The throng of Arsenal first-teamers who had headed out of London for World Cup qualifying play during the October international break have begun returning to the Emirates, as the Gunners’ fixture list resumes with a home Premiership match against Birmingham City on Saturday.
As of Thursday morning, there have been no new reports of any injury problems for players who took part in the international matches, though some may return with their pride or feelings hurt as some major soccer nations failed to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo da Silva will each miss out on participating in the sport’s biggest competition, as both the Czech Republic and Croatia finished third in their UEFA groups, meaning they don’t even have a chance to earn a trip to South Africa through the region’s second-place playoff setup.
While Eduardo sat out both of Croatia’s matches during the break due to a slight thigh injury he suffered before leaving Arsenal, Rosicky did see action for his country. The Arsenal midfielder captained his side and assisted on a goal in the Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Poland on Oct. 10. He also played over an hour in a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland on Wednesday, leaving the Czechs to finish behind both Slovakia and Slovenia in their qualifying group.
While Wales had known its fate as non-qualifiers prior to this international break, young Gunner Aaron Ramsey scored his first senior international goal on a free kick in his country’s 2-0 win over Liechtenstein on Wednesday.
Other Arsenal players — and their nations — fared much better during the break. Defender Philippe Senderos (pictured above) headed home two goals for Switzerland in a 3-0 win over Luxembourg, before he and his teammates secured direct qualification for the World Cup (as winners of Europe’s Group Two) by drawing at home to Israel.
Cesc Fabregas also scored for his country in a 2-1 win over Armenia for Spain, which had already qualified for South Africa during last month’s break. Fabregas then left the Spanish side’s camp before its second match, due to family matters, before returning to London earlier this week.
Arsenal forward Carlos Vela was also on the scoresheet in international competition, scoring one of Mexico’s goals in a 4-1 win over El Salvador that secured El Tri a place in the World Cup. Vela also played the full 90 minutes in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Trinidad & Tobago, as Mexico concluded their campaign out of the CONCACAF region.
Nicklas Bendtner and Denmark have also qualified, after defeating Sweden at home last weekend. Though the Gunners forward didn’t score in that match or the loss to Hungary yesterday, Bendtner and his Danish teammates captured UEFA’s Group One and will play in their country’s fourth World Cup next summer.
Traditional power France along with Russia will have to earn World Cup qualification through UEFA’s playoffs among its groups’ second-place finishers, beginning next month. The Russians fell 1-0 to Germany in a battle of the top two sides from Group Four, meaning that Gunner Andrey Arshavin and his national teammates must emerge victorious in a two-leg playoff against an opponent yet to be named.
Such qualification encounters are always tricky, but it seems certain that the Russians will be seeded for the UEFA draw that will determine playoff matchups. France should also earn a playoff seed, after Les Bleus defeated Faroe Islands and Austria to finish second to Serbia in their group. Arsenal defender William Gallas scored in the win over Faroe Islands, then he and club teammate Bacary Sagna were dropped to the bench for the Austria game, which saw Arsenal’s Gael Clichy play the full match.
In Africa qualifying, Cameroon is a win away from securing a spot in the 2010 World Cup. The Gunners’ Alex Song played all of a 3-0 win over Togo last weekend, meaning that the midfielder would join fellow Arsenal members in South Africa next June if Cameroon wins its final group match at Morocco next month.
Theo Walcott may also make the trip to South Africa if selected for England, who qualified for the World Cup in September. The 20-year-old Arsenal forward didn’t make the senior side lineup for its final qualifying action this break, but he did feature for the U-21 team along with club teammates Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere.