19th December 2012. With not much to cheers about in recent years, Arsenal announced, to great fanfair, that “Five young internationals sign new contracts”.
Kieran Gibbs (then 23), Carl Jenkinson (20), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (19), Aaron Ramsey (21) and Jack Wilshere (20). The future of Arsenal. A bunch of young British lads. At least if we did not have trophies to cheer about, we knew we had home grown lads on the field, progressing, knowing what it means to play for The Arsenal.
At the time, Arsene Wenger said “I’m a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it’s always easier to keep them together and that’s what we’ll try to achieve going forward.”
Nike knew how to market a product, and they decided that they would use the British core to promote their final shirt.
To the 5 players who had announced a new contract, Theo Walcott was added in making it a magnificent 6.
A British core. Something that had been levelled at Arsenal for so long. Not enough English players. Well the future of Arsenal was bright. And the future of England seemed in Arsenal hands.
We are now in 2016. Over 3 years on from the announcement of the new contracts. In that time, Arsenal have won 2 FA Cups and got the trophy drought monkey off the back. Things are a bit brighter at the club, even if this years bottling of the title race has put a bit of a downer on the last 24 months. Arsenal are back on the up.
But then you look at the line ups of our last two games. A 2-0 away victory at Everton, a 4-0 home win against Watford. Two excellent performances. And yet just one Englishman started. Danny Welbeck. Who in 2012 was at Manchester United.
What has happened to Arsenal’s British core? And are we now in a situation where the 6 players at the 2013/14 shirt unveiling could all be sold and improved on?
Jack Wilshere – In 2012, Wenger clearly had Wilshere pegged as the next Arsenal captain. “Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group.” Just 20 years old, He was an extreme talent, showing his potential in 2011 with a world class performance against Barcelona, Xavi and Iniesta.
In 2012, there were already warning signs about his future. He had missed the entirety of the previous season injured. And had already been involved in numerous off the field incidents. Arrested in 2010 after a fracas outside a bar. Given a police warning in 2011 for spitting on a taxi driver.
Roll on 3 years and history is repeating himself. He has once more missed an entire season injured. And news yesterday breaks of him again being involved in a night club brawl were police had to intervene.
Clearly a good player, but he is now 24.
I am not massively concerned about his off the field antics. He should be making headlines for his on the pitch performances, but we have had worse at the club. I am concerned about his injury record.
It was at 24 we gave Abou Diaby a new 5 year deal. He had played 76 games in his previous two years. It is a contract offer which 3 years down the line caused a lot of fans to attack Wenger. In the last 5 years, Wilshere has played just 91 games.
Do we continue giving him a chance, or do we learn from the mistakes we made with Diaby and cut our losses?
Aaron Ramsey – Ramsey is certainly the ying to Wilshere’s yang. 3 years ago it looked so bright for the pair. They could become our Scholes and Keane. The new Vieira and Petit.
Wilshere had the silkiness, Ramsey the engine. Wilshere the nastiness. Ramsey the calmness. They would have complimented each other brilliantly.
In 2013, it seemed like Ramsey had finally arrived. After recovering from that leg breaking assault by Ryan Shawcross, he was our player of the season in 2013/14, cumulating in scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final. Since then, he has digressed.
He stopped playing his simple game that saw him become so successful in 2013/14, returning to back heels and Hollywood passes.
Over the last 2 seasons, he has had many minor injuries, resulting in him struggling to put a run of games together.
He has gone backwards in the last 2 years. But is still an important player. Into next season, he needs someone to get hold of him and say these 3 words. Keep it simple.
Theo Walcott – In 2013 when that shirt was unveiled. Walcott was the father figure of the group. Despite only being 24 himself, he had already played nearly 200 Premier League games.
The year leading up to the shirt unveiling, he was exceptional. Scoring 21 goals in 43 games, adding many assists as well. He had finally arrived as a player.
Then the injuries returned. And now, 3 years later, he is a shadow of his former self. He looks scarred. He hides. He does not want the ball.
His time is up.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – The most overly hyped up player of the magnificent 6. People used to say Walcott did not have a footballing brain. Oxlade-Chamberlain is no better.
Another who’s recent years have been hampered by niggling injuries (seeing a theme here!). He is a player who has never impressed me. Plenty of talent, but no end product. That might be good enough for someone like Crystal Palace. But not Arsenal.
Cash in before the rest of the Premier League realise he is a myth.
Kieran Gibbs – Another who just has not pushed on over the years. I remember him playing for England under 21s many a moon ago and he looked a class above. The issue with him is he was always older than we thought. When he was put forward alongside the others as the future in 2012, he was already 23. People were going on about his potential, but he should have already been established.
At the time of signing that contract, he had played barely 50 Premier League games. OK for a 19 year old. Not OK for a 23 year old.
At the start of next season, he will be 27. He has not yet made 100 Premier League starts.
His career is disappearing before it has even gotten going.
No longer can he be considered as the future long term solution at left back. The heir to Ashley Cole’s throne. Nacho Monreal is comfortably ahead of him. And there is a point when we will have to start thinking about giving a younger option a chance.
For now, Gibbs is worth keeping as back up to Monreal. But as soon as the next youngster shows any promise, it is time to move him on.
Carl Jenkinson – The least known of the 6. At the time, you felt he was just an add on. A spare part. Like the bloke in the boyband who is always at the end but never has a solo.
And with the rise of Hector Bellerin this has been the case.
Jenkinson however was never bought to be an Arsenal regular. He was always destined to be a squad player. And with Debuchy likely to leave at the end of the season, Jenkinson will be 2nd choice behind Bellerin.
Worth keeping around as he is a Premier League standard player. Would surely rather be sitting on the bench of Arsenal, the club he loves, then playing week in week out for someone like West Ham or Crystal Palace.
He could become a Wes Brown type player at Arsenal.
3 years ago Arsenal were the future of England. Now it is natural to glance at Spurs with a hint of jealousy. Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, all performing for their country. It is time now for Arsenal to be ruthless. If the British core are not good enough, not reliable enough, cut them loose and replace them with the quality that is needed to win the league.