Seemingly, the one striking difference between Arsenal and Chelsea this season (pardon the pun and potential scope to argue over Van Persie ’s general lack of support in attack and the general lack of support for Torres), apart from the 5-3 scoreline, the honesty in fans admitting exactly how much faith they have in the manager and the honesty in the players admitting exactly how much faith they have in the manager, is the patience of the fans when it comes to waiting for a near-on £15m signing to come to fruition and experience more than a cup start and the dregs of an already lost game.
It has been suggested that the £15m summer signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, isn’t featuring regularly for Arsenal due to the “strength of the squad” that they have at current, with the likes of Arshavin, Rosicky and Chamakh, all former Arsenal starters, filling the bench at The Emirates. For some fans, it has been seen as a sign that The Gunners no longer have to rely on the youth, however it is a thinly-veiled attempt of instilling that philosophy, if that really is what can be taken from the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the apparent withdrawal of an emphasis on blooding them young in general.
This season, Arsene Wenger has used 6 u-21 year-olds and even then, apart from the ever-present Wojciech Szczesny, their usage is sporadic and in times of necessity amidst an injury crisis. The feel of experience that Arsenal have introduced and maintained this year, through the introduction of Robin Van Persie as captain and the commanding presence of Mikel Arteta in the midfield, has pleased the fans; however, it may be the marking of a change in attitude at Arsenal, or simply just a display of recognition that, at the moment, “you can’t win anything with kids.” Recent Premier League campaigns have seen Arsenal fans endure year upon year of persistence with youth and ultimately, year upon year Arsenal fans have endured trophyless campaigns; in fact if you Google “trophyless” four of the first five results are Arsenal articles. Now, Arsenal aren’t utilising one of their expensive young investments with the immediacy they have done in the past and it’s been a culture shock for some Gooners.
Meanwhile, down at The Bridge, while Andre Villas-Boas works out how to spend £150m over two transfer windows without having every signing scrutinised the minute they misplace a pass or don’t kiss the badge with the love displayed by Frank Lampard, John Terry reads up on how to win a race row and Bosingwa plucks his monobrow into two separate eyebrows, a Belgian Pro-League Golden Boot winner spends his time giving interviews to Chelsea’s official club website and running around after chickens in an attempt to catch his dinner.*
If Arsenal fans have the right to become frustrated with the lack of action that their, according to ex-Gunner Stewart Robson, “more intelligent” Theo Walcott is experiencing, then Chelsea fans, equally frustrated with their limited successful striking options, have the right to be frustrated with the lack of match time Romelu Lukaku is getting: however, they’re not.
While Arsenal fans call for Chamberlain to replace Walcott in the starting line-up, having impressed in the League Cup and Champions League appearances he has made, along with continually impressive showings for the reserves, Romelu Lukaku has had his signing labelled a “debacle”, despite only featuring for a total of 50 minutes in the Premier League. However, the tag with which Lukaku’s tenure has been described with, is not based on his performances, more the fact that he cost £13m, possibly rising by a further £5m, yet isn’t getting a game in a squad where Sturridge is the only consistent scorer.
A call for Lukaku to be able to prove himself during the African Cup of Nations is a sentiment that is quietly echoing around some sections of the fan base and a similar emotion is being transpired for Chamberlain to get the same opportunity when Gervinho goes on international duty with the Ivory Coast: however, who will make an established breakthrough first?
Arsenal fans have been spoilt when it comes to seeing the youth get a chance in years gone by, however the arrival of Thierry Henry on loan to help Arsenal through a difficult January in the Ivorian’s absence, may well obstruct Chamberlain’s progression into the starting line-up. Similarly at Chelsea , new arrivals may well block Lukaku’s chance to get a decent run of games under his belt, but at current, with no signings confirmed, Lukaku has a chance to get his foot in the door first, when Ivorian pair Kalou and Drogba depart for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Both have the ability and both are unquestionably ready for the step up: Chamberlain is two years older than Theo Walcott was when he made his Premier League debut and furthermore, he has more first team experience from his Southampton days, is better built for the physicality of the Premier League and, from firsthand experience, he is, as Robson states, “more intelligent.,” with the ability to find the back of the net with ease, take on his man and hold his own. As for Lukaku, he was the top scorer of the Belgian top-flight at 16, finished 4th at 17 and won the Belgian Ebony Shoe at 18, an annual award for the Best African Player of the Belgian Pro-League.
For any doubters that may well question the quality of the Belgian top-flight as a measure of Lukaku’s readiness for the Premier League, 8 of the past 16 Ebony Shoe winners have gone on to play in the Premier League, including: Babayaro, Mido, Dindane and Vincent Kompany .
One may suffer from the manager’s pressure to succeed this season and one may suffer from the manager’s pressure to hang on to his job: patience is a virtue, but who will use their expensive teenage investment first – Chelsea or Arsenal?
Written by Jordan Florit for This is Futbol
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