Can Arsenal defender make most of his big chance against Sunderland?

Carl Jenkinson prepares to fill Bacary Sagna’s boots at right-back for the Gunners

Nobody would blame Arsene Wenger if he had spent the international break wondering just how cruel a game football can sometimes be.

As if the opening seven weeks of the season had not already been painful enough for the Gunners boss, the blows inflicted at White Hart Lane earlier this month completed his misery.

Not only was there another north London derby defeat to contend with, the third in four league meetings after a decade of dominance over their bitter foes, but there was also more worrying injury news.

While captain and leading goalscorer Robin van Persie remains Wenger’s most prized asset in the post-Fabregas days, it is possible that second on the list would be Bacary Sagna.

Not just because of the French full-back’s solid, no-nonsense style that has seen him emerge as the one consistent performer in a ragged back four over the past two years. But also because he does not have a recognised understudy in the Gunners’ squad.

The broken fibula he suffered in a challenge with Benoit Assou-Ekotto at White Hart Lane will keep Sagna out until early 2012, and that has given Wenger another massive defensive headache.

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Carl Jenkinson, the 19-year-old summer signing from Charlton Athletic, is the obvious candidate for filling Sagna’s boots, and will surely begin that task against Sunderland on Sunday.

Jenkinson acquitted himself reasonably well in making Premier League and Champions League debuts within four days of each other back in August, but to say he is raw is something of an understatement.

The former England Under-19 captain had played just seven games in League One for Charlton before Arsenal moved for him in a �1m deal in June.

Added to that are three games on loan for Eastbourne Borough in the Conference last season. Hardly a wealth of experience, and hardly preparation for the schedule Arsenal have coming up.

The Gunners face six games in 17 days, including a Champions League double-header with Marseille and a trip to Stamford Bridge at the end of the month.

Can Jenkinson step up to the plate? It seems a tall order, especially when bearing in mind the teenager’s display in the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford when he was run ragged by Manchester United’s forwards before being sent off. At the time the red card seemed almost a merciful release.

Wenger has clearly seen something he likes in Jenkinson, and it was also noted by the player’s manager at Charlton, the former England full-back Chris Powell, who predicted a glittering career for the Harlow-born player even before he moved to the Emirates in the summer.

“I think he has made a fantastic start for us,” said Wenger after Jenkinson started strongly in pre-season. “Physically he is very impressive, while his dedication and attitude are excellent.

“You feel there is much more to come from this boy and I think he will be a very good player.”

While the potential is possibly there, Jenkinson is clearly far from the finished article, which makes Wenger’s decision to sell the only other right-back at the club, Emmanuel Eboue, to Galatasaray in the summer even more puzzling.

Eboue had been a valuable squad player for the Gunners over six seasons, clocking up almost 200 appearances and filling in regularly at full-back and in midfield.

His departure was barely noticed given it came at the same time that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were securing their deals away from Arsenal, but the chances are it may well be now.

Wenger has very few other options – Johan Djourou has played as an emergency right-back but had a nightmare in that position when he replaced Sagna in the 4-3 defeat at Blackburn last month.

In the reserve ranks, Swiss youth international duo Sead Hajrovic, 18, and Martin Angha, 17, are both highly-rated but also surely a little too callow for first-team exposure.

Jenkinson is likely to get the nod, and his first challenge comes in the shape of Sunderland’s tricky Stephane Sessegnon on Sunday, arguably the Black Cats’ best player so far in their own disappointing start to the season.

While it is a little unfair to expect too much of a teenager who has still played only a dozen games of first-class football, Jenkinson will be under the microscope at the Emirates on Sunday.

If he is ready to play at the highest level, this would be a good time to prove that Wenger’s faith in yet another young player is not misplaced.