The Ox: One of Arsenal's bright stars during the international break
From an Arsenal perspective, the first phase of qualifiers are over but there are other sets of fixtures coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the pick of the bunch being the feisty encounter between France and Spain.
While Mathieu Valbuena’s scintillating performance against Georgia was capped with goals from Arsenal’s own Olivier Giroud, Valbuena himself and Franck Ribery propelled France to pole position in their group, and a late Teemu Pukki goal helped Finland to a shock 1-1 draw with Spain.
Santi Cazorla played a part in that fixture but Nacho Monreal had to make do with a place on the bench all game long.
Elsewhere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the star of the show when England ran riot past minnows San Marino and Aaron Ramsey fired in a penalty for Wales in their 2-1 defeat to Scotland, but was sent off for a second bookable offence.
In the Czech Republic’s uninspiring 3-0 slump to Denmark, Tomas Rosicky played for 30 minutes but it was also noteworthy to know that the World’s Best Striker, Nicklas Bendtner, was nowhere to be found as he has been banned from the national team for six months, after his infamous drunk-driving incident.
The much-talked-about Andreas Cornelius opened the scoring before goals from Simon Kjaer and Niki Zimling completed the rout. Czech Republic's star player and shot-stopper, Petr Cech, still had to make some stunning saves to keep the scoreline respectable.
Arsenal skipper Thomas Vermaelen played for 90 minutes as the red-hot Belgium eased past FYR Macedonia. Looking at this Belgium lineup, I can only think and imagine what the heights they could reach in the 2014 World Cup finals should they qualify from their group.
While Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard would take the credit for scoring the goals that put Macedonia to the sword, the likes of Daniel van Buyten, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Christian Benteke all did their bits as well.
The aforementioned names are shining stars in their respective clubs.
Meanwhile in Poland, Wojceich Szczesny was in the bench yet again as Poland succumbed to a crushing 3-1 defeat at home to their fellow co-hosts of Euro 2012, Ukraine. Southampton’s Artur Boruc was the custodian between the sticks but goals from Oleg Husyev, Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Zozulya canceled out Lukasz Piszczek’s effort.umped
While we wait for the final sets of fixtures to come up this week, Arsenal fans will be gnashing their teeth to know that they’ll be without Theo Walcott for the vital games against Reading, West Brom and probably till the summer (I hope not), as the Englishman has suffered a groin injury (via Arsenal.com).
Walcott has been on a hot streak this season with 18 goals to his name thus far but he has taken his foot off the pedal in recent times, and he’s currently in what could be classified as a goal drought, as his last strike came in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool in late January.
To be honest, I’m not all gloomy about Walcott’s injury because he has somewhat underperformed after sealing that fat contract. Prior to signing the deal, Arsene Wenger played to his tunes as he was at the end of every set piece as well as getting a run-out through the middle in Giroud’s expense.
He still remains a potent force for Arsenal but he could do with some rest right about now but it’s unfortunate to know that the “rest” will be enforced by injury.
With Walcott out of the equation, this will give Wenger a chance to create some competition for the right wing slot with the possible contenders being Oxlade-Chamberlain and the much-maligned Gervinho.
Both players have featured sparingly for the Gunners throughout the season and have failed to light any fireworks thus far, but many will be hoping that the Ox standout performance for England will give him some much-needed confidence boost.
Gervinho is another player in dire need of a confidence boost and many Arsenal fans can only hope that his well-taken goal against Swansea will be the catalyst for better performances as the season progresses.
Still on injuries, Goal.com reports that Lukas Podolski might go under the knife to fix a niggling ankle problem at the end of the season. He played for 17 minutes in Germany’s 3-0 win over Kazakhstan and he will be hoping to get some Premier League action against Reading next week.
Abou Diaby, a player renowned for his fragile nature, took out time to talk to Arsenal Player about his health. Diaby was proud to announce that he manages his body better (via Arsenal.com), and he was very pleased with the amount of starts he has gotten this season.
Diaby amassed a meager 17 starts over the course of the last two seasons, but the lanky Frenchman has started 14 games this campaign.
For a player with much talent at his disposal, it’s really sad to know that countless niggling injuries have robbed Arsenal off his services for the best part of his fledgling career.
In the run-in for that coveted Champions League place, Arsenal will need all the men it can get and Abou Diaby is one player that would get a run-out in Arsenal’s surge for a fourth-place finish.
Arsenal fans will be hopeful that they won’t lose another player to these international fixtures.