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Will Arsenal man get England number nine role for Ireland test?




There might not be a tournament awaiting England’s senior men’s team this June, but it will be an active month for Roy Hodgson and his squad, with an intriguing friendly against the Republic of Ireland preceding a potentially thorny qualifier in Slovenia a week later. The current squad includes three players who could win their first caps, namely goalkeeper Tom Heaton and strikers Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin. Hodgson has not been afraid to give in-form players their opportunity for England during his three years in charge, meaning that the Burnley, Leicester and QPR men can all feel reasonably confident of seeing action over the coming days, particularly in the Ireland friendly.

Walcott in a striker’s role?

One other interesting possibility of experimentation in Dublin is the positioning of a more established international, namely Theo Walcott. The 26-year-old Arsenal attacker was notably given a shot at centre-forward for last week’s FA Cup final ahead of more conventional target man Olivier Giroud and he was to repay Arsene Wenger’s faith, scoring the first of four Gunners goals at a crucial juncture at Wembley on a day when Walcott impressed. He comes into the Ireland and Slovenia games on the back of a good run which has also seen him plunder a well-taken equaliser at Old Trafford, raising the likelihood of him being tried in a number nine role alongside Wayne Rooney in a Three Lions shirt.

Walcott’s chances of playing up top rather than out wide for England have been boosted greatly, in an ironic twist, by a recent injury to club-mate Danny Welbeck, who in full fitness would have been a near-certainty to partner Rooney. Of course, Hodgson might also take a punt on Vardy or Austin from the start at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but Walcott’s recent displays, especially the one against Aston Villa, might encourage the manager to go with the Arsenal man. Certainly, if such an experiment was to be sampled, it would more likely happen in friendly action in Dublin than the competitive environs of Ljubljana, although it would be a surprise if at least one of the uncapped strikers does not get a debut at some stage over the coming fortnight.

Elsewhere, Heaton might have to settle for a second half runout given the magnificent form of Joe Hart, with Rob Green also on a firm footing despite QPR’s relegation. Gary Cahill and Nathaniel Clyne seem certain to start in defence, with the possibility of Ryan Bertrand also featuring from the first whistle after a fine season with Southampton. The identity of Cahill’s central defensive partner would most likely be Phil Jagielka, but don’t be surprised if either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling is preferred.

Hodgson has a diversity of midfield options from which to pick, with Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling looking the most likely to play from the start against Ireland, although the latter’s iffy form and unwelcome attitude towards his current employers might count against him. Their club-mates Adam Lallana and now James Milner should also be, at the very least, in strong contention to start, but the return to fitness of Jack Wilshere might see him being given the nod. After that, you still have Ross Barkley, Fabian Delph, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason all pushing for a place in the team. The depth of midfield options could also add weight to the ‘Walcott up top’ theory.

Ireland’s probable starters

What of England’s opponents on Sunday? While Hodgson’s men already looked destined for next year’s European Championships and could easily deal with dropped points in Slovenia, Ireland face a critical two weeks, starting with this weekend’s friendly. The historical significance of this fixture has given this match a dynamic which usually isn’t present for non-competitive Ireland games, while it will be a very useful preparation for the main business of the European qualifier with Scotland a week later. Martin O’Neill’s side are embroiled in a fierce battle for a top three finish in Group D, with the Scots also involved in that tussle, and after dropping points to Scotland and Poland in their most recent qualifiers, the Irish know that nothing less than a win will do against Gordon Strachan’s charges.

In their last outing against the Poles in March, veteran goalkeeper Shay Given was recalled to the team, having retired from international football after Euro 2012, and despite Aston Villa’s FA Cup final mauling, he enhanced his reputation at Wembley last week and surely ought to start this Sunday. Ireland’s back four will likely consist of Everton’s Seamus Coleman, Sunderland captain John O’Shea, Richard Keogh and Stoke’s Marc Wilson. Ipswich man Alex Pearce could also be in contention to start alongside O’Shea at centre-back. Ireland’s midfield, like that of England, is less clear-cut. Aiden McGeady and James McClean have been the first-choice wingers, but with neither performing well of late, O’Neill could lean towards the more in-form David Meyler and Robbie Brady. Although they both suffered relegation with Hull, they were among the Tigers’ best performers in their unsuccessful bid to beat the drop. Jonathan Walters is another man in contention for the wide positions after a fairly solid year with Stoke. James McCarthy of Everton and Stoke’s Glenn Whelan will probably be the two in central midfield, although the door could be open for Bournemouth’s Harry Arter to make his debut.

Wes Hoolahan, who impressed for Norwich as they returned to the Premier League via the play-offs, should be given the nod to start in a ‘number 10’ role behind the lone striker, which I suspect will be Shane Long, scorer of a sublime goal past international team-mate Given in club action three weeks ago. Robbie Keane’s outstanding goal ratio in an Ireland shirt could see him being preferred by O’Neill, but if the ex-Sunderland boss picks his team on form, Long will be on from the start.

Jack Grealish

Speaking of players in form, one man who was widely touted to make his international bow in this fixture is Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish, but he was overlooked by O’Neill and could still commit his future to either of the two nations in action at the Aviva Stadium. The teenager’s stock took a hit, though, following the FA Cup final, where he looked a pale shadow of the hugely promising midfielder who had stood out in Villa’s strong finish to the season. Grealish has been resident in Birmingham since birth, but his Irish ancestry makes him eligible for the Boys in Green, and he was widely expected to be included in the Ireland squad for this month’s fixtures. The 19-year-old is understood to be undecided on the nation of his allegiance and it is rather understandable if he did not wish to commit to one country or the other for Sunday’s match. The matter will certainly do the rounds in Irish media again, though, for O’Neill’s next squad when it is named in August.

Plenty of history

This will be the second meeting between England and Ireland in just over two years, with the teams’ most recent clash ending in a 1-1 draw at Wembley in May 2013. Shane Long had given the visitors an early lead before Frank Lampard equalised midway through the first half. That had been the first meeting between the countries in 18 years, when a friendly at the old Lansdowne Road venue entered the history books for all the wrong reasons. David Kelly’s 21st-minute goal had put Ireland in front, but just six minutes later the match was abandoned after spectators among England’s travelling support ripped up seats and wreaked general havoc. Sunday’s meeting will be the first time the English men’s senior team has played in Ireland since that horrendous night in February 1995.

If England emerge victorious at the Aviva Stadium, it will be their first win over Ireland in 30 years. The Irish famously beat England in their first ever match at a major tournament, the Euro 1988 meeting in Stuttgart, while the English also provided the opposition for Ireland’s World Cup debut two years later in a 1-1 draw in Cagliari. That was also the final score in both matches between the teams in qualification for Euro 1992, a tournament which England reached but Ireland narrowly missed.


The FIFA world rankings, and the probable starting line-ups, would make England favourites for the match in Dublin, but Ireland require no extra motivation to get one over on their neighbours and a win would provide a huge spur in confidence ahead of the vital qualifier against Scotland six days later. Hopefully the action on the field will provide the main talking point when Sunday’s match comes to a conclusion – the vastly improved relations between the countries since the mid-1990s should make that all the more likely. This Irish writer will no doubt love to see a home win, but with my objective hat on, I’m predicting yet another 1-1 draw between two teams that are probably more closely matched than many would expect.


27-year-old Liverpool supporter from Ireland with a keen interest in Irish, English and European football. Been writing about football in either a personal or professional capacity since I was 12.


Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive

Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.



Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.

But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.

Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.

Tottenham Hotspur’s English midfielder Dele Alli (2L) is booked for a dive during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.

Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.

But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.

After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:

“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.

“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”


“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”

With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.

When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.

Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.

But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.

Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…

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AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex

Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.

The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.

Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.

Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.

For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?

It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.

He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.

The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.

Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.

Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.

After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.

Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.

Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.

Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Brighton take a massive step towards safety 

The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.

This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.

Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.

Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.

Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.

In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.

Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal 

Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.

And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.

In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.

A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.

Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.

Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.

Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.

Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.

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