Arsenal fans would have been forgiven with their frustrations last season when Arsene Wenger signed 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson as back up for the right-back position. Not another youngster. Fair enough. His performances left a lot to be desired, and even though he was still only a teenager brought in to play much fewer games than he actually did, it became clear that the Gunners had just picked up a player from League One.
A year on and still taking the right-back spot ahead of the injured Bacary Sagna, it’s now apparent that Arsenal could do with more of Jenkinson’s kind.
In fact, that sort of sentiment washes equally well with players like Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, and I’m not talking about German internationals. They’re a kind of professional that comes in a gets a job done, even if the result is a loss. You can hardly fault their desire and commitment to win. They’re footballers who put the job at hand first, rather than worrying about contract negotiations or how irresistible their hair looks to admiring clubs.
It also helps that Jenkinson is an Arsenal boy and didn’t need a couple of trophies in his hand to show any great faith to Arsene Wenger and the club. He came into the team and wanted the number 25 shirt because he idolised Nwanwko Kanu, while his bedroom may sometimes double as an Arsenal gift shop. He’s certainly got one over on a young Robin van Persie.
In light of so many want-away players in recent years at Arsenal, even those who claimed to have a great fondness for the club, Arsenal could do with one of their own in the first team. Jenkinson is a player that doesn’t strike you as someone who’ll kick up a fuss over contracts, despite it still being early days. He’s showing incredible improvement from the player of last season who was well out of his depth. His passing may sometimes be kamikaze, as he sends a square ball across his own penalty area, but those are things that will be ironed out in time.
He’s not quite deserving of an England call-up, but the national team would certainly like to secure him before Finland beat them to it. He’s playing well but it shouldn’t be something that warrants international duty just yet. He’d do well to keep his feet on the ground and take the necessary small steps to fulfil his potential. The pleasant thing about Jenkinson is that he really doesn’t need to be told all that.
Football is no longer a world where supporters can walk up to the first team and ask for an autograph. Players like Paul Merson were all too happy to part with a signature for a handful of popcorn in return. But there are huge, sometimes invisible, barriers between supporters and players. Those on the pitch want to win, but do they feel hurt in the same way that fans do? For most, football is an escape from everyday life, just like music, books or any other sport or art. Jenkinson, however, is one of the fans who grabbed a chance to do what most would love, and he really seems to understand that.
Is says a lot about Jenkinson when many Arsenal fans are questioning whether he should be dropped upon Sagna’s return. After all, this is one of the players who helped to keep three consecutive clean sheets in the league this season. He’s hard working and offers a great deal at both ends of the pitch without a fuss. It’s always a fair argument that you go to your best or first choice in each position, but Jenkinson is giving the manager plenty to think about.
Jenkinson is an Arsenal player that genuinely feels like one of the club’s own, like a young player brought through from the academy and flourishing at the highest level. When players can seem so distant and disinterested in their duties for the club, it’s always good for the fans to know they’ve got one of their own on the inside.