On December, 19th 2012 Arsène Wenger announced to the world that five young British fellas had signed new long-term contracts with the Arsenal; one month later, on January, 18th, Theo Walcott did the same after months of speculations and rumors about him agreeing to do a van Persie and join Liverpool or Manchester United.
The British Core was born.
Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were the players invested in by Arsène Wenger to represent the core of the next Arsenal team.
Their quality, youth, hunger and loyalty were the basis for a new era of success at the Club; at least this is what we supporters believed.
During the new away kit launch at the Emirates Stadium in July 2013, a giant picture of the six of them was adorning one of the outer walls of our stadium, while the players themselves were embracing each others just in front of it – their pose suggesting pride and the promise of many trophies.
And it was elation, excitement, emotion and manly hugs all over the place.
Seen today, the British Core looks very different.
Carl Jenkinson is on loan at West Ham, is having a good season under Sam Allardyce’s chewy guidance but doesn’t look any closer to be Arsenal’s first-choice at right-back; Mathieu Débuchy’s recent arrival, Hector Bellerín’s emergence and Calum Chambers’ promising displays are making it difficult for the young Gooner to come back and fulfill his dream.
He might come back to the Club next summer but he would have to climb his way up Arsène Wenger’s pecking order to get some minutes.
Kieran Gibbs, our left-back, is being kept out of the team by the more-experienced and less-fussy Spanish defender Nacho Monreal, who is offering the consistency, no-nonsense approach and fitness levels Kieran Gibbs always missed. Although more talented and part of the beloved British Core, the Englishman is not close to winning his place in the team back and will need to wait for an injury or a very bad spell from him teammate.
Now come the midfielders: Jack Wilshere was tipped by Arsène Wenger to become the leader of the group, the man this team was built around; his drive, talent, hunger and pride were the qualities any other Arsenal player should have looked up to, however things seem to have taken a different path recently. His many injuries didn’t really help him cementing his place in the team, however his attitude seems to cause more damages compared to any physical struggle: the guy is making headlines for his smoking habits more than any other reason; this tells a lot about his current situation.
As per today, Jack Wilshere role in the team is not defined partially because of his profile but also because of internal concurrence – with players like Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil playing in the free role he perhaps covets so much.
Arsène Wenger doesn’t see him as a defending midfielder and his teammates are performing really well in more advanced positions, hence it will be difficult for Jack Wilshere to find some space once he’s back. Today he is linked with a move to Liverpool according to the Liverpool Echo.
Aaron Ramsey, his partner in the middle of the park and once boo-boys favorite target, looked to be the first one ready to step-up his game and become what Arsène Wenger always said he would become: the total midfielder. A string of stunning performances between the end of 2012/2013 season and last May earned him a regular starting place, as well as plenty of plaudits from many managers, experts and journalists. On many occasions he’s been our savior and got rewarded with the winning goal that gave us the FA Cup last season. It seemed to be the starting point of a new era.
Unfortunately, this season seems to suggest that his wonderful season he had was a one-off more than the beginning of a blistering career; perhaps dazed by his impressive goal scoring record during last season, he went from being a combative, all-around midfield engine to becoming a lazy, selfish trequartista who doesn’t really fancy an intense sprint to track his man back. The guy we see today is not the Aaron Ramsey we used to appreciate; personally speaking, goals were only a plus in his game, and I really liked his fighting spirit and altruism more than his finishing.
Finally come Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott; the former is doing great things, has improved a lot and is finally showing signs of a promising future ahead of him; despite some confusion about his role on the pitch, he represents today a valuable asset for the team and – coincidentally – the main threat for the latter’s future.
Theo Walcott is the more experienced of the lot, is the more established first-team player and the one who kept all of us on our toes with his renewal; who doesn’t remember the whole Sing Da Ting story?
For him, it’s time to Sign Da Ting again but the set-up is very different compared to January 2013: he’s back from a bad long-term injury and is struggling to find some form, he’s no longer an automatic choice for the starting eleven if not for home games against lower opponents nor our best weapon going forward – hence he’ll have to forget about getting an improved contract, most probably.
He may have to accept being a valuable member of the squad but no longer a star of the team– at least not the main one. Theo Walcott looks to be a very polite, serious and conscious man but will he accept this step back, although temporary? I am not sure he would.
Together with Alexis Sanchez, he is our best finisher and he often relied on his goal scoring record to prove how important he is to the team.
His lack of skills and strength are often outshone by his intelligent movement and cool finishing, however if he doesn’t score or there’s not much Theo Walcott can really offer to the team.
He also suffered Arsène Wenger’s latest formation change, which asks wingers to work a lot defensively; players like the Chilean, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck are today better interpreters of this new role compared to Theo Walcott, which results in more appearances on the bench for the speedy winger.
That said will he stay? Despite some media talk suggesting a new deal wouldn’t bet on it. In fact I wouldn’t bet my hard earned money on Carl Jenkins on or Jack Wilshere either if I am being honest.
Suddenly, the British Core could be split in half and two of the most recognized members might be surplus to requirements.
Is this what Arsène Wenger was expecting for these very talented guys? I don’t think so.
I bet he is as surprised as all of us are; these players have what it takes to become regulars at the Arsenal in terms of skills but maybe attitude is an issue, at least for three of them.
They still have time, tho.
They can still prove Arsène Wenger was right to trust them but they are all way off the target for the time being.
Two years ago Arsène Wenger showed great faith in each of them and offered them improved, long-term deals; these days, it’s up to them to repay their manager’s faith by keeping their heads down and work hard for the team.
They have all a lot of time to prove me wrong, will they do it?