Netherlands' disappointingly feeble exit from Poland and Ukraine seems to have strengthened the Gunners captain's resolve to look elsewhere in his quest for glory
By George Ankers
As Netherlands limped out of Euro 2012 without a single point, Arsenal fans would have been cursing it just as vigorously as any Dutchman.
They might have been in the ‘Group of Death’ but Bert van Marwijk’s men were a strong tip for many and the hope for the Gunners might have been that an Oranje triumph would provide a satisfying hit for their glory-starved captain, Robin van Persie.
Instead, Van Persie was one of many to severely underperform – one very nice goal against Germany the starkly incisive exception to a clumsy rule – as Netherlands imploded once again.
It sees the Gunners' talisman return to the Emirates Stadium desperate to win something – anything – while he is at his peak, and that he has now resolved to move elsewhere rather than chase third place once again is no huge shock.
Likely to replace, rather than complement, Van Persie for Arsenal are their two summer imports, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Neither will look back on their international campaign with pride, though for different reasons.
Podolski, confirmed as a Gunner well before the tournament, should be a shrewd acquisition but was a notable struggler in a Germany side who never quite hit top gear. The 27-year-old passed the 100-cap milestone in Poland and Ukraine but added only one goal and no assists to his record in a series of muted showings, with boss Joachim Low roundly criticised for starting him in the semi-final defeat to Italy ahead of the altogether more threatening Marco Reus.
His new colleague, Giroud, should arrive in London raring to go after being used far too sparingly by the (now-former) France coach, Laurent Blanc. With Karim Benzema awkwardly deployed as a false nine too frequently through the tournament, Les Bleus were frustratingly toothless against the likes of England, and last season’s Ligue 1 top scorer was only ever called upon too late in the game to come on and make a difference as the orthodox striker for whom they were crying out.
Van Persie’s itch for silverware may be to Giroud’s profit as the chances of him beginning the season on the bench diminish and, likely to play a more central role than the left-leaning Podolski, the Frenchman will be relied upon to turn his confidence into a big start if the captain is indeed sold.
One Gunner who should have emerged from Euro 2012 with greater belief is Theo Walcott. After a standout season for his club it was pleasing to see the forward bring his form to the international stage, with his game-changing substitute appearance in England’s 3-2 win over Sweden a significant achievement for the former Southampton man.
Though reports suggest that Van Persie’s decision not to renew his contract may have upset Walcott, the proof that he is not just a one-match wonder internationally means that Arsenal will be desperate for him to stay and provide the killer pace in a new-look front three with Podolski and Giroud.
Fellow Englishman Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, beat Walcott to a starting place against France and, though offering no particular sparkle, continued to demonstrate his remarkable composure for a mere 18-year-old.
Having looked not the slightest bit overawed by his first major tournament, there is no question that the youngster is ready to play a big part in the Arsenal squad in 2012-13.
The man whom he may be looking to replace long-term, Tomas Rosicky, returns to his club after a strange tournament. Decent despite his side’s opening collapse against Russia and very good before being cautiously withdrawn at half-time in the win over Greece, the Czech Republic captain then saw his team progress unexpectedly to the quarter-finals without him as an Achilles injury kept him out of their last two games.
With Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar appearing to usurp his importance in the Czech midfield, Rosicky has admitted that he is considering international retirement as the 31-year-old enters the final phase of his career. His renaissance in the second half of last season was a big factor in Arsenal’s recovery to third but injuries continue to be a recurring problem and this could be this final year on the front lines in north London.
Wojciech Szczesny also went into Euro 2012 on the back of a strong club season but had lost his place between the sticks for Poland within only 70 minutes of the tournament’s kick-off. Having first allowed Greece to equalise thanks to an awful miscalculation, Szczesny then conceded a penalty and a red card for rushing out to foul Dimitris Salpingidis.
The match served as a reminder that, though undoubtedly an advance on predecessor Manuel Almunia, the 22-year-old is still not the finished article. He is never too far away from an error but another full season as Arsenal’s No.1 should see him continue to develop.
In front of Szczesny, centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker had little impact on the tournament, with only the former playing a single game, in which he coped capably enough despite France’s exit to Spain.
For Arsenal, though, the fallout is all about the forwards. Walcott made his case for a super-sub role for England but did too well this summer and last season to be less than a starter, as should be the two new recruits. The big shame, though, is for Van Persie – if his appetite for success had been fed in Kiev, then it might have been a different story.
As it is, though, the best player’s departure looks set to be the story of the summer once again at the Emirates Stadium.