International breaks can often be boring time for football fans, especially when they fall immediately after the close of the transfer window. The elation felt after the sensational capture of Mesut Ozil has now turned to almost unbearable anticipation as we wait to see his first game in an Arsenal shirt. It’s like giving a child a new toy at Christmas then telling them they have to wait until after New Year to play with it.
But, the international break does shed light on the changing nature of Arsenal’s squad. The high number of Arsenal players battling for places in the England team is very encouraging. Especially in a year where the number of homegrown players starting the first game of the Premier League season hit a record low of 34.1%. The fact that Arsenal can now boast so much young English talent really bodes well for the future of both the national team and The Gunners.
The work that Wenger has put in to develop young English players like Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keiran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson will, you feel, prove vital if England are to reach FA chairman Greg Dyke’s target of reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and winning the World Cup in 2022. Possibly the most beneficial aspect of Wenger’s influence is the creativity that he breeds into his players; something the England side has been severely lacking for some time.
But, the benefit is not only felt at the national level. Wenger has received much criticism in the past for favouring foreign imports over English players. But, by giving his current crop of homegrown talent a chance to shine in the senior squad he has created a core of players around which both the England and Arsenal squad can be built for years to come.
This core of players, who have all recently signed long term contracts, are key to the “spirit” and unity that Wenger has repeatedly praised in his squad since the departure of Van Persie. Many questioned the strength of this spirit, including myself, when Arsene seemingly refused to strengthen the squad this summer. But the 1-0 victory over Spurs silenced his critics, as this spirit was impressively revealed for all to see. A side that hadn’t spent a penny on transfers secured a hard fought victory over a squad that had spent over £100million on reinforcements.
The current British (mustn’t forget Aaron Ramsey) contingent in the squad bring qualities that are not usually associated with Arsenal. A battling spirit, the knack for grinding out victories and the ability to play direct football where necessary, have all been noticeable in Arsenal’s play towards the end of last season and the beginning of this. For me, seeing the commitment and togetherness of horde of red shirts racing back to block Roberto Soldado’s shot off the line was the most pleasing point in last Sunday’s victory.
The signing of Ozil was a fantastic piece of business by Wenger and has been heralded by the press as the dawning of a new era for Arsenal. But instead it should be seen as the icing on the cake rather than a whole new beginning. We must not forget the journey that the current squad has been on together and the hard work that Wenger has put in to develop a talented batch of homegrown players for the future.