Southgate’s England continue to dazzle as Emery prepares the team for a tough April

I used to despise the international break, but Gareth Southgate’s dazzling England side has rekindled my excitement. The emphatic 5-0 and 5-1 victories against the Czech Republic and Montenegro in the Nations League, were a joy to watch, continuing our impressive form from the World Cup. With a wave of electrifying new youngsters like Hudson-Odoi and Sancho, joining Kane, Sterling and co, we are starting to look and feel like a squad that can challenge for major honours. Southgate has established a fluid and interchangeable system that caters to strengths of the collective. The confidence of the players coming in and out of the side show it’s working. Let’s just hope the manager’s head isn’t turned by club football.

There were stunning performances from a number of England players, but Raheem Sterling stole the show with four goals in two games, including a hat-trick against the Czech Republic. The Manchester City forward just gets better and better and is growing as a leader on and off the pitch. For me he is neck and neck with Virgil Van Dijk and Sergio Aguero for player of the year. If he continues in this form, he may just pip the two. 

There is a maturity and confidence to this England side that we haven’t seen since the 90s. The reaction of the players to the disgusting racial abuse by the Montenegro fans emphasises their ability to win despite adversity. The players kept their cool and did their talking on the pitch. I have been a football fan for 25 years and this racist behaviour hasn’t improved across multiple parts of Europe. UEFA just play lip service to it with paltry fines and soundbites. Meaningful punishment is needed to drive the message home that it is unacceptable to treat human beings this way. 

Emery prepares abroad

Whilst England were purring, the Arsenal squad were relaxing in Dubai. Unai Emery capitalised on the extended break to complete a warm weather camp in the UAE and get the players ready for our season run in. Our friendly against Al-Nasr Dubai was less about the result, but it was nice to get the win. The 3-2 victory was capped with a great moment for teenager Tyreece John-Jules who registered his first senior goal. Let’s hope the team return focused, refreshed and hungry for success.

The rest could be crucial

We reconvene in the Premiership against Newcastle on Monday. With eight tough fixtures in April, the rest abroad could be crucial. The Everton-Napoli-Watford trio is the toughest cluster on paper and is likely to be the defining moment of our run in. Usually I would favour playing the away leg first in a two-round European tie, but I’m glad our first game is at home. The last thing we needed between two away games was a trip to Italy. 

Season run in:

01 AprNewcastle (H)
07 AprEverton (A)
11 AprNapoli (H) – Europa
15 AprWatford (A)
18 Apr Napoli (A) – Europa
21 AprCrystal Palace (H)
24 AprWolves (A)
29 AprLeicester (A)
04 MayBrighton (H)
12 MayBurnley (A)

Chelsea will make the Europa League final so we can’t take our foot off the gas. I’m confident Emery has the nous to guide us through.