Exclusive interview: Arsenal defender’s incredible rise to the top
Carl Jenkinson explains why he’ll always give that little bit more for the Gunners
“I have to pinch myself sometimes,” admits Carl Jenkinson, and when you listen to the story of his improbable, miraculous rise from non-league to Premier League in the blink of an eye then it is not hard to see why.
This time last year the defender was on loan from League One Charlton Athletic to struggling Conference National outfit Eastbourne Borough – then just eight months later he was playing in the Champions League.
If that doesn’t already sound like the stuff of far-fetched dreams then add in the fact that the 19-year-old comes from an Arsenal-mad family and had been supporting the Gunners for as long as he can remember.
“It is crazy, sometimes I do have to pinch myself if I think where I was this time last year,” Jenkinson tells the Gazette after helping shut out West Brom on Saturday.
“I was on loan at Eastbourne Borough in the Conference, playing on some horrible pitches and then here I am now playing for the club I love.
“A lot has gone on in the past year but I am thankful it has happened. At the start I had some tricky times, but I have settled in a bit now, found my feet, and am just trying to give my best in every game for the club.”
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Those ‘tricky times’ Jenkinson alludes to would probably include getting sent off in the traumatic 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, and being unfairly scapegoated for his part in Arsenal’s worst start to a season for 58 years.
While there was widespread criticism aimed at the club and Arsene Wenger for that, the teenage defender who appeared woefully out of his depth also seemed to receive an awful lot of it.
For many fans and pundits, the fact Arsenal were having to call on a player of such limited experience seemed to exemplify just how the club had deteriorated since the days of the ‘Invincibles.’
Two months on, and while perhaps not having made those critics eat their words, the opinion of Jenkinson has changed dramatically. The player himself is not afraid of addressing the issue.
“Of course the criticism hurts, you never want to hear negative things about you but I have always believed in myself,” he says without a trace of arrogance, but with a touch of inner steel that is perhaps what prompted Wenger to dip into the lower leagues for a player who very few people had ever heard of.
“I always believed I could play at this level, at the top. That’s my belief and I am hoping that now I am starting to show that,” adds Jenkinson.
“In football there’s always people who doubt you and say you are not good enough. It’s the same with every player. It’s up to me to work hard and prove those people wrong.”
Gradually he has been doing just that. In the last three games he has started, two in the Champions League against Marseille and then on Saturday, Arsenal have not conceded a goal.
“We have looked a lot more solid defensively for the past few games,” he says. “At the start of the season players have left and then we have signed players, but we have got our squad now. It takes a little bit of time for that to gel together.
“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time and we have to make sure we keep doing what we are doing now and winning games.”
Jenkinson would probably not be getting the chance to redeem himself so soon if Bacary Sagna had not broken his leg in last month’s north London derby defeat at White Hart Lane.
With no other regular right-back at the club, Jenkinson came back into the side and his displays since have erased the early-season trauma for both player and fans.
“It is very disappointing that Bac has got injured, he’s a world-class right-back but I suppose it does give me a chance and I’ve got try and take it,” he says.
“I am just trying to work hard and take my chance. It’s not going to be easy, I know that, there’s going to be some tough games and there will be ups and downs.
“But I am just working hard to do my best. Everyone knows I will always give 100 per cent for this club. It’s the club I love and the club I have supported all my life.”
Many new signings down the years claim to have supported or had a soft spot in their youth for the club they join but Jenkinson, who grew up in Buckhurst Hill in Essex, is the real deal.
“Some people don’t believe how much of an Arsenal fan my dad is, he’s been an Arsenal season-ticket holder for 40 years. If you walk in our living room at home we’ve got all these programmes in folders going back 40 years.
“Our family is a massive, massive Arsenal family. Everyone is a Gooner in my household. It’s a cliche but it is a dream come true for me to play for Arsenal and I will never take it for granted.
“I think every fan in the stadium would want to be on the pitch and I’m lucky enough to be doing that and representing those people, and trying to make them proud.”