Jack Wilshere’s won the PFA Young Player of the Year award last month, and with it, Arsène Wenger sent another message to some of his biggest critics, who doubted his ability and intent to buy or produce English talent. Now, for the first time in several years, Arsenal have an array of British players that can realistically compete for a first team place.
In 2004, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Ray Parlour and Martin Keown helped Arsenal to an unprecedented invincible season. The four Englishman played a vital part in the success and were a major influence in the dressing room and around the club. Since then, Arsenal have only won one significant trophy, the FA Cup in 2005.
Despite Cole and Campbell staying at Arsenal for the following two years, plus the introduction of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have failed to maintain a British basis in the first team squad. It is certainly something Wenger has wished to address over the past few years, saying in October of 2009; “I am highly determined to bring more English players through”.
For the first time in a number of years, Arsenal can boast the likes of the aforementioned Walcott, Ramsey, Wilshere and the promising Kieran Gibbs. They could soon be joined by the emerging Henri Lansbury and Kyle Bartley, both of whom have shown signs that they have all the qualities Wenger demands, plus that English spirit.
It is no secret that the most successful clubs over the years have had a British backbone, in fact, no club has ever won the Premier League without an English centre half in their first team squad. Manchester United have consistently maintained a British nucleus, along with Chelsea, whose recent success comes hand in hand with the consistency, leadership and stability John Terry and Frank Lampard bring on the pitch. Even elsewhere, you have to look no further than Barcelona, whose home grown talents are integral to their success.
Determination, passion and desire are some of the main qualities associated with British players, which is a key component in the Premier League. Growing up around the English game, playing and watching can’t help but build a genuine affection for the game and a loyalty that is so hard to buy. Despite Arsenal developing foreign talent at a young age to help install these same qualities, it is hard to build such a strong affiliation with the English game and the club they are at compared to the British players. There is no doubting the qualities foreign players bring to the English game, but to truly compete in any league there has to be some local boys whose love runs further than just football.
Last weekend was a prime example of that. Ramsey, Wilshere and Walcott helped defeat a strong United side, showing their passion, spirit and work rate in closing the ball down and chasing. That, plus the exciting Gibbs, Lansbury and Bartley, meaning Arsenal will have a strong British contingent who also have ability.
In November of last year, Wenger admitted the time and effort he and his staff have put into developing top quality English players, and it appears to be coming to fruition, noting: “I feel that we have four or five players who can be the backbone of the English team.”
If Wenger is to be believed, Arsenal’s core promises to be British for many years to come.
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