Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson professionally put his North London bias to one side when asked by Sky Sports to select his ideal team for England’s Euro 2016 opener against Russia.
The 48-year-old, who made 425 appearances for Arsenal between 1985 and 1997, picked four Tottenham Hotspur players in his side, but completely ignored the English contingent at the Emirates.
Joe Hart, Nathaniel Clyne and Chris Smalling are widely thought to be likely starters. Merson would gamble on John Stones, and pick James Milner, but the biggest surprise is his Tottenham spine.
Four of Mauricio Pochettino’s Premier League title-chasing youngsters are included, along with two players apiece from Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United, and Manchester City goalkeeper Hart.
Merson has gone for Danny Rose at left-back ahead of Ryan Bertrand, Leighton Baines and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs, because he think the Spurs man is one of the most improved players “this season”.
He told Sky Sports: “Danny Rose is one of the most improved players this season. He has been very good for Tottenham this year and has defended very well and got forward well. For me, he has to play.”
Merson continued to plump for Spurs over Arsenal by naming Eric Dier as his defensive midfielder, a position which Jack Wilshere, albeit an injury doubt for the tournament, has held in recent times.
He explained to Sky Sports: “This may surprise a few people, but for me, Eric Dier is the best English holding midfield player in the country. He is very disciplined and makes simple passes.”
Wilshere has not played for the Gunners this season after suffering a broken leg on the eve of the Community Shield, but is still likely to make Roy Hodgson’s squad, according to the Daily Mail.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another Arsenal player currently carrying an injury. He, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck are all snubbed from Merson’s forward four, which includes Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
Merson is very excited about his quartet, which would also comprise of Ross Barkley and Wayne Rooney. “I don’t think there will be a better front four at the Euros. They can be a sensation,” he told Sky Sports.
The 21-times capped England international sees Kane as a key player for the Three Lions and would give him the nod over the likes of Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge in a competitive striking department.
“Harry Kane has to play,” Merson insisted to Sky Sports. “He plays up front on his own for Tottenham and he’s looking like winning the Golden Boot at the moment. I would bring Jamie Vardy on with 30 minutes left and drop Kane back and take Rooney off. That would let Vardy open the game up. When the game opens up he will be really useful because he looks to go the other way, which a lot of players don’t.
“Daniel Sturridge is a top player, but I don’t think he has had enough game time (11 starts this season). Can he play six or seven games in a short space of time? I don’t think he can. So Kane has to start.”
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