An article by The Telegraph has lashed out at a number of top clubs in England for damaging English football, and Arsenal have taken the brunt of the criticism. The piece blames the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City for not handing English players enough game time, but when you look deeper into the workings of Arsenal, you can see that analysis is grossly unfair.
First of all, let’s take a look at the English players who could feasibly be named in our starting XI. From back to front, we have Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck. There are a handful of youngsters that technically could be called up to the senior side, but not only are they all on loan, realistically the likes of Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden aren’t likely to get international call ups anytime soon – Carl Jenkinson possibly the only one who could.
The Telegraph’s article points out that we have handed the lowest percentage of minutes to our English players over the last few seasons, but let’s look at why this is the case.
Calum Chambers has been handed far more minutes than many would have expected when he first arrived, with the injuries to Mathieu Debuchy last season seeing the right-back spot shared between Chambers and Hector Bellerin. The former Southampton star has shown that he isn’t quite ready to make the step up yet, but looks like a promising talent.
Kieran Gibbs was our undisputed first choice left-back for a number of seasons – though his frequent injury problems led to us being hugely reliant on Nacho Monreal, who struggled to adapt when he first moved to England. Monreal has come on leaps and bounds since his arrival from Malaga however, and is now one of the best left-backs in the Premier League. He has deservedly usurped Gibbs, and the 26-year-old can have no complaints about losing his starting spot.
Jack Wilshere is a regular starter when fully fit, but as we all know, a fully fit Wilshere is an incredibly rare sight. The 23-year-old is quickly becoming the new Abou Diaby, and every time he returns and looks set to realise his potential, he suffers another nasty ankle injury and is sidelined for months.
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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is perhaps the only player on this list who could and should really be getting more game time, but he too needs to improve if he really wants to stake a claim to a starting spot. He has all the physical attributes required to be a truly world class player, but there is something holding him back. His end product leaves a lot to be desired, and his defensive lapses have cost us on a number of occasions.
Arsenal fans have criticised Arsene Wenger on a number of occasions for fielding Aaron Ramsey on the right rather than a more natural wide man like the Ox, but we far stronger defensively with the Welshman on the flank than we are with the more direct and attack minded 22-year-old.
Similarly to Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott has spent much of the last few years sidelined with injury. He took a while to get back to his best, but is really starting to show what he can do when handed a chance up front. He should be a regular fixture with Arsenal now, and you’d expect the same to be true for England.
Danny Welbeck was handed plenty of game time during his debut season at the club, and benefited from an injury to Olivier Giroud. He wasn’t able to do what Walcott has done however, and that is displace the French forward. The former Manchester United man was an excellent squad player last season, but he too has now succumb to injury.
So after analysing all those players’ roles in the team, and the reasons they have or have not been regularly included, is it really fair for The Telegraph to criticise us and Arsene Wenger in this way?
The manager has given every single player in this list a fair shot, and some even more than that. They have all been given their chance to prove they deserve a starting spot, but whether it’s a case of injuries holding them back, or simply being outperformed by other players in their position, they have failed to lock down a regular starting spot.
The future of English football is obviously important, but we can’t be expected to sacrifice our club to give English players game time they haven’t earned. Nor can we be hold solely responsible if a player spends most of his time sidelined with injury. Wenger has brought a number of English players to the club, and given them all plenty of opportunities.
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It would be great to see the England international team become more successful, but we cannot be held responsible the way The Telegraph have done. If there aren’t enough quality English players capable of wrestling a starting spot off their foreign counterparts in the Premier League’s top teams, then the problems go far, far deeper. Things need to change at youth level rather than simply insisting that top teams crowbar English players into their side, otherwise you just end up with teams like Manchester City buying average players like Fabian Delph to make up the numbers.