Has Arsenal’s British core failed and does it still have a future

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Arsenal’s British core – touted as the way forward for the club in the final years of Arsène Wenger’s tenure and beyond, but a notion that has met much criticism, especially this season.  With the Premier League clamping down and requiring clubs  to have a certain amount of homegrown players on the books in the first-team, many clubs have been struggling to find British players that are of the standard required for their respective levels.  The simple question; are Arsenal’s good enough, and if not, where does the club go from here?

This is not meant to be a doom and gloom piece, rather a survey of what we have, what they have done, where we hope they’ll be down the road and if they aren’t good enough, what course of action should we take…so away we go (and I apologize…this is far longer than I intended it to be).

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Coming from a family of some footballing pedigree and high praise from staff and fans of previous club Southampton, Ox has been the topic of much divide and debate since his arrival in London in the summer of 2011.

On the back of a season where he was included in the Championship Team of the Season in 2010-2011, it must surely be said that, on the whole, he’s been a disappointment.  To date he has only netted seven times in 99 domestic appearances for the club (14 in 146 total), and for a player who’s strengths lay in his speed, ability to beat his marker on the ball and a scorching shot from distance, there surely is so much more to be desired from his career thus far.

With Theo Walcott seeing increased time at center forward, Ox has failed to nail down the first-choice starting birth on the right hand side, being beaten out by the once moaned about Joel Campbell – so where does Ox go from here?  He certainly has time on his side as he is just 22 years old, but Arsenal are a club who truly cannot afford to continue to wait and hope a player comes good on the perceived talent.  With Campbell proving his worth and the likes of Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide showing a large amount of promise, it must be said that his future could well be located either in central midfield (a position where both Wenger and his father has said they see him long term), as a squad player or indeed at another club.  The long and short of it is, that while he may be young, he certainly needs to start showing his value before he loses any luster he may still have left.

Calum Chambers

Another young player that came to us via the south coast, Chambers is another player who is touted for the future more so than at current.  After coming to us last season amongst much praise from many Soton faithful, his career at the club started off brilliantly, putting in a string of excellent performances at the heart of the defense.  But fast forward to now and it’s all a very different conversation amongst the supporters.

The biggest question that no one seems to be able to answer is where he fits in to the first team moving forward.  He shone at right back for Saints, but is also capable of playing center back, while Le Prof has also stated that he may have a future as a holding player – for me, this is the issue.  It’s very difficult for even top quality players to develop at three different positions let alone a young player.  Additionally, he just isn’t playing nearly enough to continue his development as you can only learn so much at the training ground without putting in the practical application via match time.

Ideally, a loan seems the requirement for the youngster, but with the club being short on defensive options at least until the summer, and with Mathieu Debuchy leaving on loan in the January window and surely leaving the club in the summer, his future could take a hit unless he gets a loan to guarantee him regular first team minutes – should those minutes come, he still has a future at the club, at least under Wenger.

Kieran Gibbs

He came to the club aged 15 after beginning his youth footballing education at Wimbledon from 2001-2004, and apart from one season in North London it’s fair to say that he has been a massive disappointment.

The understudy to Gael Clichy, Gibbs was anointed the role of first-choice left back when the Frenchman departed for Manchester City in 2011.  It certainly appeared to be the opening door to a career waiting to kick off, seeing as how he was always a direct like for like replacement that we didn’t even have to spend to bring in.  He knows the club, the manager and the expectations but despite those realities, he’s since been displaced by Nacho Monreal after the Spaniard proved his detractors wrong by becoming arguably the best left back in the Premier League.  The issue with Gibbs however, is that he fails to impress every time he is given the nod by the manager.

He may be good going forward but he constantly struggles when it comes to the defensive side of the game, and with Héctor Bellerín coming on strong and staking a claim for best right back in England, we do not have the luxury to play two attacking fullbacks in the same XI – Gibbs surely is the one to miss out.  Unfortunately for him, when Monreal either begins to decline to potentially go back to Spain to see out his career, it is very unlikely that Wenger will turn to Gibbs to be his replacement.  For the 26 year old, it seems like his future is destined to be someone’s back up on the left hand side of the defense…at least at Arsenal.

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Three of Arsenal’s once promising British Core and a Postman. Credit: Ronnie Macdonald under license

Carl Jenkinson

Ask an Arsenal supporter, and they’ll tell you that Jenko isn’t good enough…ask a West Ham supporter?  Well, they’ll tell you the exact same thing.  If Gibbs is a disappointment, then Jenkinson can be classified as the very same by many, but it just hits a little bit closer to home.

He may not be from London, but Jenkinson is Arsenal through and through, supporting the club since his childhood.  This fact alone leaves many clinging to the small bit of hope that he will somehow come good and be able to feature for the club that remains near and dear to his heart, but the simple reality is that, at least for me (and many in the ABW family), he is not up to snuff.

Coming to the club in 2011 yet only making 57 total appearances, his last two seasons have been spent on loan at West Ham.  Despite featuring plenty for the Hammers, it’s been a lack of options that has been credited for why he’s played as much as he has rather than his ability as a footballer.  If Hammers fans don’t rate him and will be more than happy to move on from him, then what does that truly say about his chances with us?  With Héctor Bellerín the undisputed first choice right back and Calum Chambers able to deputize, then surely the best option is to move on from the player and cash in before we lose that avenue altogether.  Still just 24 and with plenty bottom half or newly promoted clubs potentially looking to either upgrade or increase squad depth, it’s high time we put our sentiments on the shelf and not hold on to a player who truly is probably just not good enough.

Aaron Ramsey

One of two on this list who has the most promise and likelihood of remaining key to the first team, the Welsh captain still however divides opinion.  Winner of five Arsenal Player of the Month awards, two Welsh Young Player of the Year awards and one Arsenal Player of the Season award, Ramsey comes with quite a large reputation.  His performances for Wales during their recent successful Euro qualifying campaign provides further evidence for what he is capable of, but so often times fails to produce for us.

His fantastic engine, will to get forward and score goals and technical ability are laudable indeed, but perhaps one word could best describe the sentiment that often remains amongst the faithful – inconsistent.  Brilliant on his day but also just as likely to put in a shocker and disappear from a match (and give possession away quite a bit as well), he seems to be the only thing holding himself back from truly pushing on and putting himself in the conversation of best midfielder in the Premier League.  Despite this, his brilliant season in 2013-2014 and a good showing in 2014-2015 are examples of what he can do for the club when he’s near or at his best.

We had to fight tooth and nail with Sir Alex Ferguson to get Ramsey instead of seeing him go to Manchester United back in 2008, and as long as he goes from strength to strength and consistently shows us why SAF wanted him just as badly as we did, then he should remain untouchable.

Theo Walcott

The final player to come to us from the vaunted Southampton youth set up, Theo Walcott was tipped as the next best thing in English football, bringing with him a host of praise and expectations that saw many label him the heir apparent to his majesty, King Henry – but he’s come nowhere near that level.

He may have shone for Saints in a central role, but his blistering pace was thought to be best suited out wide on the right – you’d be hard pressed to find many supporters who feel he’s done enough there over the course of his career.  Unable to provide service consistently and despite being rapid he struggles to beat players off the dribble given the lack of real technical ability.  Despite the flaws in the machine, Walcott still had a fantastic season in 2012-2013, scoring 14 in the league and 21 in all competitions in 43 appearances, a fantastic return for a right sided player – it would be the only season of its kind for the diminutive speed merchant unfortunately.

Seeing more time centrally this season in his “preferred role”, he’s failed to wrestle time away from Olivier Giroud when the Frenchman is fit and many have begun to murmur about whether we should sell him on in the summer amidst his disappointment.  All told, for a player who was supposed to help the club progress and fill shoes that perhaps nobody ever could, 53 goals in 224 appearances domestically over 11 seasons, despite injury, surely won’t be deemed sufficient enough.  With the club looking to challenge every year and seemingly more willing to spend, one surely must wonder if we should sell him on and use the funds to help fund a move for a player who is far superior in all respects.  For Walcott, time will certainly tell, but if it were up to me, I’d sell.

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One of the last times we saw Jack this season – never go full Sanchez. Credit: DSanchez17 under license

Danny Welbeck

His goal scoring record for England paints a picture – 14 goals in 33 appearances for his country is certainly quite a very decent return, so what’s the problem with Welbeck?  To begin, he’s probably truly not really been given a chance yet.  While he’s been deployed on the left flank for the vast majority of his minutes on the pitch, the player has the desire to be deployed through the middle, an area that for now is locked down by our big French striker.

The upside to Welbeck is his willingness to make runs and get into the box…he wants to score goals and he’s shown that he’s not afraid to do what it takes to get them.  The one question that will forever linger, however, is would Manchester United truly have sold a quality player to their biggest rival of the Premier League era?  Only 4 goals in 25 appearances in the league last season was not a start that will help him to state his case, and missing the entirely of the current campaign thus far through injury has not given him a chance to set the record straight – this undoubtedly means that next season is Welbeck’s make or break period with the club.

With Giroud turning 30 next season and Walcott failing to solidify a place in the team through his quality of play, Welbeck’s chances rest in his own hands.  I will however personally go on record saying that he wasn’t good enough for us when we signed him and he won’t be good enough for us when he returns – come the end of next season I suspect we will need to move on.

Jack Wilshere

Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere – the absolute “what if” player for the Arsenal faithful.  With two BBC Goal of the Season awards, a PFA Young Player of the Year, PFA Premier League Team of the Year and Arsenal Player of the Season all on his resume, the future must surely be leaning towards superstardom for the diminutive central midfielder.

Coming through our Academy set up since 2001 at the age of 9, Wilshere signifies what so many fans want the club to be about – bring talented youngsters through the ranks to star for the club.  Wilshere certainly has done all that and only just 24 still has so much time left to continue on the same path…if he can stay fit.

After a brilliant showing on loan at Bolton in 2009-2010 and an even better season in 2010-2011, Wilshere has failed to complete a single campaign since then, evening missing the entirety of the 2011-2012 season along with the entirety of the current campaign and the majority of last season.  All told, Wilshere has accumulated nine serious injuries as well as numerous other ones, totaling 143 matches missed.  The question that will always surround Jack is not if he is not good enough, but rather if he can be fit enough to actually help the club and earn the 90k/week wage packet he is on.  With a contract that ends in 2018, that gives Wilshere two more seasons to prove he can remain fit and contribute to the first-team by the time he turns 26, the beginning of his prime years.

Despite loving him as a player, the club certainly should not hamstring itself with another Abou Diaby scenario.  If Wilshere cannot get past his fitness issues and injury record, then the club must certainly sell him rather than the hope and pray option many would rather subscribe to.  But for now and especially next season, he’s more than earned the right to get back to the heights we all know he’s capable of.

Moving forward

Some have to go and some surely must stay, but the issue moving forward would be how to replace those who leave.  There isn’t any guarantee that domestic players coming through the ranks will make the grade at the club, and the fact that we keep recruiting continental youngsters to pad the youth ranks could potentially put us in a position to spend bloated fees for British players.  The first question is are they good enough or just overhyped, followed by the second question of who would even be available?

While I do not want to rattle off names of domestic players I rate (we can all agree that Ross Barkley and James Ward Prowse would easily make the grade at the Emirates), it cannot be disputed that spending on domestic players may have to be in our future of many of the above do not turn out to be worth their place in the team.  We are not a club that spends massively, but with money pouring into the Premier League at a rapid rate and clubs even as small as Watford unafraid to shell out in excess of 40million pounds to improve their position, we may very well not have a choice.

No matter what happens, when you look at the current scenario, it’s fair to say that our British core has not lived up to expectations.  There is time to right the ship and put the wind at our back, but no one knows if we will in the end.  As usual when it comes to being a Gooner, we can only hope and pray.

Drew is one of our #ABW Regular Columnists and can be found on Twitter as @AFCBvB1410. When not writing for us, he also writes for Outside of the Boot and he’s a regular on the Football Hipsters Podcast.


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