Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs made an impressive debut for the England Under-21s, scoring two goals in a 7-0 rout of Azerbaijan in a friendly match at Milton Keynes on Monday night.
Starting the match in his customary left back role, Gibbs assisted on England’s third goal of the night just after the half hour, providing a pinpoint long pass for Craig Gardner who slotted past the Azerbaijan keeper. The Arsenal defender then moved into a central midfield role after the interval, where he scored goals five and six of the night after receiving crosses in the box.
Gibbs’ stunning debut came in a match when a number of regulars were rested by coach Stuart Pearce, in preparation for the U-21 European Championships, beginning next week in Sweden.
Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, who is also included on the U-21 team for the European Championships, started for England’s senior team in its World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan on Saturday. He played only the first half of the match in which England overcame a slow start to win 4-0 on the road, maintaining its perfect record in group play and moving closer to qualification for South Africa in 2010.
Other Gunners featuring for their national teams in World Cup qualifying action on the weekend included Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, who both played 90 minutes in Ivory Coast’s 2-1 win at Guinea. Bacary Sagna also went the full game for France in its home win over Turkey, a match that saw Abou Diaby remain on the bench as an unused sub.
Emmanuel Adebayor saw all 90 minutes of action for Togo, who were reduced to ten men and lost 3-0 at Gabon. Nicklas Bendtner played as a forward for Denmark in a 1-0 win on the road at Sweden, keeping the Danes atop their group. Aaron Ramsey also featured in a 1-0 win, as Wales defeated Azerbaijan.
Robin van Persie played well in the Netherlands’ 2-1 win over Iceland in Reykjavik, hitting the post once for the Dutch in a road victory that sealed qualification for the World Cup. After winning six straight group matches and now sitting 11 points ahead of their closest rivals in Group 9, the Netherlands become the first European country to qualify for soccer’s showpiece event, over a year before the World Cup begins in South Africa next summer.
Questioned for comments after the win that sealed qualification, Van Persie was also quoted by the Dutch press in relation to the potential transfer deal between Arsenal and Ajax for Thomas Vermaelan, a defender for the Amsterdam club.
De Telegraaf, the nation’s largest daily paper, reports that van Persie has approved of Arsenal’s pursuit of Vermaelen, the Belgium international understood to be closing in on a move to the Emirates.
“It’s a good thing,” Van Persie told De Telegraaf. “There’s nothing wrong with the qualities of Vermaelen. He can play as left-back and central defender and we need this type of player.
“The guys that we now have on those positions are already somewhat older,” added van Persie. “Our head scout [Steve Rowley] doesn’t do such a thing out of the blue. He needs to see a player 30 to 40 times before a decision is made.”
Other reports from publications in Holland and England have suggested that Arsenal have already agreed a fee in the range of £10 to £12 million with Ajax, and that only personal terms stand in the way of Vermaelen joining Arsene Wenger’s ranks.
The online edition of Britain’s The Daily Mail included a Tuesday story that Ajax coach and former Tottenham manager Martin Jol is furious that the club is selling off the 23-year-old Vermaelen, whom he hoped to build the club’s defense around, claimed a Mail source.
Vermaelen himself has even been quoted as being keen on such a move, with The Guardian reporting the young defender as saying: “Moving to Arsenal is the right path for me. It is a great sporting challenge and I will also be financially better off. I think everything is going to be OK. In the coming days, there will be more talks.”
As usual, the reports are coming from everywhere except the clubs involved. We haven’t seen anything close to a Vermaelen signing or transfer deal coming from Arsenal or the club’s official web site.
Yet with so much being reported in the general media surrounding this story, might the deal be closer than we think? Or is it just one of the many transfer rumours that will prove untrue among this summer’s “silly season”?