James McArthur: We must reach World Cup finals for our fans

There is no difference between James McArthur and any other Scotland supporter. The Crystal Palace midfielder remembers how the snatched, closing-second equaliser for the national side against Lithuania at Hampden '¨12 months ago failed to disguise a 'very disappointing' night. Even though he himself was the scorer of said goal, and it brought only a third strike of his seven-year, 28-cap involvement on the international scene.

James McArthur at Mar Hall, Bishopton, ahead of Scotland's vital World Cup qualifier against Lithuania
James McArthur at Mar Hall, Bishopton, ahead of Scotland's vital World Cup qualifier against Lithuania

A win in the reverse fixture on the plastic pitch of Vilnius tomorrow could cast that 1-1 draw in a completely different light – in the event, that is, of it being the first victory of a four-game winning end to a thus far exasperating World Cup qualifying group for Gordon Strachan’s men. McArthur coming off the bench and coming good to earn Scotland a point might still prove crucial to play-off hopes.

“Scoring in the last minute meant there was a sense of relief that we didn’t lose the game, but, at the same time, we knew it was a chance for us to try to get three points on the board,” the 29-year-old said. “But going there now we can obviously try to make it right by getting these three points.”

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Scotland service seems to forever find McArthur moving on from an injury, moving on from a managerial change or moving on from a change of club. The first two are relevant this week. Frank de Boer has endured an awful start to his tenure at Palace with four straight defeats and only one goal in the process. During this run, McArthur has just been getting himself up to speed.

“It has been a frustrating start. I picked up a knock on my hamstring. I played 45 minutes of reserve football and then 20, 90, 90 [for the first team]. It is good to be back playing. Obviously, team form hasn’t been great. But it is good to be back running about trying to help the lads.”

And helping a manager he feels might be misunderstood to the extent that there have been wild rumours that the Dutchman – whose coaching success at Ajax gave way to an unprofitable spell at Internazionale – might be under pressure from the Palace board already.

“He has been good,” McArthur said of the man whose 112 appearances make him the Oranje’s most capped player. “Obviously, from outside the football club, everybody will think we are trying to become this team that just passes the ball. But it hasn’t been quite like that. We have tried that. We try to get the ball down and dominate. But it is not all about that. If a team presses us, then we are trying to be more direct. The manager is adapting as well. He is good because it is not just one style. He changes styles depending on the game and tries to win football matches.”

Scotland have no room for error in their need to win matches. McArthur, who has made only one start in this qualifying campaign, shudders at the thought of them falling short and extending their exile from major tournaments 
to 22 years.

He has proved an important player from the bench in recent times, and made an effective contribution when introduced at the interval for the injured James Morrison against England in June. What McArthur experienced when Leigh Griffiths produced a pair of dazzling free-kicks to put Scotland 2-1 ahead in the final minutes only to then relinquish that lead is what drives him on in dark blue.

“That’s why we need to get there. The atmosphere when we scored those two goals was incredible. Incredible. You watch major competitions. You look at the Irish fans, for instance, or the Welsh fans when they got there. That could be us. That could be our fans. We need to do it for them. We need to do whatever it takes. And if that means four wins, we need to do that.

“We need to go into the first game and concentrate on that. We know from playing them they are a good side. They aren’t going to roll over. But we can go there and take confidence from being unlucky not get three points against a top nation.

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“To see other countries go to a summer competition while you are back home thinking ‘that could have been us 
if we had done this or done that’ isn’t great.

“Now we have put ourselves in a position that probably isn’t ideal. It isn’t amazing. But we have given ourselves a chance. After the Lithuania game a lot of people would have been thinking we were done. We have put ourselves in a position where we can do it if we get the points we need from the games. That is what everyone is all pulling towards.”