Daniel Taylor On… Arsenal as City’s feeder club, Pirlo and the top 4

The day after England crashed out of Euro 2012, Daniel Taylor, chief football writer at The Guardian, wrote about England’s inability to keep possession and how this would cost them in the long term. It wasn’t the first time this problem was mentioned though, with an article making exactly the same point following England’s draw with France.

“I don’t regard statistics, especially possession statistics, as being particularly important,” Hodgson said after the game, which was fairly alarming. Whilst too much emphasis can be put on statistics at times, particularly when they are manipulated to prove a particular point, surely it has to be regarded as important to look at how often a player on your team can find another member of his team when picking out a pass.

Still, England are never going to be Spain, so can reaching the quarter finals, after losing to eventual finalist Italy on penalties, be considered an achievement? Taylor shares his thoughts on the matter.

“It’s a strange one as everything has to be set against the backdrop that Roy Hodgson was given so little time,” he said. “In the circumstances, to finish top of the group is an achievement in itself, though it was also a pretty poor group so let’s not go overboard about it either. France were nothing like the renascent team that had been anticipated, Sweden were hugely over-hyped and Ukraine ordinary in the extreme. Expectations were so low everyone seemed pathetically happy with the 1-1 draw with France when, really, it was obvious that unless they started taking better care of the ball, with Ashley Young completing seven passes all night; Oxlade-Chamberlain, eleven, they would get nowhere, and so it proved.”

Much was made of the importance of Wayne Rooney ahead of the tournament, with Hodgson likening him to Pele, but a winning goal against the Ukraine and scoring his penalty in the quarter-finals wasn’t enough for most fans. It was Rooney’s friend and fellow scouser, Steven Gerrard, that made it in to the official team of the tournament, which is an assessment Taylor agrees with.

“Steven Gerrard had a very good tournament and, seeing him close-up, I was really impressed with how he took to the captaincy,” he said. “Little things off the pitch, as well as his performances on it. He just seemed made for the role and you could tell the other players looked up to him too.”

Italy’s victory over Germany certainly made England look better for only being beaten on penalties and it is the Italians who most impressed Taylor.

“I hadn’t really given them a huge deal of hope beforehand when thinking about possible finalists,” he said. “Italian football seems to lurch from one mess to another right now, but they played some great stuff and the 0-0 with England. That was one of the biggest 0-0 thrashings I ever saw. Andrea Pirlo versus Joe Hart was the moment of the tournament for me. What a player Pirlo is to do something like that at that point of the match.”

With the Euros over and the season just a few weeks away, thoughts can now turn to next season. Manchester City and Manchester United were level on points last season, with 3rd placed Arsenal nineteen points behind and 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur trailing by twenty points. Taylor reckons a similar pattern will emerge this season but with Spurs’ decision to replace Harry Redknapp with Andre Villas-Boas costing them a top four finish.

“Difficult question at the moment before the transfer business is all done, but probably City to pip United again, with Chelsea and Arsenal in the other places but quite a long way further behind,” he said. “I’m not convinced by AVB’s appointment at Spurs and though I think Liverpool will improve with Brendan Rodgers rather than Kenny Dalglish in charge I’m not sure they will be challenging for top four.”

The biggest transfer story of the summer so far has been Robin van Persie’s announcement that he won’t be signing another contract. With just one year left on his current deal, it puts the pressure on Arsenal to sell him, despite their claims that they want him to remain committed.

“Arsenal are very keen to get away from this ‘feeder-club’ business with Manchester City but, equally, what’s the point of accepting a lower money offer from another club?” he said. “I’ve seen Manchester United linked but if it’s a question of finance, City are miles ahead. It would also be against the usual policy at Old Trafford, which is not to spend large money on players aged 27 or above. So I think it’s very likely to be City unless one of the big Spanish clubs comes in. Speaking selfishly, I hope it’s City as I wrote that they wanted him last September and, naturally, suffered the Twitter consequences from Arsenal’s supporters…”