Yesterday Arsene Wenger confirmed what was a pretty badly kept secret that five of his young British charges including Jack Wilshere, had signed long term contracts at the club. The move surprised very few people. Were Wilshere to follow his ex-colleagues on the road to The Etihad or the Camp Nou, then any talk of Arsenal being among Europe’s elite would surely be over for good.
Of the other four, Jenkinson, Oxlade Chamberlain and Gibbs clearly have big futures at the club while Wenger seems to believe more in the potential of Aaron Ramsey than many of the fans.
Wenger has also gone on record as saying how important a British base is to his team
“I believe that we have a good core of young English players. We couldn’t keep the good core of young foreign players but I hope we will be capable of building the team around these English players and for them to achieve something together.
“I believe as well that when a club gives a chance to young players the players must say ‘let’s do it together’ because if you educate players at some stage their fate is in their own hands.”
This of course is a tad ironic from the first manager to ever field a whole team of foreigners in the Premiership in February 2005.
Also if Wenger believes that English players are more loyal to the club than those mercenary foreigners he would do well to remember that the among the first players who were at their peak who left the club was Ashley Cole in 2006.
Both of those dates are actually very interesting. Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since 2005 and I think one of the reasons (money is obviously the main one) Cole left in 2006 was because he felt more of an affinity with the English players who he had met on international duties at Chelsea than he did with all the foreigners at Arsenal.
British football has changed irrevocably since Wenger first took the reins at Arsenal in the late nineties. Then, his team of scouts who delivered some of the best players in France and beyond, were almost unique in the Premiership. These days everyone has teams all over the world searching for the stars of the future.
There does however seem a logic to building a team round British players. I guess Wenger wants to re-create the tightness and loyalty of the famous five defenders from the Graham era and hark back to the consistency of the pre-2005 days where the bed rock of the team was home grown.
The big question though is – are those players good enough to provide the foundations of the future for Arsenal?
Well here’s a quick verdict on all five
Jack Wilshere – For the first two or three games after his return every time Jack went near a challenge you could hear all The Emirates cringe. It does however appear that he is as robust as he can be at this stage and he just gets better in each game. Surely Wenger will make him captain soon. He is not only the most talented footballer that Arsenal’s youth team has bequeathed Wenger but he is articulate, smart and, for most of the time, level headed. I think he is the future of Arsenal.
Aaron Ramsey – I think most Arsenal fans would agree that Aaron simply hasn’t been the same since that tackle. Sure there have been flashes of brilliance but until his altercation with Ryan Shawcross he not only had confidence, he had swagger. These days he tends to disappear from games at times. And his goal scoring record isn’t what it ought to be for an attack minded midfielder. However, there have been moments this year (against City and Olympiakos) when the old Ramsey shone through. Also Wenger has played him out of position on the wing which hasn’t really been a success. He might not be the player that Wenger builds the team around, but he is a good long term bet for the future.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Another player who has had a rather mixed season. Again there have been flashes of genius, and the moments when he takes on defenders raises the temperature at The Emirates. Then there have been the games where he has failed to make any impact at all. It’ll be fascinating to see how pivotal he becomes to the team if Walcott does leave, even more so if Zaha is his replacement.
Carl Jenkinson – What a difference a year makes! The young defender, who looked like a rabbit in the headlights a year or so ago, has matured to the point where some Gunners are imagining a day where he takes over at right back from Bacary Sagna. Apart from some obvious mistakes (coughs Swansea) he has been very reliable this year and his crossing and attack player is constantly improving. I think the England right back berth is his for the taking.
Kieran Gibbs – If only he could shake off those injuries Gibbs would be one of the best left backs in England. With Baines unlikely to venture south and Wenger’s last experiment in finding a left back delivering a slightly bonkers Brazilian Gibbs really ought to be a feature in the Arsenal team for a very long time.
I think most Arsenal fans would answer the question about whether Arsene was right to tie up the players with a stroke of the chin. There is clearly a huge amount of potential there, but then there was with Denillson, Bendtner and Vela too. At the moment it seems as if Wenger has made a fairly safe bet. But only time will tell.