So here we are. After all of the chaos, drama, and potential knockout round permutations, the dust has settled and the World Cup group stages are behind us, with only 16 hopeful teams remaining. Through two weeks, there have been some truly memorable moments (Sweden winning their group! Xhaka and Shaqiri’s goal celebration!), completely shocking surprises (Germany’s entire World Cup performance! Senegal out on fair-play!), and some wildly entertaining matches (Spain v Portugal! Mexico vs pretty much anyone!). Coupled with a healthy dose of VAR, the 2018 World Cup has lived up to its billing so far.
Despite a woeful Premier League season, the World Cup has presented a great opportunity for Arsenal players to shine for their countries and attempt to etch their name into footballing history. While not everyone can send 16 players like Manchester City, Arsenal’s ten players is a healthy and respectable amount.
“Ten players? But I thought there were only nine!” you might be saying to yourself.
You would technically be right. But, with the impending acquisition of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria, we have chosen to include him in this Arsenal player recap because we can.
So, we at the Short Fuse wanted to assess the World Cup of each of Arsenal’s representatives at the 2018 Fifa World Cup, starting with the players who have, unfortunately been eliminated from the tournament. We’ll be taking a look at the ones who are continuing in a separate post.
With scintillating attacker and talisman Mo Salah hobbled with a shoulder injury suffered during the Champions League final, Egypt’s World Cup dreams were practically dead on arrival. The gap between Salah and the rest of the roster is night and day, and it’s impossible to carry a team with one functioning shoulder. Three group stage games all ended in losses and the Pharaohs were sent packing as swiftly as they had arrived, having scored only two total goals all competition, both by Salah. It was an unfortunately short campaign for a country who was playing in their first World Cup in 30 years.
Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny started for Egypt as part of the pivot in their 4-2-3-1 formation. He was heavily leaned on in each of their three group stage games, racking up 244 minutes. He contributed 1 total shot on goal, completed 90% of his passes, but failed to add any assists or meaningful attacking contributions. Elneny was unfortunately on the wrong end of Uruguay’s game winning 89th minute header in the first match and Saudi Arabia’s 95th minute winner in the third match. Although he just signed a new contract with Arsenal, Elneny’s mediocre World Cup performance probably doesn’t help his chances of currying favor with new manager Unai Emery.
Despite all of the fanfare that the Super Eagles’ received for their immensely popular home kits, their World Cup campaign didn’t live up to the hype, suffering two losses in the group stages to Croatia and a flailing Argentina who needed a late winner against Nigeria to make it out of the group. Their sole consolation was a 2-0 victory against Iceland.
Iwobi’s World Cup was frustrating. After starting the first match against Croatia and looking like one of the few attackers willing to take shots on goal, he was subbed in the second half and summarily relegated to stoppage time substitute for the remainder of the tournament, playing for only 64 total minutes for the Super Eagles. It is difficult to understand why his role on the team was so drastically diminished after there was so much fervor about the youth in Nigeria’s roster and Iwobi in particular. At 22, he is about to enter the prime years for an attacker, and a World Cup coming-out party would have done wonders for him going forward, but for reasons unknown, he was not given much of a chance.
Joel Campbell, currently on loan at Real Betis, has become such an afterthought at Arsenal that the club’s official twitter account nearly forgot he was still on the company books. Regardless, he is still technically an Arsenal player (for now), so he deserves at least a few sentences.
Costa Rica, despite playing some entertaining attacking football, unfortunately could not find much success at the World Cup. After two consecutive losses to Serbia and then Brazil, they played their most complete game to close out their 2018 World Cup, drawing their group’s runner up, Switzerland, 2-2. That match was scintillating and showed an intensity that was sorely missed in their earlier matches, but nonetheless gave them a little consolation to end their disappointing group stage.
Campbell needed a strong showing if he wanted any shot of being a part of Arsenal’s plans going forward. Despite not featuring heavily for Costa Rica (113 total minutes played), he managed to provide some attacking influence, assisting one of Costa Rica’s two goals in their final match. Considering the fact that he cannot consistently crack the starting line-up for his country, his odds of making a return to Arsenal are bordering on the implausible side.
What’s that old saying? The bigger they are, the harder they fall? That cliched aphorism couldn’t have rung more true for defending World Cup champions Germany, who laid a big old wet fart of a performance across all three games, getting thoroughly pantsed by Mexico, needing stoppage time heroics to defeat eventual group winner Sweden, and then doing everything but scoring against South Korea in the final match. It was a disastrous performance, and there was plenty of blame to go around on Die Mannschaft for the full-fledged embarrassment. Despite having the most shots on goal over the World Cup, Germany only found the net once. Their poor overall performance meant that they did not progress out of the group stage for the first time in the team’s decorated history.
For some reason, Mesut Özil seems to be a media-favorite as a villain when things don’t go well. We have seen it countless times for Arsenal, and now, with the German national team. After the first match against Mexico, Özil was strung up from the rafters by pundits and former players, despite being far from the only German player who underperformed. Regardless, Özil, a veteran of the German squad, was benched for the second match against Sweden. With a knockout stage berth on the line, Özil was reinstated into the starting lineup against South Korea and had a fairly good game, creating multiple chances for the attacking line. But, once again, the German attack failed to deliver in Russia.
Özil suffered through a terrible Premier League season for Arsenal while being played out wide instead of in the middle, struggled to maintain his fitness, put himself into PR hot water by meeting with Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then bombed out of the World Cup with his national team while shouldering more blame than is deserved, not to mention engaging in a row with a fan following the South Korea match. It is safe to say that his 2018 has not been great. Hopefully, he can become galvanized under new leadership and maintain the level of play we have seen time and time again at Arsenal.
Nacho Monreal & Danny Welbeck
Although it isn’t fair to necessarily lump Nacho and Welbz into the “loser” category since their respective teams are both through to the knockout rounds, neither of them have sniffed the pitch during this World Cup. Although it’s hard to allot playing time to every player on a 23 man roster during the most competitive, the Arsenal fan in me would love to see them both get their moment on the big stage, especially following their performances for the Gunners this past season.