smiles were swiftly wiped upon his answer of “I love Tottenham, Tottenham are my team”. The table was stunned at this answer. Either he could feel the surprise emanating from us, or he had pre-planned this beautiful play on words as he continued “I scored many goals against them”; the smiles returned to his and our faces as the conversation continued. I prefer to think he knew the reaction his saying “I love Tottenham” would have among Arsenal fans.
Following the end of the conversation, autographs were signed and pictures were taken, at which point I was confronted by a brief moment of horror, realising that I had forgotten my old ‘Pires 7’ shirt at home. A look out of the glass front of the Emirates showed not only a Highbury engulfed in rain, but one confronted by a nasty bout of hale stones. Still, with an H&M umbrella as my only means of protection I sprinted from the Diamond Club, umbrella aloft, flailing in the wind, probably looking oh so ridiculous, toward Arsenal Station, from whence I ran faster than I have in some time, picked up the shirt, and restarted the sprint. Only thankfully now the thunderbolts and lightning (which had been very, very frightening me, though I have no idea what Galileo would have made of this all) had ceased. Upon returning, a more haggard form than the me that had left the Diamond Club 15 minutes earlier, Pires signed my shirt. As a man of Arsenal, it was my very own religious pilgrimage (round the corner and back).
The day was completed with a tour of the Emirates Stadium, which was even nicer than I remember it being on my last tour, just after its opening, back in 2006. We visited the home dressing room and the media area before returning up to the Diamond Club, to end the day.
I’d like to thank Adam and Jess from WeAreSocial for organising the day, as well as Indesit for creating the whole competition. And a final, massive thank you to Sam for recommending my name for it. As you can probably tell, I had a great time!
This first appeared on Michael’s blog, Roaming Libero.
G’day Goonerissimos. Howdy and all that jazz funk.
I am here today to talk about transfers. Not the pretend tattoo, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle, scratch them off your arm an hour later style transfers, I mean football transfers. Quite obviously. Read More…
This piece is courtesy of the excellent Wenger Boy, who can often be found posting similar ramblings on Arsenal Vision; enjoy.
Good day Goonerists of the world. How are we doing today?
Personally, I’m feeling completely confused. I think I’m meant to feel happy after the window but I was so pissed off at one stage that I can’t decide if that’s how I should still be feeling now. But then I look at people who are normally pissed off and they’re excited and as an optimist I think that means I should be feeling jubilant.
On balance I think I’ll stick with perplexed for a bit and just hide behind the sofa, waiting for everyone else to decide what they feel before jumping out and claiming I knew what I felt all along. Reckon I’ll look proper clever if I do that.
A lot of my confusion, I’ll admit, stems from not knowing. Our squad has seen the most radical overhaul its had in years and though we can discuss the supposed state of it until our tongues fall out it’s pretty much impossible to judge accurately how well it will perform in the only area that matters – a game of football – until we actually see it performing in that area.
The general feeling appears to be that our squad is comparatively – in relation to the other top teams – weaker than it has been in recent seasons, and most seem content with fourth and, perhaps, a cup. I may well be happy with that come May – especially as I have never seen Arsenal win so much as a raffle, let alone a trophy – but it’s only September and right now I can’t bear to hear fans aim so low, especially given how promising things looked not so long ago.
However pessimistic I may get I still won’t be content unless we offer a serious title challenge and if I’m setting myself up for a predictable fall off improbability cliff then so be it. It’s what I desire, it’s what I expect and it’s what I will hope for until the day my delusional breastplate is pierced by the long sword of mathematical possibility.
But there is a chance – a chance that we can mount a serious challenge. But this chance would require Wenger to achieve something I believe he has struggled to achieve in recent times.
Despite all the talent this club has witnessed these past few years there have been too few occasions when those talents have truly meshed into single, unified force. Wenger’s ability to unearth players of real quality has in the past led people to label him a ‘magician’ but his ability to create a completely coherent team has at times been more illusion than reality. This is the power that he needs to rediscover. It is absolutely vital to our hopes this year.
When we’ve had a player on top form we’ve often talked about them in isolation – Nasri last year or Arshavin in 2008/09 – but when our team as a whole is on form we begin to talk about partnerships or groups of players – Cesc and Flamini or Theo Van Nasregas, for example. While great teams need individuals on form merely having those individuals playing well does not guarantee a great team. To my mind we have not found this balance nearly as often as we should and as a result we have never quite utilised the squad to its fullest.
I am not suggesting our teams have been bad. Nor am I suggesting that Wenger hasn’t done a fantastic job or that circumstances haven’t hindered his work – injuries and departures in particular. But the potential to success ratio has been fairly low – phenomenal potential, minimal success – and even if, like me, you see a consistent top four place as a real achievement you can’t help but be disappointed that a team featuring Nasri, Cesc, Van Persie, Arshavin etc hasn’t achieved more.
Most people seem to agree that now without Cesc and Nasri our first eleven, on paper, is weaker. But you also have to admit that, as sad as it was to lose them, with Cesc and Nasri playing together we still didn’t manage to win anything. And perhaps we never would have.
There are positives to be had here – their departures can help to even out responsibility and ensure the players at the club to work better together, as a unit. But this won’t happen by accident and nor should we expect it to. The impetus for this transformation must come from Wenger himself.
Alex Ferguson has always been lauded for his ability to create magnificent teams with some relatively ordinary players and it is his work that needs to be the blueprint for our own success. The key factors in many of MUFC’s title winning teams have been their desire, commitment and teamwork. These are the exact qualities that can push this current squad to a higher level than expected. These qualities can turn a Cesc and Nasri-less Arsenal into a genuine title contender.
If we can add the missing ingredients there are easily enough exceptional talents at the club to create a recipe for success. With the experience and depth that has been brought in this summer I truly believe that the pieces of the puzzle are still there, they just need to be arranged. If we can take a step back and see the bigger picture then we have it within us to rise above expectations and compete with the best.
Wenger has produced some great teams in the past, so we know he can do it. And now with a fresh set of players he has a fantastic opportunity to do it again.
Some may no longer see Wenger as the magician he once was but he is an amazing manager with more surprises up his sleeves then people think. But turning this supposedly weakened squad into a formidable team could yet prove to his biggest and most impressive trick ever.