There’s only one place to start this morning and that’s the announcement from yesterday that five players, British ones at that, had signed new long-term deals.
As expected Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson signed new contracts which will, all going well, keep them at all the club for seasons to come. Arsene Wenger said:
The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the Club. Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group – but the other four players are exceptional footballers, and we’re very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.
Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Wilshere represent a core of the squad and it’s an extension for a long period for all of them. I’m a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it’s always easier to keep them together and that’s what we’ll try to achieve going forward.
It’s an interesting thing to hear him say, especially after I spoke yesterday about the profile of the players he’s been signing recently. The idea of building a team around a talented group of young players is not new, we’ve been down this road before, but now it seems there’s tacit acceptance that for these players to flourish and develop properly they need experience around them.
The Invincibles were dismantled so quickly, too quickly, and the last Project Youth didn’t work as well as it should have. Most people understand why we embarked on that journey, but in my opinion it fell short because there was a lack of guidance and an over-reliance on the best of these young players to educate the others – when in reality they still had much to learn about the game itself. I remember one away day, at Sunderland I think, when Cesc was partnered in midfield with Denilson and an extremely raw Alex Song. We struggled that day and I remember thinking that Cesc was good enough to carry that burden but also that we’d have been a much better team if he’d had an experienced partner alongside him.
There’s also the manager’s style, in which he allows players freedom to think about why things didn’t go so well in a game and while that kind of hands-off approach can work with intelligent, older guys, it’s not ideal for most young players. They need to be told stuff, they need to be helped on and off the pitch by people who have been around the block a bit, and this time around this ‘core’ has plenty of experience around them. These guys represent a small but important part of the squad, but they’ve got big international players showing them the way, super professionals like Arteta who can show them that even if they don’t make the national stage they can have a career that can be respected and admire, and that can only be a good thing.
But, and here it comes, for all that, and for all the help and coaching and advice they’ll get, it’s ultimately down to these players themselves to ensure they make it at Arsenal. Clearly the manager and the club believe in their talent, but as we all know fine well, talent will only get you so far in football. Hard work, dedication, application, attitude, a desire to be the best and to achieve things in their career other than a nice house and a fast car are what’s needed.
We’ve seen players with less natural ability than some of these guys make good, at times legendary, careers at this club because what they lacked in skill and finesse they made up with sheer guts and effort. They’ve all got the potential to be excellent players, some more excellent than others (obviously), but there can be no resting on their laurels and thinking they’ve made it because of a contract and a nice announcement. That’s only the first part of it, and the easy one too, the rest is down to them. They must want to improve, to be better each time and with that comes an acceptance that others might know better than you.
Aaron Ramsey, for example, is a player who divides opinion, Grand Canyon style. I think there’s a very good player under the surface but I fully understand frustration with his game. He’d do well to listen to the advice of Frank McLintock who told the BBC during the week:
He’s a lad that’s got a great engine in him, he’s got a good honest attitude. I would just love to have a chat with him and tell him to improve his performance by a long way by just simplifying his game.
I feel he takes too many touches on the ball. He’s trying to over-complicate it. I’m not trying to sound too critical, I’m actually trying to give him a little bit of advice and my opinion.
Which I think is sound advice, and I don’t think there’s really any issue with Ramsey’s work-rate, but simplifying his game would make him a better player. The other thing to consider is that I’m sure Frank McLintock is not the first person to have offered this advice to the young Welshman, so let’s hope he listens up and becomes the player we all hoped he would until the tide turned against him. Like him, or not, he’s considered part of the future of this club and at the end of the day it works out best for everyone if he becomes a better player.
Overall though, it’s good news and it’s hard not to be pleased that these guys have been secured in the long-term. It shows, also, that talk of how contracts take a long time to sort out is a load of old nonsense and I don’t think I need to say any more than that.
Finally for today, the draw for the first knock-out round of the Champions League takes place today. We’re in the mix with Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, PSG, Malaga, Bayern Munich or Barcelona. No easy games in there, whatever way you look at it. I fancy a bit of Barça myself, we’ve gotta win there at some point, right? And if not, there’s always the Estrella and the Pepito.
The draw starts some time this morning and concludes on Christmas Eve. Thoughts on that in tomorrow’s blog and in the Arsecast, until then take it easy.