You guys tell me you like the scene setting introductions so here goes. Alan Hansen was wrong and out of touch as early as 1995 on MOTD, and for some inexcusable reason he still has a job on the same show. Most of you will know that it was Hansen who famously said that it was fantasy for Ferguson to believe he could win the league with youngsters, having sold 3 of his talismanic stars and top players in the summer. “You’ll never win anything with kids”, was Hansen’s opinion after a predominantly young Manchester United lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season. He was not alone in raising the proverbial eyebrow, Roger Moore style, when the canny Scot decided he could do without Kanchelskis, Ince and Hughes. Well in 1995/96 Manchester United did win the Premiership by 4 points, scoring 73 goals and with 6 players under the age of 21. The point is as Ferguson proved famously overhauling Keegan’s Newcastle, is that you CAN win trophies with kids, as they won the double in 96, when the kids are extremely talented and they are blended with top quality experience.
Looking at the 95/96 Manchester United experience in closer detail I believe leads us to an obvious parallel to the crossroads Wenger and this present Arsenal side may have reached. Yes Ferguson introduced 4 or 5 talented youngsters into the team but with the exception of the Nevilles, they were all offensive players. Butt, Beckham and Scholes were blended with other young stars in Cole, Giggs and Sharpe, but critically the spine of experience remained. The back 5 was virtually always one young Neville with Schmeichel, Irwin, Bruce and Pallister, so the base was rock solid. Then in midfield the verve and creativity of zestful and uninhibited youth was held together with the glue of Roy Keane and Eric Cantona or Brian McClair partnered Andy Cole.
So are the Arsenal of 2012 at the same crossroads now? Similarly observers in the media, ex players and most of you, if you are honest, were aghast at when we sold 3 senior professionals last summer. The loss of Fabregas and perhaps Nasri would be felt by any club in the world, but the same in 1995 was said of Paul Ince and Andre Kanchelskis. The decision to outsiders in the summer of 95 looked odd, to put it politely, as Ferguson that summer bought not a single player to Old Trafford. But when you know you have Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham ready for the rigours of the Premiership, the decision is not odd, it is genius.
Only Wenger and his staff could judge how ready our young talent was to step up last summer and they could not have known that they would be missing Wilshere for this long. What we all now know and I think believe, is that Wenger was right about many of our young inexperienced professionals last summer. Is there any of us who would swap Laurent Koscielny for Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka now? Yet many of us insisted we needed to make this very swap last summer, and shift Kozza down the pecking order. Hands up who still wants Buffon or Given now when we have the Polish fire band, who celebrates every goal like we do? Did you see him on the big screen on Tuesday after Rosicky fired in the second? Say it loud boys ‘Szczesny is a Gooner’ and I believe he will be between the sticks for the next 10 years or more. This brings us onto the player who is fast becoming an enigma, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Many of you and I am glad to say I was not one, thought spending big on this young chap was folly. I knew living in Southampton now that this was potentially the best investment Wenger had made since Thierry Henry. The only question is where to play him? He can undoubtedly play on either flank and his pace and dribbling ability suggest with Wenger’s track record that is where he might play. However the maturity of his performance alongside Song and Rosicky in the centre against Milan suggests he might play where he wants to, which is in the gaping hole left by Cesc. I will ask a question to which you will all know the answer. When did you last see a player dominate a top draw European midfield and such a young age? The answer of course being Wilshere against Barcelona a year ago.
So this leaves Wenger with a dilemma and it leave us fans with the same one to debate. Would any of you not feel we should build our team to challenge in 2012/13 and for the years ahead around Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain? Players that good and this ready, at this age are freaks of nature and come along infrequently. Owen, Rooney, Fabregas, Ozil, Ronaldo would be examples in the recent past BUT we have two of them on our hands right now. Wilshere and Oxlade Chamberlain are our Beckham and Scholes in 2012 so the dilemma is where do you play both to be most effective for our great club and if you agree that both will play does it truly leave room for a Gotze or a Hazard?
Now add in to the mix Ryo and Joel Campbell who might just also fit into this category too by the way. Perhaps then sprinkle in Ramsey, Frimpong, Coquelin and then stir in, Iggy Miquel, Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Nico Yennaris, Lansbury, Henderson and Ozzy Ozyakup. We have all seen enough or heard enough from guys we respect like Brady and Bould to know, that some of this next batch of youngsters is a cut above those we have trumpeted before. We are not looking at the next Simpson, Hoyte, Vela, Merida, Randall, Muamba, Ogogo or Cruise, but more likely are ready to embrace the next Merson, Thomas, Davis, Rocastle, Adams, Keown and Quinn.
Not since the above Don Howe legacy of huge talent inherited by George Graham, to which he in turn added the experience, have we had such an explosion of talent at the Arsenal. Not all will make it of course but there are some huge decisions to be made about which will and which will not, but it has become obvious to me and I am sure many of us is that the spine is taking shape.
If any of us had to pick a starting 11 for August 2012 I would guess that many of us would have the same core. As will United in 1995/96 we have a back 4 with 3 established senior professionals. Sagna, Vermaelen and Koscielny are our Irwin, Bruce and Pallister. Add to this Robin van Persie, our Eric Cantona, Alex Song, our Roy Keane and In Szczesny we certainly have our Schmeichel, if a tad younger and slimmer, then you have the backbone of a team to challenge for year to come. Now if we all agree that our 2 young phenomenons in Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain must be our Scholes and Beckham there are only 3 places in our first 11, if such a thing exists these days, up to grabs.
So having stuck with my analogy so far and knowing your football as you do, we now just have to determine whether our Neville, Giggs and Cole come from the current crop of youngsters or experienced professionals like Santos, Rosicky or Arteta or if we spend the war chest?
Bringing this all together I am sure most of you are keen for Wenger to splash the cash but do you actually want Hazard or Gotze ahead of Alex or Jack? Really? Perhaps we could push one of them wide ahead of Ryo, Walcott or Gervinho? Do you want that? I am not saying we should not do it but I am saying it needs to be seriously weighed up, because the spirit in the group right now is incredible. However when we do move it should be early and this time it should be proven experience and not youth because I am not convinced that the young megastars we are continually linked to are better than those we already have at the club. Be careful also what you wish for because I am not certain that pushing out the likes of Arteta, Walcott and Rosicky, the way our skipper talks about them, is what RVP wants to convince him to sign a new deal. Either way we would appear to have the squad to challenge next season and with a few additions and a few progressing we are unlikely to found with a bench as lacking as that on Tuesday night.
Oh and by the way, No it is not a fantasy for us to win the league again with these kids!
Until next time and thanks for reading.
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