Partly in order to avoid singling out inexperienced teenagers for scathing riticism, my write-up of the Carling Cup defeat to Burnley was fairly vague. 24 hours on, I’d like to return to some of those young players, with a (hopefully) more positive slant, by forgetting Tuesday night and talking about their future.
The goalkeeper, Lukasz “Wookash” Fabianski, is a funny one. Whenever Arsene is asked about him he smiles smugly and mutters something like “I am very confident that Lukasz will become a world-class goalkeeper”. The tone of his reaction is akin to what you would expect when asking Man City if they were worried about the credit crunch. But in my eyes at least, Fabianski is a long way from ready.
The fans who rate him above Manuel Almunia have been deceieved by decisiveness. Sure, Fabianski is often more willing than the Spaniard to charge off his line, but to call him ‘decisive’ does not discriminate between good and bad decisions. On top of that, he is showing a worrying propensity to flap at crosses.
However, he has two things on his side: time, and Arsene’s faith. It’s remarkable to think that he’s still only 23, which is a full two years younger than United prospect Ben Foster. Joining Arsenal at such a young age means he is developing surrounded by top players and coaches, which can only be a good thing. In the short-term, I suspect he will get the nod in the FA Cup this year, and beyond that he will look to challenge Almunia for the number one shirt. With the Spaniard hardly over the hill himself, Fabianski has a real fight on his hands.
In defence, the full-backs show the most promise. Gavin Hoyte looks like a clone of his brother, though he’ll be hoping to go a step further and establish himself in the Arsenal team. Gavin may face the same conundrum as Justin, however: stay and be part of the Arsenal squad, or move elsewhere to play regular first-team football? I think the elder Hoyte did the right thing by joining Middlesbrough, and it gives me great pleasure to see him doing well for them. For Gavin, patience may be the key. In five years time, when Bac Sagna hits 30, he will be just 22. The time between now and then will be crucial for Hoyte, and with Sagna, Eboue, and Toure all options at right-back, loan spells may be neccessary to provide him with first-team experience – possibly starting in January.
Kieran Gibbs is being groomed as a left-back, and part of me suspects that’s related to Armand Traore’s increasing deployment in midfield. On loan at Portsmouth, the Frenchman has looked very much a winger, getting to the byline and bombing on to support Crouch and Defoe. This opens up a gap in the squad for a player to support and challenge Gael Clichy, and it seems Gibbs has been earmarked as that man.
His quick feet and quicker sprinting certainly bear a resemblance to the present incumbent of the left-back spot. Like Hoyte, a loan spell would be of real benefit, as having only just converted to the position he (somewhat understandably) lacks positional awareness. Whilst Arsene has the option of Silvestre as back-up for Clichy, getting Gibbs some regular football would be advised.
The same midfield started all three games in the Carling Cup squad this season, which is indicative of Arsene’s belief in their talent. Two of them barely need to be discussed: for my money, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are nailed on to become important players for Arsenal and their respective national sides. Like Fabregas and Walcott before them, they’re too good to be loaned out, and will be increasingly involved in the first-team squad over the coming months – I still maintain that Wilshere will play for England before he’s eighteen.
There is more doubt over the futures of Mark Randall and Fran Merida. Randall impressed in the Sheffield United game, was average in the Wigan game, and really rather poor against Burnley. Randall’s principle problem is that he’s not a specialist. He’s not a destroyer, not a dribbler, and not hugely creative. He’s a promising player with the technique you’d expect of an Arsenal graduate, but the fact that he is so far behind Ramsey, two years his junior, in the pecking order speaks volumes. I think he’ll have a good career, but perhaps not at Arsenal.
When Fran Merida followed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona, great things were expected. In the early days, he delivered, dictating the play at youth level and scoring spectacular goals. His vision and technique are exemplary, but thus far he has failed to develop physically to a standard that will see him survive the relative rough-and-tumble of the Premier League. Will he ever stand up to the rigours of central midfield? Or does he have the requisite pace to play on the flank? His mature physicality will emerge over the course of the next two seasons – if he doesn’t bulk out fast, he might be on the plane back to La Liga.
I don’t think the same could be said of Carlos Vela. For what he lacks in upper-body strength, he makes up for with blistering pace and finishing power. His four goals this season have demonstrated exemplary striking skills, and I think Vela could be considered a first-team player proper by the end of the season.
Somewhat perversely, the most experienced of the Carling Cup kids is one whose long-term future is most in doubt. Nicklas Bendtner is undoubtedly a player of real potential, but his recent performances have been very frustrating, and more pink pansy than pink panther. Furthermore, Bendtner’s character seems more volatile than many of his contemporaries’, and with Vela improving and Eduardo returning, I can envisage him losing patience and moving on if he falls out of favour.
Jay Simpson, who only started the game against Wigan but made a good impression with two goals, is rumoured to be getting a new contract. Based on that display, he deserves another chance next year, at the very least. He is a powerful goalscorer in the Andy Cole mould, and could certainly make a decent Premier League career for himself.
However many ‘make it’, the fact that we’ve having this debate just shows the wealth of potential within the club. I’d love to see them all do go on to become Arsenal legends, but the fact that some of them are directly competing with each other for the same spots in the team makes that unlikely. What it does ensure, however, is that those who do make it will have to be seriously good. Which, ultimately, is how it ought to be.
I’m off to do some Christmas shopping. Till tomorrow.