Arrested development: How has Arsenal’s spending affected their British ‘core’?

On December 19, 2012, Arsenal made a quintuple contract announcement. Five young British players – Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere –had all signed to “long-term deals”. The slightly awkward accompanying press photo gave the pen-to-paper visual cliché a schoolboy complexion as headmasterial Arsene Wenger appeared to not only witness the mass pretend contract signing, but invigilate it.

Wenger spoke of his plan to “build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club”. Two and a half years on, how has that panned out?

Ramsey sticks out like a sore thumb: the best player, the only guaranteed starter, and a former national captain. Nine goals in the first 11 games of 2013/14 marked the springboard moments when a youngster’s promising form became the track record of one of the Premier League’s best midfielders. High standards have been regularly met ever since.

But Ramsey’s development is unrepresentative of the contract quintet. He was Arsenal’s sixth most used player in 2014/15, according to Gibbs (11th), Oxlade-Chamberlain (16th), Wilshere (19th) and Jenkinson (equal last, I suppose) are all marginalised to different extents. Is this explainable with injury setbacks, pecking orders and loan deals or has something gone awry in their development?

Jenkinson’s Arsenal days appear to be numbered with a second year-loan at West Ham agreed, but if Hector Bellerin can depose Mathieu Debuchy, which seems likely, an exit for the now 30-year-old Frenchman would create a route back. Jenkinson is however unlikely to become an Arsenal regular in the current situation – surely grounds for failing the “develop their talent at the club” test.

Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere are evidently capable, occasionally excellent, but unable to establish themselves due to regular, almost inevitable injuries and inconsistent form. At 21, Oxlade-Chamberlain has time on his side, but Wilshere will reach his 24th birthday having made more than 25 league appearances just once. Gibbs, 26 in September, made eight fewer starts (18) than Nacho Monreal last year.

Mesut Ozil’s arrival signalled either the end of Wengerball or the next phase: prudent development finally enhanced with pricey pre-made superstars. Since July 2013, Arsenal have spent £148.2m on nine players. Wenger’s new-found appetite for expensively guaranteed returns may be a reaction to title rivals’ financial indulgence, it could hint at the possible imminence of his exit, or may simply represent the logical progression of Arsenal’s successful post-Highbury economics.

But one thing seems clear: patience isn’t what it used to be. World-class players can now be imported at will, even from Chelsea.  This raises the ladder for the fringe members of the squad, for every player in that famous photograph bar Ramsey.

The developmental benefits of Arsenal’s back-to-back FA Cups in this period cannot be underestimated – winning trophies is literally the best habit to form in football. But the problem for the photograph’s English contingent, and Arsenal’s English players in general (eight of a 32-man squad), is that arguably none are first choice players.

Constantly-on-the-verge-of-breaking-through Theo Walcott may beg to differ, but 23 league games per year on average at the Emirates, and just 27 in the last two injury-devastated campaigns hint at precisely the problems outlined for the others.

Many have time on their side but the likes of Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas had become reliable, vital parts of the team by this stage of their Arsenal careers.

So far for Wenger’s home-grown youth batch, it’s only Ramsey who can say the same.


Written by Chris Smith

Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789

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    • Sylvie

      February 13, 2016 at 17:31

      something similar. The fact that very few speak out does not mean it does not exist. We know the bias does exist,, from fans, to the so caleld bloggers , to pundits, to the media. It is easy to forgive a Wilshere for missing a goal chance than to forgive an Eboue or a Gervinho for missing the same chance. In fact Arseblog supported the show of shame when Eboue was booed by certain brigands posing as fans. What wrong did he do? He just got back from injury and was not fit enough.Why was it easier to renew Vermaelen’s- who spent a year out- contract but it was difficult to do same for Song who had asked for a new deal at least three times? Why did Kos get a new deal over the summer but Song was not deemed worthy of same? Why is it so easy to renew the deals of Jack and Ramsey but we found it difficult to do same for Song? And it did not stop there, those who forced him out launched a disgraceful media campaign against him with talks of he became big headed , Bold wanted to punch him in training , he got to training late hence why he was sold , He does not cover the defence properly . All these for daring to ask for a deal that placed him at par with a Djorou at least? 3 16

  1. Peter Wright

    July 31, 2015 at 07:43

    Interesting article but a little unfair because so many of these players have had injuries. The OX and Wiltshire may shine this year.

  2. Haoran

    February 13, 2016 at 17:08

    I think AWs lack of transfer avtciity comes from his thinking about the squad. Upfront he has Giroud with Walcott and Podolski as back up, those two can also play outwide. Additionally, on the wings he has the OX, Gervinho and the possibility to include Rosicky and Santos if needed. In the AM position he has Carthola backed up by Rosicky with the ability to include the Ox, Arteta, Wilshire. The two central midfield positions are for Wilshire and Arteta with Diaby, Ramsey and Coq. as back ups. he has 4 full backs, two each side, and five central defenders.If anything he will buy another left winger to help the rotation , add depth to the left and because al the wide players are not really out and out wingers. This will also help rotate midfielders like Ramsey from the bench (he can’t be a sub if he is playing on the wing); and Giroud (Wlcott and Podolski need to start on the bench to relieve the forward.The Arteta injury, lack of faith in Coq., and fitness of Rosicky diaby are all also interesting.Mainly, though, I think AW thinks the squad is almost there and will be better given time to gel (it is a much changed squad recently). If they don’t click in the second half he will overhall the older players; that is why they keep stressing the work done on the British core. 3 11

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