By Cosmic Kid
Which of Arsenal’s ‘British Core’, if any, get into the starting lineup in a fully fit squad?
Looking at the Arsenal squad from Monday night’s game it struck me that there were only two starting English (or British) players and after all the commotion surrounding Arsenal’s supposed new ‘British core’ this was a surprise. So what has happened? Why aren’t they playing? Who doesn’t remember that image at the top and thinking that this was going to be a new squad built around these players, rather than a squad containing these players?
Here is a quote from Wenger, on the club’s official website from when they signed on at the club, in August 2012;
“Before we had young players like Fabregas and Nasri, now we have some good young British players for the first time in the group – Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain for example. We have a core of young players that we want to build on”.
“We are still only focused on quality but for the first time England produces so much quality. It’s not that I have changed. For me the quality is the most important thing.”
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“My dream was always to produce 60 per cent English and 40 per cent foreign young players, honestly it’s a real problem in Europe that you [must] face by education, because the education usually is the investment of the local country and so you need a certain share. Maybe 60 per cent is local and 40 per cent is from the rest of Europe.”
Walcott also went on to sign a new contract extension later on that season after all the fuss created about it. What I am writing about, before anyone points out, is not that we have no British players in the squad; it’s that these players have not progressed into automatic starters and become the vital players in the squad that we had all hoped would be the case. To suggest that we have gone off this strategy of signing British players is also wrong, as Wenger has added Welbeck and Chambers to the squad this season.
Why have these players not progressed?
Firstly, yes they have had their fair share of injuries. But why is it that it seems to be that these players that pick up more muscle injuries in comparison to the rest of the squad?
Look at it this season; Chamberlain went off against Man United with a hamstring injury, Ramsey has just returned from a hamstring injury, Walcott suffered a groin injury on his return (although this often occurs in players making a comeback from a long term problem), Gibbs constantly suffers with muscle injuries, Welbeck had a thigh injury. Yes, there have also been freak long term injuries; such as Walcott’s against Spurs last season, and Wilshere against United.
Of the other players, Arteta has struggled with a calf injury this season and Gabriel is obviously out with a hamstring injury at the moment, but apart from a few other small niggles; they have not been out for an extended time with muscular injuries. Is it just that the British players can’t handle the strain as much as the other players? Do they feel the pressure more? Or is it just one big coincidence and what I wrote is complete nonsense. My point is; injuries should not be the excuse, look at both Ozil and Giroud, they have come back after their long term injuries and been in great form.
Let’s have a look at the players on a one by one basis;
Firstly of the signings this season, just a small bit on them as they were not really part of the British core of which this piece is about. Chambers looks like a promising defender, who in my view looks at his best at Centre back, as he just doesn’t have the pace or positional intelligence to play at right back. I like Welbeck also, but his finishing and his efforts in the final third need to improve if he is to oust Giroud as the main striker. His work rate is relentless, and he has impressed me at times this season, but with plenty to improve on.
Gibbs, I have always been a big fan of Gibbs, and up until this season he has always been my automatic pick at Left back, but has he really progressed as a player? He is now 25, he is not young anymore. Monreal, who, although in great form (and in my view, Arsenal’s best defender this season) is not a world class left back; he is a good player. What does that say about Gibbs? One particular thing that annoys me about Gibbs is his final ball, time and again I find myself venting my frustration at his final ball; it hasn’t really improved at all. Other than a slight improvement in his positioning, he hasn’t really pushed on this season and I would have Monreal ahead of him. I’m saying sell Gibbs, but I really did expect more from him.
Jenkinson is loaned to West Ham at the moment and with reports of Bellerin signing a new four year deal it looks as though Jenkinson will be sold at the end of the season, most likely to West Ham. He has been in great form for the Hammers this season, but I don’t think he would find himself in the Arsenal starting 11, so a move looks to be the best option for both parties.
Jack Wilshere is perhaps the hardest of the lot to write about. While this season he started to show some form, with two games standing out in particular; at home to both Manchester clubs (I know he picked up his injury in the United game and missed a great chance, but his overall performance that day was very good). He scored a great goal in the City game and it was his best match in an Arsenal shirt in quite a while. That’s the problem isn’t it? His form hasn’t been so consistently good that it’s hard to pick just one game; it hasn’t been good enough that these particular games stand out. Overall when you look at the team, I don’t think he is a first choice player at the moment and I think a lot of Arsenal fans agree with that. Cazorla has been excellent in the midfield this season.
Aaron Ramsey had an excellent campaign last season, typified by his Cup final winning goal and was Arsenal’s player of the season. This campaign however he has not been able to maintain that form and it really has been all stop start for him. I thought he looked good at the start of the campaign with a great game in the Community Shield (Remember that? Seems a long time ago now), and a last minute winner in the opening Premier League game at home to Palace.
I think Ramsey, more than the others has suffered from the balance of the team this season. Remember at the start of the season there was all the fuss about him and Wilshere playing in the centre of a 4-1-4-1 formation? He is also, I think, the only one who has delivered a full season playing at a consistently high level; I would have him in my first team.
I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had a really good season and it really is a pity that he is out with a hamstring injury. I think he has shown real signs of progression and looks to have learned a lot from Alexis Sanchez. He is excellent at making them powerful bursts past opponents and if he improves his final ball I think we will have a really good player on our hands; I would pick him ahead of Walcott any day and he would be really hard done by in not making the first 11. He is only 21, you know.
Finally we come to the great enigma that is Theo Walcott. I have written about him a bit on my blog already. The winger has been an un-used substitute in four of the last five games, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s not down to easing him back from injury. I think the problem here was made perfectly clear when Wenger said that ‘only players who make defensive contributions can play’ in a previous press conference; to me that was clearly directed at Walcott.
There is no doubting his quality in the final third, but overall I don’t think Walcott offers the team enough; he doesn’t have the work rate or defensive capabilities of any of his main competitors in Sanchez, Welbeck or Chamberlain. The next few weeks will give us a clue as to Wenger’s intentions with Chamberlain’s injury a factor. I think Walcott could go at the end of the season; I just don’t think he is a starting player any more.
So what would be my starting 11, I hear you say?
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The hardest decision for me was leaving the Ox out of the starting 11, but I think Ozil has to be in the starting 11 and Cazorla is a must start in the middle for me. It really is striking to think that only one of the so called ‘British Core’ would get into the starting 11 and it was really wasn’t a hard decision to leave them out besides Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Here’s a link to a really interesting article in The Irish Mirror on player ratings based on Opta, again only one British player making the team.
What do you think? Which players from the ‘British Core’ would make your starting team? Let me know in the comments. Also follow me here on twitter @Cosmic__Kid , and have a look at my blog, Arsenal: The Wild and The Innocent.
Subjectively, Cosmic Kid.