Young Arsenal star targets first-team place next season

Midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong is back from long-term injury, and raring to go again

IT has been a very long eight months for Emmanuel Frimpong.

A long eight months since last summer’s Emirates Cup, when the emerging 19-year-old Arsenal midfielder turned heads with a series of impressive displays alongside Jack Wilshere.

A long eight months since the training ground injury which saw cruciate knee ligament damage curtail Frimpong’s hitherto solid progress from academy star to first-team prospect.

And a long eight months of watching his friend and fellow central midfielder Wilshere mature into an Arsenal and England regular, while Frimpong has sat frustrated on the treatment table.

Little wonder then, that Frimpong’s return from injury for Arsenal reserves against Sunderland earlier this month meant so much to the Ghanaian-born teenager, who now, at long last, can begin to resurrect his ambition to join England international Wilshere in breaking into the Arsenal first team.

“It was hard getting injured because at the time, when it happened, I felt I was doing well. But I think everything happens for a reason and right now I just need to keep focusing on the gym sessions, strengthening my knee, and take it from there at the end of the season,” said Frimpong.

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“It feels good to be back, but I know I need to carry it on until the end of the season.

“It was frustrating because two years ago I had a thigh injury which wouldn’t go away, and that kept me out for a few months as well so everything was a bit stop-start, so I feel like I’ve had bad luck.

“The next year has got to be injury-free for me. I can do a lot of things on the football pitch, but when I’m injured, I can’t push myself. But injuries won’t stop me, it’s all about confidence.”

Confidence is certainly a quality which Frimpong displays in abundance. Arsenal fans will remember the Emirates Cup and Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Austria, when Frimpong and Wilshere displayed signs of a blossoming partnership of the future, Frimpong’s toughness and Wilshere’s passing ability – Wilshere’s style allied to Frimpong’s substance.

“A fighter and a winner,” was Arsene Wenger’s assessment. The Arsenal boss clearly liked what he saw in Frimpong, while from some quarters there were comparisons with another Arsenal midfielder, Alex Song.

Wenger had planned to integrate Frimpong into the side this season, but the midfielder’s injury scuppered those plans; “a massive blow,” added the Arsenal manager.

Meanwhile Wilshere has, of course, gone from strength to strength this season, now a first name not just on Wenger’s team-sheet, but also arguably that of England manager Fabio Capello. It is remarkable progress for a player who is just nine days older than Frimpong.

Frimpong revealed that he received the occasional text from Wilshere during his injury lay-off, checking on his progress.

And it was the thought of rejoining his friend on the pitch – and potentially even fighting with him for that spot in Arsenal’s central midfield, which spurred him on to recovery.

“Me and Jack have been playing together a long time, and when I was injured he did text me from time to time to see how I was doing,” added Frimpong.

“Obviously in the last year Jack has taken things to another level, but he’s stayed injury-free in that time, and that’s what it’s all about. Now I need to try and do the same.

“I could always see the ability in Jack, but I think even if you asked him if he is surprised by his progress, he’d say he was.

At the start of the season he didn’t think he’d be playing games regularly, but if you’re fit and playing well, then the manager can’t really take you out of the team. And he’s been consistent all season. I’m happy for him, but now my target is to come back, and take his place!

“All I can do is stay fit and be ready, and if I do that then I know I’ll eventually be ready for the first team. It’s also nice to hear the manager saying positive things about me.

“I spoke to him a few days ago and he said he was pleased with my progress. I appreciated that, it showed that he was thinking of me.”