Every domestic football fan likes to follow their team at major international championships. Arsenal supporters are no different, but this summer’s tournament has not exactly inspired Gunners followers across the continent.
There have been obvious exceptions and those who retain an admiration for Granit Xhaka have been able to watch as his Switzerland side caused the biggest upset of the competition. Elsewhere, the standout Arsenal representative has been Buyako Saka who has helped to drive his England side even further into the tournament.
Arsenal fans have been aware of Saka’s potential for some time and now the wider footballing world is starting to take notice. If football fans outside of the Emirates hadn’t heard of the teenager prior to this summer, they’re in no doubt as to his qualities right now.
In fact, while Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane may have dominated the media reports following their goal scoring heroics, Buyako Saka is creating just as much of a buzz. As Betsson’s social tracker shows, he’s one of the most talked about players in the England squad and at the tournament as a whole.
The winger wasn’t always a first choice for Gareth Southgate who managed his workload through the tournament. A knock also kept the player on the sidelines, but Saka was vital to the team at times and he produced the key moment in the semi-final against Denmark. Picking up the ball on the right from a pinpoint pass by Harry Kane, Saka’s cross was diverted into his own net by the Danish captain Simon Kjaer.
It’s very early days in the player’s career and many eyebrows were raised when Southgate put so much trust in a teenager. However, it’s fair to say that the faith has been fully justified and that this has been a breakthrough tournament for Buyako Saka.
Swiss Miss Out
The Switzerland national team has been climbing the FIFA rankings for some time now and they produced one of the biggest shocks at recent major tournaments. Prior to that surprise win over France, things had started in a more subdued fashion for the Swiss who qualified in third place in Group A behind Wales and Italy.
A 3-1 win over bottom side Turkey saw Switzerland progress before that dramatic penalty shootout victory over reigning world champions France. Penalties were, eventually, the side’s undoing as they went out to Spain in the quarter finals.
Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka played a significant part in Switzerland’s campaign, appearing in four matches and providing one assist along the way. A combative midfielder, it wouldn’t surprise Gunners supporters to learn that Xhaka also picked up two yellow cards.
Much was expected of Kieran Tierney as he joined up with a Scottish squad that was playing in its first major tournament of the millennium. Unfortunately for the defender, he was ruled out of the Scots’ first game against the Czech Republic with a calf strain.
Tierney was cleared to play in the follow up versus England and he played a full part in Scotland’s high point of the competition. Resolute defence saw the Scots frustrate the old enemy as they claimed a 0-0 draw to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Kieran Tierney also played the full 90 minutes in the final match of Scotland’s group campaign. Unfortunately, the 24 year old could do little as his team went down 3-1 to Croatia. Scotland finished at the bottom of the Group D and, as such, Tierney was the only Arsenal player not to progress to the knockout stage.
His statistics were also subdued and may have reflected those early injury concerns. In two matches the defender made just one tackle, committed one foul and completed seven clearances. The hope for Scotland is that they can build on their return to major competition and that Kieran Tierney will be among those who have more of an impact next time.
Arsenal’s fourth representative watched on from the sidelines as his Germany team progressed through the group stages. Bernd Leno kept the bench warm throughout as his side was ultimately dispatched in the first knockout round by Buyako Saka’s England.
This wasn’t a huge surprise: Leno was purely taken as reserve to Manuel Neuer who has been Germany’s first choice keeper for some time now. With Neuer reaching his mid-30s, perhaps there will be a chance for 29 year old Leno to keep Gunners’ fans entertained.
Four representatives from a Premier League squad is a poor return when compared to other sides in the top half of the table. Things could be very different at the 2022 World Cup which, of course, will expand to cover the globe rather than one single continent.
Arsenal have three Brazilians in their current squad plus representatives from Africa and beyond. Some of the young Gunners could also progress and emulate their teammate Buyako Saka.
Emile Smith Rowe is tipped for a future at international level but the club will need to fight off reported transfer approaches in the summer window. Elsewhere, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson are players who have represented England at Under 21 level and could press on to earn full caps.
The future is brighter than the numbers currently suggest but it’s been an interesting summer with a few highlights for Arsenal fans.