Is this the turning point for Arsenal?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Usually such a line-up is indicative of a contemporary boy band but this fabulous quintet is more likely to make grown men swoon rather than teenage girls scream.
A wave of relief must have swept across every Arsenal supporter when the club announced they had collectively tied down their most promising batch of young players. The news provides a timely boost for a team that continues to sail through troubled waters, especially as this sign of commitment would have felt worryingly alien for a side that has been repeatedly betrayed by former fan favourites.
The key message emanating from North London is that plans for the future have a distinct British core, which will undoubtedly help dispel the recurring criticism that the club favours a foreign presence. After watching the likes of Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas instigate painful exits, Arsene Wenger has perhaps decided to focus on those who share his close affinity with the Gunners.
If there is one man that can rival the Frenchman’s devotion to Arsenal, it’s Jack Wilshere. The resurgent talisman embodies the philosophy of his club, in the same inspiring manner as fellow England internationals Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. He passes the ball rather than the blame and speaks with a startling understanding of what is expected of both him and his fellow team-mates.
There is certainly an aura surrounding the 20-year-old that evokes a flurry of compliments from everyone associated with the club. If Wenger can mould his aggressive passion into controlled desire then he may have just found his most influential leader since Tony Adams, a man who incidentally acquired the club captaincy at the tender age of 21.
However, Wilshere’s new contract still stimulates a growing sense of risk in amongst the obvious reward. A question mark still hangs over his long-term fitness as he gradually claws his way back to the sensational standards he set almost two years ago. Likewise, stories of late night antics – regardless of their accuracy – threaten the illustrious career waiting patiently before him.
It’s worth deliberating whether his blind loyalty to the club will come back to haunt him further down the line. He was incredibly eager to sacrifice a greater chance of silverware elsewhere, when few fans could have protested if he had postponed negotiations until the end of the season. Only time will tell whether he was right to place his trust in Wenger, when so many around him appear to have lost faith altogether.
Arsenal have effectively assigned £70million to secure the futures of five young players, a bold move considering the club has recently been criticised for harbouring a rapidly inflating wage bill. However, I can’t imagine any of these individuals attempted to hold the club to ransom with their demands, unlike a certain other young English talent.
It will be interesting to monitor how these deals impinge on Theo Walcott’s current ‘limbo’ status. Is this the evidence of ambition he was looking for? Will the commitment of The Ox deter his willingness to sign or will he feel compelled to join this patriotic nucleus at the heart of the team? Negotiations have apparently resumed, but he has little excuse not to push a deal through before the uncertainty of January sends the tabloids into meltdown.
Speaking of January, Wilshere’s decision to reaffirm his position at the club can only improve the magnetism for potential transfer targets. The gifted array of English starlets will surely be inspired by Wenger’s display of affection towards his young stars, which may just prove vital in the pursuit of Wilfried Zaha.
Perhaps this announcement highlights Wenger’s acknowledgment that his stubborn nature has cost Arsenal dear in recent years and more importantly, that he is keen to reverse their ailing fortunes while his reputation remains intact. Chief executive, Ivan Gazidis has insisted there is money to spend in the New Year and in many ways; the club is as appealing as it’s ever been.