CommentaryEnglandEuro 2012EuropePhotography

Polkraine 2 (or, Arsenal Quarters Vindaloo)

June 21, 2012 — by Rob Kirby1


CommentaryEnglandEuro 2012EuropePhotography

Polkraine 2 (or, Arsenal Quarters Vindaloo)

June 21, 2012 — by Rob Kirby1

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin, Wojciech Szczesny and Nicklas Bendtner have all exited Euro 2012. Well, there goes that tournament…

But among those soldiering on in the competition, building upon performances covered in the first installment of the venerable State of the Union: Arsenal, Polkraine, four still remain (five did until today, of which more right now).

Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky sat out the quarterfinals against Portugal and will not return at a later stage as hoped,  as his countrymen did not prevail and his Achilles issue did not heal in time. The unfit Rosicky kept the fit contingent of the team company on the bench today, having returned from returning to Prague for treatment after the second Group A match against Greece, to no avail. He had not not trained since going off injured in that match and given his team’s exit today now targets recovery for the first team come August.

Lukas Podolski (most likely starting) and Per Mertesacker (most likely benching it) tackle Greece on Friday and will in all likelihood power on through to the semi-finals. Podolski scored a solid goal against the Danish in the final group stage match, taking his international tally to 44 in 100 international appearances, which is really pretty impressive.  Long may the goal record run.

On the French side of things, France centerback Philippe Mexes picked up a second yellow, so Koscielny may finally start against Spain in the quarterfinals on Saturday (lucky him!). Difficult opponents to line up against, the Spanish midfielder forwards will definitely test but not necessarily overwhelm the Arsenal player many thought should have been picked ahead of Mexes and Rami anyway.

Lastly, on Sunday England prevailed 1-0 against the Ukraine, playing a well-disciplined defense against a surprisingly entertaining Ukrainian side. The match lacked any real tangible impact from substitutes Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the Rooney-reunited team won their group, and in so doing escaped the Spanish in the draw, throwing the French to Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 defending champions instead. Next up, Italy.

For England, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott impressed in the group stages overall, if not the final match in particular. Italy could present an interesting matchup for the young Englanders and their elders in the final quarterfinal. Congratulations to the two of them for the progressing, though, and may neither of the pair empulverize himself in the upcoming fixture against notoriously fair-play Italy.

To revisit the Euro 21012 departure personnel:

Van Persie’s heading up of the early exits is for most the most eyebrow-raising, particularly for those able to single-eyebrow-raise and who thought van Persie and the Dutch would not only emerge from the group of death but also make it to the semi-finals or even further. Robin travels homeward, or perhaps vacationward, and soon must definitively resolve the Arsenal contract issue. More and more I feel he should go if he really can’t commit to the team for two years. Pay him a market wage for someone who just won Player of the Year, most definitely. Promise him additional signings to inject the team with commensurate quality and actually do it. But if after the money waving and promise making and subtle allusions to loyalty during those many weeks and years on the Emirates physio tables, if it’s not enough it’s not enough. And if so, we need to address the remainder of the transfer window as such. The signing of Podolski and the links with Olivier Giroud and Yann M’Vila are a good start, regardless of the fact that neither of the two French links are by any means a lock (especially in the latter case, which was seemingly a lock at the end of the season).

Van Persie had a somewhat disappointing three matches, missing many opportunities, although he did get in a good wrong-leg right-footed strike against Germany that deserves props. Some argue that two defensive midfielders wasn’t the positive play for the Holland team, some point to the early stage omissions of Klaus-Jann Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart, but at the end of the day, the best Arsenal player and biggest Arsenal question mark comes back the non-Euro 2012 world with many questions unanswered and hopefully soon decides to definitely choose to stay or go, with particular regard to the matter of stay or leaving. Whatever it is, the sooner settled, the better.

Arshavin put in a good showing at the tournament, meaning that we may be seeing the last of Andrey, in an effort to give the already reluctant Arsenal player a way out that’s mutually beneficial. Glad for him that he’s turning his fortunes around. Some reports say he may prefer another England team to his recent successful homecoming at Zenit St. Petersburg. So be it. So long as someone pays a decent amount of money to take over his contract and the associated high wages, all good.

Szczesny had a tournament he’d probably rather forget. Playing in his home nation, he got red carded in match 1, which gave a penalty away against Greece. He watched his replacement block the penalty, to his relief, but Poland’s playing of 10 men against 11 certainly didn’t help the Poland team in the bid to get more than a point that day, when three would have set them in good stead in a winnable group in front of a home crowd. He did not make it into the side for the final match against the Czechs, but thankfully no injuries came to the goalie and his ego seems tough enough to absorb the moment and learn from it.

To help secure Spain’s spot in the quarterfinals, former captain Cesc Fabregas got a great downfield pass from Xavi that he looped over a defender’s head to Andres Iniesta who squared to Jesus Navas, who then preschooled it up with smash-in exuberance in Spain’s 1-0 victory over Croatia. Would that the Catalan midfielder was still with the London team. Onward and upward, though, I guess. Apparently, Cesc and Eduardo exchanged shirts after the match. The good old days…

On the transfer horizon front, the continuance of the French side in the competition after their toothless 2-0 loss to Sweden in the final group stage match means that we can perhaps see more and better from long-running targets M’Vila and Giroud in the tournament—against Spain, no less. Not being much of a Ligue 1 follower, I have only seen them in a few performances, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do against Spain.

And last of all the yokels, Nicklas Bendtner. The car-crashing egomaniac Bendtner is a good striker—better than Chamakh, definitely–but he doesn’t want to be an Arsenal player, so that sort of mandates he move on, because he’s not worth the prima donna business. Credit to him, though, that he’s whipped the media into a Bendtnerian frenzy and further publicized his already well-publicized wantaway status. The forward is doing his absolute best to attract more attention, and it’s a skill he knows well. The Paddy Power “lucky underwear” stunt earned him a fine of €100,000, as well as a one competitive match ban, but it also made him the talk of the town and tabloids, which is how Bendtner always expected his life to be, anyway. Any any rate, the soccer betting site swiftly announced they’d pay his fine, after having tweeted a picture minutes after the moment transpired of Bendtner lowering his shorts and raising his jersey to reveal the Paddy Power waistband. Bizarre. But crafty.

As demonstrated in the fine structure outlined in the following, one wonders about the purpose of the UEFA:

€20,000 Porto in Feb 2012, for racial abuse and monkey hoots from fans against visiting players
€40,000 Arsene Wenger in March 2012, for berating the official in the tunnel
€100,000 Nicklas Bendtner, this week, guerilla marketing underwear betting company advertising stunt/”lucky underwear”

Bendtner drew the worst fine. Go figure. He did it intentionally, fair enough, and assuming his defense that they were simply his “lucky underwear” fails to exonerate him in the UEFA kangaroo court, the decision stands.

The rest of the tournament still holds a possibility of a readjustment of UEFA’s policies. Unless they’re utterly out of touch with the people side of European soccer—their constituents, as it were—they will hopefully get back to a more balaced ratio of crime and punishment. If you go hard, go hard. Just be consistent. UEFA doesn’t have to be a leading beacon in human rights, but the easy-to-implement measures of equal payout really aren’t that tough. First fix the €20,000 Porto precedent. Make any incidents currently under review somewhere, anywhere, more in line and along the lines of the Bendtner fine.

For updated reference, in fairness, UEFA has just fined the Croatia FA €80,000 for racist chants against Mario Balotelli in the Croatia/Italy match in Group C. Again Balotelli, of “Why always me?” t-shirt fame. So many plugs, but back to the point,first Porto in the Europa fixture, now the Euros a half-year late. He’s clearly a flashpoint for frustrated opposition fans, but in a rarely employed comment in context to Balotelli, he’s the injured party not the cause this time.

The sum of €80,000 still conspicuously amounts to less than the Bendtner incident but represents a punishment more in keeping with a monetarily punitive response to racism at Euro 2012. Again the tournament still has legs and UEFA may likely have another opportunity to demonstrate their stance to punishing improper conduct, so we’ll see what happens. At this point, news outlets have covered it to death. The next weeks should clarify how UEFA plans to handle racism policywide, let alone at its own biggest sponsored event. Certainly on the face of it, the situation smacks of an organization that sees racism as a softer crime than unsanctioned marketing and has done a poor job of handling the controversy in a better way. Bendtner is an idiot—a €100,000 fine seems fine to me. He had to know that he was going to get busted. But as for UEFA, hopefully they will set a more appropriate benchmark for meting of fines when the time comes, which doesn’t seem long off, sadly.

Changing gears to a speed more transfer-minded, France’s prolonged participation in the tournament prolongs the viewing of possible future Arsenal players but delays any actual dealmaking with them. As is the nature of the game, every kickass thing one of the target Gallic “possibles” does confirms the suspicions of goodness, if not greatness, but inherently inflates the price, causing a whole new benefit-risk Arsene self-sitdown.

So for expediency’s sake, maybe they could just put in a solid, semi-emphatic performance, but not one that causes the future to turn out outrageously expensive. In other words, validate with entertainment the valuable time spent watching, but ensure the results that best behoove Arsenal. Which then greenlights the general influx of solid players and creates a comfortable signing environment for the talented new-signing folks.

Meanwhile, the Import/Export player development department officials look to pull some entrepreneurial stunts and focus on the other main task at hand. Namely, how best to offload Vela, Bendtner, Chamakh, Park, Denilson, Djourou, Fabianski and Squillaci, while throughout plays the perennial soap opera medical story line of Abou Diaby. Call It a Day, or Long Shot Bet That Broken Sucker’ll Come Crushingly Good—The Diaby/Wenger Story.  Hopefully the book publishes in a market where long titles are in vogue.

But back to actual Euro 2012 reality, the German crew seems to have the best shot at progessing to the semis and beyond. If Podolski and Mertesacker do behold silverware at tournament’s end, may it be the first of many this next twelve months. (The same goes to AOC, Walcott, Rosicky and Koscielny, but let’s be serious here.)

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