English Lions starting to roar for Arsenal

Theo Walcott scores against Udinese

As John Stammers of Goal.com reminded readers, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made history back in February of 2005 when he became the first English Premier League manager to field a starting 11 that didn’t include one English player. The reason for this appears to be necessitated by injuries to some of his top players at the time such as Sol Campbell, Justin Hoyte, and Ashley Cole. The Gunners thumped Crystal Palace 5-1 that day with their foreign contingent.

While Wenger used a mainly-foreign lineup for a few years he’s now got several talented and important English players in the squad. Not only that, but they also contribute to the cause more often than not when they’re on the pitch. These include Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, and Kieran Gibbs, with several more out on loan or in the reserves. These players are also making waves in the national setup for England and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott could be in for new contracts and pay rises this summer.

Wenger has been heavily criticized over the years for doing his best to stagnate the growth of English-born football players. It was believed by many, and perhaps rightly so, that Wenger preferred to buy and develop players from overseas instead of young Englishmen. This was a drastic change from the days when players such as Martin Keown, Campbell, Cole, Ray Parlour, Tony Adams, Ian Wright, and David Seaman were the Gunners’ stars.

Perhaps Wenger’s changed his tune a bit since he hasn’t won any silverware with Arsenal now for seven years and counting, or it’s possible he might have bought a few English players anyway, even if they were winning cups and league titles. But, for such a huge English side, there wasn’t one Arsenal player in the squad for the Three Lions in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, mainly because Cole had moved on to Chelsea and former England manager Fabio Capello felt Walcott wasn’t worth taking.

But with Arsenal fighting for third spot in the league now after such a dreadful start, the club’s English players could be depended on to secure the Champions League spot. Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain are considered to be key components of the squad these days and the same can be said of the injured Jack Wilshire. Even Kieran Gibbs is getting in on the action with a goal in last weeks’ 3-0 win over visiting Aston Villa. In fact, with Walcott getting on the scoreboard as well, it was the first game since way back in 1997 in which two English players have managed to score for Arsenal in the same contest.

Things have been looking brighter for the 22-year-old Gibbs especially since he found himself on the outside looking in when Andre Santos was acquired and then undergoing surgery back in November for a hernia operation. Gibbs got a chance to show supporters what he could do though after Santos suffered an injury in December and has looked impressive so far.

Walcott joined the Gunners back in 2006 from Southampton for a hefty fee of about £12 million. Even though he’s struggled at times he’s also shown flashes of brilliance for his club and country. He hasn’t been setting the league on fire this season, but has hit the back of the net half a dozen times and set up eight other goals. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s situation was similar to Walcott’s as he cost about the same amount of money and was also bought from Southampton.

He’s still only 18, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is proving that he has what it takes to make it big in the Premier League. He’s entertaining, has tremendous speed and appears to have a quality football brain, which can never be underestimated these days. He’s banged in some goals and showed poise beyond his years.

As for Wilshere, he’s been around the Gunners since before his 10th birthday I believe. The 20-year-old has suffered from an unfortunate ankle fracture injury this year, but when he’s healthy he’s been a breath of fresh air in the midfield for Arsenal supporters. His previous loan to Bolton seems to have worked out well and he’s more than likely to have been a fixture in the national team if he’d have stayed healthy over the last several months.

All of these players could gain some excellent experience this summer if they make England’s Euro 2012 squad. In addition, the club has more English players in the likes of Henri Lansbury, Carl Jenkinson, and Benik Afobe who appear to be maturing at an exceptional rate. If all of these players live up to their predicted potential, we could perhaps see an English nucleus at Arsenal once again in the near future.

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