A famed advocate of youth, Arsene Wenger has again thrust many merely 20-somethings and younger into his first team reckoning this term, amidst an expectant campaign whereby the club has battled on four trophy fronts. The inevitable moral of the story that Arsenal remain trophy less despite giving the next batch a money-can’t-buy blooding of experience, has frustratingly left fans disappointed, yet hopeful with the tired old adversary of ‘give us time and we’ll be a force’ again reaching prevalence.
In Jack Wilshere’s absence, we have only been able to cast an eye over young outfield first team regulars Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey who have been permanent fixtures in the side when fit this term. Both are undoubtedly capable of accomplished displays but perhaps their age has diminished their levels of performance in terms of consistency. Gibbs; regarded by many as the natural heir to Ashley Cole is a raiding full back, comfortable in possession and adept at tackling when needs be. However, the full back hasn’t managed to force his way back into the England reckoning as he did this time last year, partly because of injury but it could be argued the defender has had a far less eye-catching campaign than Spurs full back Kyle Walker for example.
Ramsey is undoubtedly an astute passer who always wants the ball and possesses good leadership traits, as demonstrated by his rise to becoming Wales captain. Nevertheless, you just gain the essence that the candle is burning out on his 2011/12 campaign. Having struggled to build upon his early season form, Ramsey just might be the latest Gunners youngster to suffer so-called ‘burnout’ with the renaissance of Tomas Rosicky costing the Welshman his seemingly nailed on first team berth in recent times.
Whilst these youngsters who have been groomed for a couple of seasons now have improved again, perhaps the rise and development of the man behind them has been above all, the most impressive. Wojciech Szczesny is now forging a reputation as one of the best stoppers in the league and is only sampling his first full Premier League season in between the sticks. Having reached prevalence in the second half of the 2010/11 season, Szczesny truly gives Arsenal fans substantial reason to believe he’s the next best thing since David Seaman with his confidence, shot stopping abilities and sound reflexes; something Arsene Wenger has found all in too short supply in back up brigade Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone after numerous chances spurned in the first team.
In an attacking sense, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too has only built on his reputation as an even younger talent this time last year. Impressing as a fearless, direct and tricky customer on either flank, the 18-year-old is showing all the signs that he can have a long and prosperous career at the Emirates as well as at full international level for England. Quickly becoming a fan favourite, Chamberlain has even put pressure on Theo Walcott who’s being in and out form is the bane of Arsenal fans’ frustrations, with the sublime to the ridiculous displays setting the ever-inconsistent tone.
So in Gibbs, Ramsey, Szczesny and Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Gunners possess improving personnel but unfortunately their rise is being overshadowed by a continued struggle for silverware in expectant surroundings. Elsewhere, the 2011/12 campaign has seen young fringe talents Carl Jenkinson, Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris also make their mark in the first team.
Jenkinson is unluckily in debt for that poor, infamous performance at right back in the 8-2 humbling at Old Trafford, but it must be remembered that the 20-year-old was playing as low down the football ladder at Welling United as recently as in 2010. Adept at heading using his 6ft 1in frame and capable of raiding up the flanks, there is more than time on his side for Jenkinson despite some shaky first glimpses at the top flight level. He could have never imagined he’d be playing at Manchester United or rubbing shoulders with stars of Europe in the Champions League so soon.
Miquel is similar to Jenkinson in that he is tall and has also struggled when thrust into action because of injury. One of the more technically ungifted pros and gangly in possession, Miquel’s least flattering hour was at Swansea whereby Nathan Dyer gave him an afternoon to forget at full back, but the reserve team captain’s natural position is understandably at centre back. Coquelin and Yennaris have also won plaudits for their bravery and not being phased by their involvement in big games this term but they seem next in line to truly get a consistent taste of life in the Arsenal first team.
Perhaps Wenger’s best chance to turn some of his younger talents into real stars lies in the form of two players currently in the treatment room. Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong have already made their mark in the first team, but their injury setbacks have got onlookers questioning their long-term staying power. Everyone knows about Wilshere’s talents and he has outshone everyone in reaching Premier League stardom so quickly; arguably the most coveted since Wayne Rooney. Frimpong is very un-Arsenal like in the sense he is a tough tackler, but if Wenger manages to groom his temperament, the Gunners have a natural, committed and competitive successor in the Alex Song role. He just might need to get them both off Twitter too with the pair more active than most in society’s latest social obsession.
Arsenal’s youngsters have potential but which ones can Arsene Wenger truly turn into all-time greats? Can he turn them all into stars? Follow me @ http://twitter.com/Taylor_Will1989