Blimey, how about that for a couple of quarter finals yesterday, eh? Clearly both Brazil and Croatia, as well as Argentina and The Netherlands, were watching the Dubai Super Cup the other day and thought “do you know what? We fancy a go at that ‘penalties after the match’ kinda vibe”. What a pull our great club has, eh?
Jokes aside, that was a couple of intriguing – if not really spectacular – matches by the end of each one. Brazil dominated but never really smashed apart Croatia, then extra time lit up the joint, followed by the Argies who threatened to make it a pretty boring game until the Netherlands got those late goals to take it to extra time. Wout Weghorst, we hardly know ye, say the Burnley fans.
That sets up what will be a…how do I put this….durable semi final between the Argentinians who have had splashes of being good but by-and-large have been pretty average for big chunks, up against the Croatians who I feel like have just kind of snuck their way through the competition. Never really lighting things up, but all of a sudden those experienced heads in that team find themselves battling it out for a final spot on Tuesday next week. It should be another fascinating game when those two teams line up.
The super duper news from our perspective is that Gabriel Martinelli comes home. He will probably be given a few days off to get over the massive disappointment, but if I think about it from an Arsenal perspective, this is hopefully the best news of the weekend. Sorry to any Brazilians that might be reading this, but from an Arsenal fan perspective, it really is. I know that for Brazilians these competitions mean more than anything, that it is so deeply ingrained within their national psyche that when they go out it may even take them longer than usual. They expect to win it and when they don’t it is a devastating blow. Martinelli will be feeling that as a member of that squad. But my hope is that because he didn’t get on the pitch, because he didn’t take any of the penalties, because his minutes were limited, so too is the damage and pain in comparison to the likes of Neymar, Casmeiro, et al.
I’m not trying to say his overall pain will be less, because he will of course be massively down and I sympathise with Gabby, but when you’re even a little bit removed from stuff, it becomes a little easier to get over it, I find. When I don’t watch an Arsenal match because I’m doing other things, I find out the result or I follow through live text updates, yet when the whistle goes I’m angry, but I seem to get over a defeat quicker than when I’ve watched the game. My hope is that Martinelli has some of this general rule of distance – albeit very short because he was on the subs bench – that will help him get better and quicker. That’s because now we need him to get his game face on and get him back in to the surroundings at London Colney for some training. Give him a week to recover, then get him in the stadium next weekend to be with his Arsenal mates for the Juventus friendly. Then, a week later, he gets in to the team to play against West Ham and my hope is that he takes the Granit Xhaka school of thinking and says “I’m upset, I’m sad, but I’m a professional footballer and I have something special going on at my domestic club, so that’s what I’m going to focus on”. That’s my hope, anyway.
His lack of game time in the World Cup might also help him because he knows he’s a starter at Arsenal. If there’s one thing we all know about Martinelli, it’s that he has a hunger and drive about him that we all hope will put fire in his belly now to do it for us. There will be some players – like Tomiyasu or White – where Arteta is going to have to man manage them quite closely, but I personally feel like whilst Arteta will need to show him the love and give him time, will also be saying to him “you ok to go on Boxing Day?”, to the response of “yes boss, put me in, I need this”.
It does serve to highlight how difficult managing this whole situation is though, because I bet Arteta was trying to work out how to cope without Martinelli for at least that first game, because he probably thought – like we all did – that Brazil were going to at least the semi final. And when that happens they are basically there until the end. Now his involvement for Arsenal very much comes in to play, but he still has to manage the situation so that he has both sympathy for how he’s feeling, but firmness about making sure he’s ready to get back on that saddle.
Today see’s the other side of the draw, in which I suspect Morocco’s time will come to an end. They have done phenomenally well to get to where they are, but let’s not pretend that their defensive approach is going to get them all the way to the final, will it? I know they have done really well and their win against Spain was a turn up for the books, but that is something that could always happen with the Spanish; a million passes but no end product. We’ve seen it with the Spanish for years and they’ve had that ability to be either superb or a little boring and toothless. Portugal aren’t the same style and they will have a little more cutting edge, so I expect the midweek match in the semi final to be Portugal versus the winner of England v France. And the French have the ace card in Mbappe, so I suspect it might be them. But you never know. Maybe England can surprise a few people. It does feel a little weird that England won their group at a canter, then seem to have been given one of the hardest routes to get to the final. But you have to beat big teams if you want to win the biggest prize, I guess.
Whatever happens this evening, we’re getting one of Saka/Ramsdale or William Saliba, back early, so that’s the up side. From a personal point of view that is a ‘win-win’ for me. I want England to go all the way, of course, but if they are knocked out I will take comfort in the return of Saka a week earlier and with us having cover at centre half in the shape of White or Tomiyasu, it means that if Saliba needs an extra week to recover then perhaps we can afford him that. So like I say, for me, it is a ‘win-win’.
That’s me done for today. Off to do a mountain of chores and Christmas shopping. Catch you all tomorrow morning.
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