Arsenal’s Young Guns leading the way for club and country
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Arsene Wenger is often criticised for his youth policy, but it is the England team who are now reaping the rewards
Arsene Wenger made the point gently but pointedly. “The Arsenal players who played were quite influential,” said the Gunners boss with a smile, looking back on England’s win over Brazil at Wembley last week.
“[Theo] Walcott has done very well. [Jack] Wilshere has done very well. [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain unfortunately couldn’t get any part in the game. It shows that Arsenal contributes more and more to the England performances.
“I’m very happy about that. I said many times that we have a core of British and English players who are at a top level, and Jack is of course one of them.”
The irony was not lost on many. Here was the manager often demonised for his promotion of ‘foreign’ talent, the manager who played a full XI of non-British players in a Premier League game, suddenly providing the brightest talents for the national team.
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Of course, both Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain learned their trade at Southampton, but Wilshere is Arsenal’s own, and last week was really all about Jack.
His lengthy injury absence had meant this was his first start for England for 20 months, but how he made up for lost time, putting in a powerful display against the Brazilians that excited everyone who has anything to do with the England team.
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Wenger was no exception but the Gunners boss knows that Wilshere’s performance has given him problems – problems with which he is all too familiar.
The Frenchman knows that his midfielder will now have huge expectations placed on his shoulders, and that he is likely to return physically jaded from international fixtures, like he did last week. It is the second issue that bothers Wenger.
“I had in fact expected Jack to play only a part of the game against Brazil,” said Wenger, who is thought to be disappointed with Roy Hodgson for going back on a pre-match agreement. “But it didn’t happen and because of his quality he will be exposed to that, the overuse of his quality, and you can understand that. He will have to be managed like everyone else.”
Having rested Wilshere in the FA Cup last month at Brighton, Wenger has intimated he will do so again – and with Bayern Munich’s visit to the Emirates looming on Tuesday, that could well be on Saturday against Blackburn.
“I will leave him out again in some games. But it’s not easy because he has a burning desire to play every time and you know that the rest of the team will want him to play as well because we are in the position where we want to win every game,” said Wenger.
“But I never forget as well that we had to live 17 months without him and we still had to win the games. For a guy who has been out for such a long time, we have to be careful.”
The first issue, of Wilshere now being compared to everyone from Lionel Messi to Steven Gerrard and billed as the nation’s saviour, is not something his manager feels will bother the 21-year-old.
“He looks like he can [handle that pressure],” said Wenger. “He has a passion for the game – the first thing is that you love the game. The problem for England is to produce a number of players like Jack.
“You can share the pressure but one will have to take it, to absorb it. It was like that with Beckham, you had it in France with Zidane. Even if you have a number of good players, one will be the figure and have to absorb the pressure. He certainly will be one of them.”
Walcott will be another, and there is every chance that Kieran Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and maybe also Carl Jenkinson and others, will be England regulars in the near future.
It is a long time since Arsenal had that kind of representation in an England squad, and given that another Wenger product, Ashley Cole, won his 100th cap last week, it was something of a triumphant night for Arsenal’s youth system.
Not that Wenger was going to claim too much credit – that is not his style – but it is a point that perhaps should be made on his behalf.
It is Arsenal’s reliance on and promotion of youth, not the bloated and expensive squads of Chelsea or Manchester City, that is producing the star quality of the national team.
Follow me on Twitter @GazetteGooner