Players of the day- Dimitris Salpigidis and Andrei Arshavin

Euro 2012 kicked off with two very entertaining games as co-hosts Poland drew against Greece and Russia destroyed Czech Republic.

The quality in the first game may not have been the greatest but there was certainly enough to suggest that this could be one of the best competitions in recent years. Poland took the lead through their main striker Robert Lewandowski after Kostas Chalkias’ couldn’t reach a superb cross from the right. Poland looked in control and they should have been comfortably in front and the home support must have thought it was game over when Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for two very harsh bookings. But the second half didn’t quite go to plan with Dimitris Salpigidis scoring an equaliser after yet another error but this time from the Poland keeper, Wojciech Szczesny. The game went from bad to worse for the Arsenal goalkeeper as he conceded a penalty and was sent off. Fortunately for him substitute keeper Prezemyslaw Tyton saved the spot kick and kept the Polish on level terms. There was still enough time for a disallowed goal and a good chance for Georgios Samaras but 1-1 it finished.

Man of the match- Dimitris Salpigidis- The Greece substitute changed the game when he came on at halftime and whatever the manager said to him clearly worked. The team in the first half looked old and lacked creativity to break down the Poland defence but Salpigidis came on and added new energy to the side and was rewarded with a simple goal. He then broke the offside trap and got to the ball before Szczesny who took him down and gave away a penalty. Just before the end he thought he had won the game but unfortunately the player that crossed him the ball was offside. He deserves to start the next game and he provides a goal scoring threat which their original starting 11 didn’t.

Salpigidis has now scored eight international goals

Onto the next game and Russia showed why they are one of the teams to watch in this tournament with some fantastic counter attacking football. With goals from Alan Dzagoev, Roman Shirokov and Roman Pavlyuchenko, the Russian team look like they could be an outsider to win the whole trophy. Going forward at times they cut the Czechs open at will and if Aleksandr Kerzhakov had his shooting boots on it could have been an even more convincing score line. Vaclac Pilar managed to grab a goal for Czech Republic and even though they were badly beaten they will take encouragement from the game and will believe they can beat both Greece and Poland.

Man of the match- Andrei Arshavin- The winger was in very good form and he just seems to love the European Championships. He impressed in the 2008 tournament and he looks like he is going to be one of the best players in this tournament too. It makes you wonder why he couldn’t produce this form for Arsenal. His passing was spot on and he was not scared to try an ambitious ball. The captain showed all his talent and his only disappointment will be that he couldn’t get himself on the score sheet.

Arshavin spent the second half of last season on loan at Zenit St Petersburg

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Young guns save Arsene Wenger and Arsenal

When you go 2-0 down at home, you look towards your experienced players to get you back into the game but not at Arsenal, although Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott all played in part in rescuing the game, all the plaudits should go to a young Englishman and a Young Welshman.

Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may have saved Arsene Wenger’s job and kept Arsenal in the FA Cup because they both played brilliantly in the second half to get Arsenal a victory that looked very unlikely at halftime. I have been praising Ramsey all season as one of Arsenal’s best players this season and if it wasn’t for the incredible form of Van Persie he would have easily won the Player of the Year trophy at the club. He plays with football in the right way always wanting the ball to feet and most of the time plays it simple and just gives it to a teammate but he also has the quality to unlock defences with his driving runs and precise through balls. The Welsh captain has so much energy and covers the whole pitch in a game, he is a proper box to box midfielder and although he may not be the best at defending he is always prepared to get back and help out his defence. The goal that got Arsenal back into the game was from the penalty spot which Ramsey won after a clumsy challenge from Villa centre back Richard Dunne who was lucky to stay on the pitch. However, it was fortunate that Dunne flung himself into the tackle because Ramsey had taken a loose touch and the ball was trickling through to the goalkeeper.

On the wing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain impressed me yet again after a good performance against Manchester United. His willingness to take players on and commit defenders shows that he is not scared of taking on the Premier League and maybe Wenger waited too long to put him into the action as Andrei Arshavin has had a horrendous season. In my opinion he has an outside chance of making Fabio Capello’s squad for the Euro 2012 because he would give England some additional pace and seems quite powerful especially for someone quite young. Although the problem is he will have to get past Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Adam Johnson just to have a chance of getting in the squad. In my opinion he actually looks better than Walcott, it would be fantastic to see them in a straight race as they both have exceptional pace but I believe that Oxlade Chamberlain may possess a better final ball and in time will create more chances for teammates and score more goals.

Yes Van Persie needed to stay calm and composed to score the two penalties and Walcott did show some great skill for his goal even though it did just end up deflecting off him but the two young guns deserve more praise as even in the first half they looked the best players on the pitch. Wenger deserves credit too as his team talk must have inspired his troops and maybe even Thierry Henry had a role to play in the dressing room. This is the type of heart and desire Arsenal fans were expecting all season and they have got to hope that the players show this type of commitment for the rest of the season so they can end their long run without a trophy

Super Sunday- The verdict

So it was the Super Sunday Sky Sports billed it as, long gone are the days when viewers had to watch Chelsea and Manchester United battle out a 0-0 draw, we finally have goals to go with the best players in the league, but where to start, should Balotelli have even been on the pitch to score the last minute penalty? Are Spurs genuine title contenders? Is Welbeck the man to lead the England strike force at Euro 2012?

Well, I am going to start with Arsenal and has Arsene Wenger’s time at the Gunners come to an end? He made a strange decision today that actually cost his team which led to half the stadium booing the manager’s decision. He took off arguably the best player on the pitch in Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin who failed to defend against Antonio Valencia properly and he eventually set up the winner for Welbeck. There is no doubt Wenger has been one of Arsenal’s greatest ever managers but the club haven’t won a trophy in years and are finally losing their grip on a top four place and are currently the second best team in North London which must hurt the fans more than anything. He has failed to invest in experienced players and the team looks short of quality with only Robin Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen looking like top players on a consistent basis. Koscielny at the back has improved this season but still looks like he is prone to mistakes and yes Arsenal are struggling with injuries as was shown with Johan Djourou ripped apart by Nani in the first half and then being replaced by an 18 year old in Yennaris, yet Wenger still refuses to spend any money.

If Arsenal fail to finish in the top four then Arsene Wenger should step down if he is not sacked as he has done a fantastic job but the team is going backwards and therefore needs a change or Tottenham will leave them behind.

So onto Spurs, they performed admirably against Manchester City and deserved at least a draw against the team currently at the top of the table, doing this without their main striker this season Emmanuel Adebayor. But, Jermain Defoe played pretty well and has also made it known to Capello that he wants to be in the England squad this summer. He capitalised on a defensive error and rounded Hart with ease and always looked a threat throughout the game. Tottenham are most definitely title challengers because they have players like Gareth Bale who can rip apart any team in the world with his direct running and incredible pace, when the Welshman gets going he is hard to stop. His goal was sublime and no keeper in the world would have saved it and then he showed all of his abilities in the last few minutes to run rings round the City defence and then square the ball for Defoe who agonisingly missed the ball by inches. Seconds later Balotelli won a penalty and scored it but earlier in the game he probably should have been sent off for a stamp however the referee must not have seen it clearly as he stayed on the pitch and ended up winning the game. When they went 2-0 up they must have thought the game was up after David Silva had shown yet again that he is one of the best players in the league by putting Samir Nasri through with an inch perfect through ball that Nasri finished clinically. But champions win games when it’s not looking likely which has now happened twice in a row with the result against Spurs and the 1-0 win against Wigan.

However, do not discount Manchester United just yet, as they pulled off another victory when they weren’t at their best. The first half they were comfortable and looked like the only team in the game but in the second half when Arsenal picked up the game they had to defend stoutly and remain resilient which they did and if it wasn’t for Van Persie’s brilliance then they probably would have kept a clean sheet although that same player missed an absolute sitter after a mistake from Chris Smalling. The difference in the game was the manager’s decision making as Fergie’s changes changed the game positively for the team, firstly bringing on Rafael for the injured Phil Jones which allowed Valencia to be at the back post to put them ahead, then taking off Rafael for Park Ji Sung so Valencia dropped back to right back and set up the all important goal for United.

Welbeck scored the winner and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is starting to look really promising and this can only be a good thing for club and country. He was making a lot of runs behind the defence looking for through balls while Rooney was dropping deep and looking to slide it through for him. Maybe he won’t be top of the list to start at the Euros but he is definitely one for the future but if he keeps performing and scoring big goals he may just find himself in the starting 11.

At the end of the day it is Manchester 2-0 London and with the way things are looking this trend could continue for a while to come. However, it is refreshing to see all four of the top teams like to play attacking football and I think Tottenham under Redknapp will continue to improve and could possibly break Manchester’s dominance at the very top of the league and maybe even win the trophy. But if the England job becomes available will he stay at Spurs or answer the call from the FA? Will Tottenham be as good under a different manager?

Thierry Henry- The return of the Gunners legend

With a weekend of retuning legends, Thierry Henry has overshadowed Paul Scholes and looks every bit as good as when he left all those years ago for Barcelona. He may not have the pace anymore but he knows where the space is and he exploited it magnificently in his second debut against Leeds in the FA cup.

Yes it is against lower opposition but Henry did what Chamakh couldn’t in 68 minutes and that was score against a resolute Leeds defence. The way he moved inside the full back was clever and then he showed the finesse to coolly slot the ball past the advancing keeper as he has done so many times for Arsenal.

He might just give Arsenal the spark they need to challenge for honours once again and Arsene Wenger may be glad he brought him back and even just on this one cameo performance may be regretting ever letting him go in the first place.

His celebration showed everyone he still has the passion and wears the Gunners shirt with pride and the way he hugged his gaffer shows the respect he has for the man that made him the player he is essentially. Henry signed for Arsenal after a poor spell in Italy and the fans were probably struggling to work out why Wenger was so desperate to get him and paid then what seemed to be a lot of money which now seems insignificant after all the goals he scored and there have been some special ones. The one that springs to mind the most is when he flicked the ball up for himself and volleyed it past fellow Frenchman Fabien Barthez in a massive game against title challengers Manchester United. Simply, the audacity to try that in such a big game shows that he doesn’t let pressure get to him and he can turn it on in the big games which many of Arsenal’s big stars have failed to do in recent seasons.

Arsenal fans will be wishing that the loan lasts only two months because he could prove the big difference between them winning trophies and flattering to deceive as they have done so many times. If he had been in the team against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final would the result have been any different?

The frightening thing is if he can produce the goods and strike up a  good partnership with currently the most in form striker in the Premier League Robin Van Persie then Arsenal will once again be a team that everyone fears.

Looking at things that have changed at Arsenal, there is no Fabregas, Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira or Bergkamp so he will have to play alongside the inconsistent Walcott, the promising but young midfielder Aaron Ramsey and the sometimes lazy Andrei Arshavin but what Wenger is hoping for along with goals is that he can mentor these players and teach them things as he did against Leeds, whilst sitting on the bench, Arshavin put a shot over the bar and straightaway Henry leaned into Walcott and gave him some tips on what to do in that situation and the England international seemed to be hanging on his every word.

His teammates may not be as good as they once were but he could still light up the Premier League with a hatful of goals and majestic performances we all know he is capable of. He hasn’t lost his footballing ability. So can he bring the va va voom back to the Premier League