With Theo Walcott leaving for Everton, some fans are taking the time to remember Arsenal’s British core from just over five years ago. At the time, December 2012, the club signed five young Britains to long-term contracts at once, adding one more just weeks later.
The mass signing gave fans hope of a stable, successful future. However, just five years on, that core group seems to have stagnated and, in some cases, moved on to greener pastures.
Arsenal’s British Core
Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson were the first five who signed, with Theo Walcott a few weeks later, to form Arsenal’s British core. Now, just two seem to have any kind of future with the team.
Meanwhile, compared to the lofty expectations of five years ago, even Ramsey and Wilshere have fallen somewhat short. The former has yet to claim his status as one of the league’s best box-to-box midfielders, while the latter has gone from potential England captain to perennially injured.
So, why didn’t Arsenal’s British core succeed?
Few, if any, Arsenal conversations are complete without discussing injuries. Also, if we’re talking injuries, we have to start with Jack Wilshere.
Even before joining his four teammates in inking new deals that December, the midfielder had an injury list that read more like a laundry list. Various fractures, breaks and strains meant Wilshere has spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch for the Gunners.
In fact, according to Transfermarkt, he’s missed 155 games via injury over his Arsenal career.
The others have also had, to varying degrees, injury issues. Carl Jenkinson, for example, had to be sent back by West Ham after a torn ligament injury. In fact, the defender picked up an injury back in August for Birmingham which he is still trying to recover from.
Theo Walcott has only had one really bad injury in his career, missing much of 2014 with a ligament issue. In his 12 years at the club, the winger missed out on 117 matches due to injury.
Ramsey (112), Gibbs (99) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (82) haven’t been hampered by hurt as much. However, their totals for games missed are not insignificant.
Especially considering these players are still in their prime, these injuries have to be considered. Most were sustained during formative years in their respective careers.
What if Jack Wilshere had a fairly injury-free career? He’s played just 221 games since his debut in September 2008. We will never be quite sure if he would be England’s captain by now, but the question is certainly tantalizing.
A similar question can, and perhaps should, be raised about the rest of Arsenal’s British core. Perhaps less time on the injury list would have resulted in more on-field success?
Again, we will never truly know, but speculation will persist.
Inconsistency and/or Skill
There is probably no reason to argue the former, we only need to study the career of Theo Walcott. 12 years ago, he was seen as the possible heir to Thierry Henry’s throne. He was even allowed to inherit that famous number 14 shirt.
Arsene Wenger, in typical fashion, stuck with the diminutive winger through thick and thin. The Frenchman even gave the player a chance at his dream position of striker for a time.
For all the promise and opportunity, Walcott produced a century of goals. While not an accomplishment to disregard, fans would be able to recall many chances which should have been put away.
The only real debate would be whether or not the lack of end product was down to inconsistency or a lack of skill?
For others in Arsenal’s British core, the question may not hold much debate. For example, Carl Jenkinson has never been able to put a good run of form together for the first team.
Kieran Gibbs experienced similar troubles, particularly after the arrival of Nacho Monreal. In the opportunities Gibbs did get to unseat the Spaniard, he was unable to even put a question mark in his manager’s mind.
Even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who played his way to a big-money move, found consistent form too big of an ask.
Meanwhile, at least as far as Ramsey and Wilshere are concerned, there are those from the group that have been able to claim a spot in the starting XI. Even during years when the Arsenal midfield has been the club’s strength, the duo has been able to play their way in.
So, for them anyway, skill may not be the problem. With the club never really performing the way it should during their time here, however, that may not say much about consistency.
Arsene Wenger is criticized regularly for his training regime. His methods for developing players has similarly been called into question. Perhaps the relative failure of Arsenal’s British core can be called emblematic.
Martin Keown is known to be at least somewhat critical of Wenger’s ‘hands-off’ approach. In the summer of 2017, he spoke about his time as a coach with the team in 2006,
“There was one player who was making positional mistakes that were costing the team goals. I wanted to flag up these mistakes to the player by showing him the footage but Wenger did not want him to see it. In Wenger’s view, if a player sees himself making mistakes the problem becomes even bigger his mind.
I felt that by not addressing the situation, it would affect the player’s ability in the long term.”
There is no real way to gauge how a player would develop under one coach versus another, however for some this may be proof of the issue. Arsene Wenger does not seem to give his players a solid foundation of how to play, instead allows them the freedom to express themselves.
For veterans, this likely feels like a breath of fresh air. However, for a young and inexperienced player, perhaps it is not the correct approach.
Could Walcott have made it as a number nine with the right training? We will never know.
The Arsenal always seems to have a crop of youngsters waiting in the wing. This season is no different.
Reiss Nelson won the Premier League 2’s player of the month award back in August. A few months later, Eddie Nketiah won a Carabao Cup tie over Norwich for the team. Meanwhile, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has all but cemented his place in the first team.
Meanwhile, half of Arsenal’s British core have left on permanent deals. Jenkinson, currently on loan, has just six months left on his contract.
A combination of unfortunate injuries, lack of inconsistency (or in some cases a simple lack of quality) and maybe a dash of poor player development have left the once-promising group in tatters.
Perhaps this newest generation of Arsenal players can do what the last could not. Then again, perhaps the failure of the British core is emblematic of this Arsenal team.
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