also sit out of their countries’ various international friendlies or World Cup qualifiers. Tomáš Rosický, for example, has been allowed to miss the Czech Republic’s last two qualifiers due to Arsenal’s concerns over his injury, and the other walking wounded—Cazorla, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, and Sagna, maybe even Ramsey and Wilshere—will be rested as well. Some may have to travel, but the key teams (England, France, Spain, Germany) don’t have far to go, with Germany the only team having to travel, and only as far as Sweden at that. We can therefore breathe a bit easier knowing that we’ll return from the interlull at full strength, or at least as close to it as we’ve been since before the season began.
As an American, I want to wade carefully into the business of the English national team, but I do want to take advantage of the break in Arsenal action to ponder the Three Lions’ precarious status. Much has been made of the team’s inability to advance past the quarterfinals of a major competition since 1996, and with Brazil 2014 on the horizon, enquiring minds want to know how the squad will fare.
The good news, ironically, is that Arsène, the manager famed for introducing foreign players (especially Francophone) to the Prem, might be providing the Three Lions with a firm foundation upon which to build towards future glory, if not in 2014 then in years to come. Nearly half of the national team’s starting line-up could soon feature Gunners, if all goes to plan, and each of those players would owe some if not all of his development to Arsène’s tutelage. I’m speaking, of course, of Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Jack Wilshere. Coming down the pipeline are quite a few more, such as Chuba Akpom, Benik Afobe, Isaac Hayden, and Nico Yennaris. In that last batch, one might point out that only Hayden’s name “sounds” British, but this misses the point.
The point, of course, is that a great deal of a potential resurgence in England’s national team depends on Arsenal. Its current squad, after all, features, among others, a 31-year old Phil Jagielka, 33-year old Steven Gerrard, 32-year old Ashley Cole, 32-year old Michael Carrick, 31-year old Jermaine Defoe, and a 35-year old Frank Lampard. Sprinkled in amongst them are various starlets whose mothers may still cut their pork chops for them, but we’ll spare them the indignity (and me the typing) of listing them by name. Into the breach step not one but five Gunners in their early twenties, entering their primes and ready to assume the mantle of representing their country. That they owe some large portion of their development to playing for Arsenal should not be overlooked. Under Arsène, we have seen a fair number of heretofore unknowns blossom, and, while it’s still a bit early to anoint any of those five as saviors, we could very well see an English national team that features five or more Gunners in its starting XI.
No less an authority than Sir Trevor Brooking, director of football development in England, has said the following regarding player development:
English players can be technically as efficient as Spanish, German, Dutch or any other youngsters if they are coached effectively from a young age, and we are determined to do all we can to try and create an environment for that to happen.
The missing ingredient, according to Brooking, is being “technically efficient,” and that is one of Arsène’s calling-cards, the finding and forging of technically efficient players. We’re seeing the fruits of those labors in Aaron Ramsey (though he features for Wales), and we’re starting to see similar fruits in Wilshere and Gibbs, and to a lesser extent in Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, and Jenkinson. Should these five continue on their current trajectories, however, England should be sitting pretty for years to come.
Making sure that youngsters are “coached effectively from a young age” is again Arsène’s stock in trade. Each of the aforementioned Britons joined Arsenal at a tender, young age. Gibbs and Wilshere, of course, came in through the Academy, with Wilshere signing at the age of nine, and the rest coming to Arsenal while still in their teens. While it’s certainly true that each of them would develop into stars on their own, it’s highly unlikely that Jenkinson would realize his potential at Charlton Athletic or that Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott would blossom at Southampton. This is not meant as a slight against those clubs or their managers. Simply put, it’s a testament to each player’s potential and burgeoning achievements. It won’t be long before Gibbs supplants Cole and Baines, before Walcott sidelines Defoe or Rooney, before Wilshere takes over for Lampard or Gerrard. Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain, as younger, rawer young men, will bide their time as well, but it’s only a matter of time before they seize the moment.
At the center of this revival, then, it’s more than a bit odd to see at its center one Arsène Wenger, renowned for revitalizing Arsenal and the Prem by bringing in French players such as Henry, Pirès, or Vieira, among others. Speaking of Vieira, the club legend spoke to The Independent and had this to say of his work with Manchester City’s youth:
There is so much passion and love for the game among the youth [in England] that you don’t always have elsewhere. That is essential. But now it’s more about the creativity. How do you move around the pitch to be in the right places? How do you control and pass? It sounds really simple but at the end it’s complex and really difficult.
These are, again, hallmarks of football under Arsène: creativity, movement, passing. Therefore, as the Three Lions look to this week’s qualifiers, I hope they’ll look around the locker room as well and recognize how much is owed to Arsène’s approach to football. Whether it’s Walcott, Gibbs, or Wilshere, major players already; or Jenkinson or Oxlade-Chamberlain lurking in the wings, the hopes of England’s national team seem to lay squarely in the hands of Gunners—not at all a bad place to be.
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