Southgate claims pundits make criticisms to 'stay relevant'
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England booked their ticket to Qatar 2022 in style as they romped to their biggest ever competitive win in San Marino, thrashing the world’s lowest-ranked team 10-0 on their own patch to cap a fine qualification campaign. Dropping just four points in 10 outings, the Three Lions are now heading to the World Cup as one of the world’s most feared teams having scored 39 times, conceding just three goals.
Not only that but Gareth Southgate’s squad is now littered with star quality, a mix of world-class experience and a fine blend of young, hungry talent.
There is no doubt he will feel he now has the perfect cocktail to end England’s 55 years of hurt by the time his team embarks on their journey to the Middle East next December.
And while Southgate must receive his plaudits for leading the Three Lions to a World Cup semi-final and European Championships final within the space of three years, England’s progress also reflects brilliantly on the Premier League.
One team in particular who traditionally has always put their own stamp on the national side is Arsenal, who in truth, have looked like a club going through the motions since parting company with Arsene Wenger.
This time last year, Arsenal had just one England international called up to the senior squad for matches with Iceland, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland in the form of Bukayo Saka.
The Gunners winger has taken off under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta since making his debut under former boss Unai Emery.
But under the current Arsenal boss, Saka has become a cornerstone of the team and that was reflected by his inclusion in the England squad for Euro 2020 earlier this summer.
Yet Saka wasn’t there to make up the numbers, starting a number of high-profile matches including the last 16 win over Germany and semi-final triumph over Denmark.
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Arsenal duo Aaron Ramsdale and Emile Smith Rowe were also starters last night for England in San Marino as Southgate rewarded the pair for their exceptional form at club level.
Both have been among the best young players in the Premier League this season, once again, something that reflects superbly on the job Arteta is doing in north London.
The jury was still out on the Spaniard earlier this season but in time, having made the right signings, his vision and project is now coming to fruition.
While Ramsdale was part of the Euro 2020 squad, he has hit a new level this season since signing for the Gunners and replacing Bernd Leno.
There is every chance he will now seriously challenge Jordan Pickford for the England No 1 shirt.
Meanwhile, Smith Rowe already looks a star in the making at both club level and on the international stage following his breakthrough campaign last season.
The attacking midfielder looked razor-sharp last night, teeing up Harry Kane for one of his four goals before marking his first England start with a goal himself in the second half.
Considering the attacking talent at Southgate’s disposal, Smith Rowe has done well to already force his way into the reckoning.
It was Arteta’s decision to hand him a lucrative contract extension and the No 10 shirt at the end of last season that has catapulted his name into stardom.
Now Smith Rowe looks capable of pushing the likes of Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden for their England place.
Furthermore, Ben White may have been absent from the England squad since Euro 2020 but he clearly has a big future ahead with the Three Lions.
White has been in top form since returning to the Arsenal side this season and can count himself unlucky not to have been included in Southgate’s recent squads.
When Arteta took over from caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg in December 2019, Arsenal no longer had any recognised England internationals.
They now have four at their disposal and when also considering their current progress in the Premier League, Arteta may just have a clue after all…
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