The English National team beat Brazil 2-1 last night and the stars of the team were all made at Arsenal. Sure, Gerrard captained the team, Rooney scored the first, and Lampard scored the second but make no mistake that it was Jack Wilshere who bossed the midfield and Theo Walcott who cracked Brazil’s nut.
Wilshere was so good last night that even the normally dour Stuart Robson was effusive with praise during the broadcast, hailing Jack as a player beyond his years. Nearly every time he touched the ball, Jack looked to create. Time and again he received possession and turned into the jaws of the Brazilian defense, wriggling past midfielders, playing delightful 1-2 passes with Tom Cleverly to open space, and finding the runs of Danny Welbeck on his left or the electric Theo Walcott on his right.
It was exactly that type of run which opened the scoring. Jack took a pass from Rooney (who followed with one of his by now trademarked midfield runs) and with a burst of pace gave himself the inches past his midfield marker to play a perfect splitting pass to Theo Walcott. The Arsenal striker was just behind the ball enough that he couldn’t lift it so he struck low and hard at Cesar. The Brazilian keeper deflected the shot but it caromed to Wayne Rooney at the top of the box and the United man simply placed it into the net. As usual, I suppose, Arsenal created and United finished.
It’s going to be seen by some as over-hyping the young England star but that’s just the way the world works these days: any time someone has a bad performance, there will be vociferous apologists and any time someone has a good performance the very same folks will loudly denounce the reporter as hyping the player. The fact is that Jack Wilshere was the standout player in a game which featured a collection of the most expensive players in world football — Oscar, Ronaldinho, Ramires, Luiz, Cesar, and of course the much ballyhooed Neymar, a player who is so highly rated that Manchester City have offered his club a blank check. It’s not hype if Jack was objectively better, and he was.
The forgotten man for much of the game was Theo Walcott. The Arsenal striker tortured his marker all night long and despite some unlucky moments and the fact that he didn’t get on the scoresheet, it was his movement and dribbling which opened Brazil for both goals. The first goal is already documented above but after Brazil leveled through a defensive error by Gary Cahill, the Three Lions looked to Theo time and again to bail the team out. Walcott’s personal battle with Adriano must have been humiliating for the Barcelona man as he was turned inside out like double-knit reversible slacks time and again.
Dribbling is something that Theo has clearly been working on and his touch with the ball at pace has greatly improved, but he hardly needed crafty dribbling as he could simply beat Adriano with pace. That’s exactly what he did for England’s second. Dipping his shoulder to the left, Theo flicked the ball to his right and easily ran past Adriano into space. His cross could have been better at that point but it was a well struck low ball into a dangerous area and Brazil failed to clear. The resulting pinball ended at Frank Lampard’s feet and the big Chelsea man just smashed it past everyone to put England in the lead for good.
From that point on you would expect England to sit back and invite waves of pressure from a classy Brazil side but that game plan was never in Hodgson’s book. England still looked to dominate the midfield and did well winning possession and keeping the ball despite the constant pressing from Brazil. In the end they did just enough and with two excellent penalty saves from Joe Hart, became the first England side to beat the Brazilians in 50 years. Redemption for Hodgson’s game plan if ever there was any.
After the game, Jack spoke well of the balance of youth and experience in the England side, a policy which is currently being mimicked at Arsenal. Arsenal play with Arteta in the deep role behind Jack and the Spaniard is far from the midfield destroyer that many call for, but neither is Steven Gerrard who played the holding role for England last night. Rather than Cattermole style tackling, what they both bring, instead, is exceptional positioning, patience, and the ability to spread play from deep. A quality that Andrea Pirlo brings to the Italian side. In many ways that’s what modern football is all about and it’s fantastic to see Roy Hodgson developing an England team that does more than hoof the ball to a big center forward.
Gunners should also be proud of the fact that Ashley Cole got his 100th England cap. He would be an England star regardless of the team he played for and while I know that he is considered a traitor to the cause that shouldn’t stop folks from celebrating him as one of Arsenal’s most capped academy graduates. Arsenal made Ashley Cole from his academy days to the finishing school of the Invincibles. That he left Arsenal for a few more silver coins down in Fulham does not tarnish that Arsenal legacy.
Arsenal supporters have a hate-hate relationship with international’s and especially with injuries caused by midweek international friendlies. This week is no exception in that regard as word filters back that Laurent Koscielny might have aggravated a pre-existing calf injury while playing for France. But the fact that Arsenal have so many players who play in these internationals is down to the fact that the club have so many talented players. And while I agree that perhaps there should be an international “season” sometime in the early Summer, rather than spread out throughout the year, I see a performance like the one Jack Wilshere put in yesterday and think that it has to lift Arsenal for the the rest of the season. After all, if Jack Wilshere can lift the English national team against Brazil, imagine what he could do against Sunderland on Saturday.