Like Arsenal fans the world over, Carl Jenkinson often finds himself daydreaming about scoring the goal that secures a trophy for the club he loves. A last-minute wonder-strike that cannons in off the underside of the bar, a pinpoint free kick from the edge of the area, even a scrambled effort from close range: it doesn’t matter. He has imagined it all.
The only difference between the 21-year-old and his fellow Gooners is that he is actually in a position to make it a reality.
"Do you know what, it would be a bit embarrassing if I told you the full extent of those thoughts but of course I imagine it," he tells the Arsenal Magazine with a smile. “I’ve supported Arsenal my whole life – I always think about how great it would be to score at home in front of the fans. What more could you want? That would be absolutely amazing and I think you’ll see how happy I am if I ever do get a goal. It would be one of those where adrenaline would take over – no matter what celebration I plan, it would probably go out of the window. I’ll be happy, that’s for sure!"
"It would be one of those where adrenaline would take over – no matter what celebration I plan, it would probably go out of the window!"
Carl has twice come close to breaking his duck. The first was in that incredible 7-5 Capital One Cup tie against Reading last season, when he thought he had scored but the goal was later credited to Theo Walcott. Then, in August, Fenerbahce goalkeeper Volkan Demirel produced a stunning reaction save to deny the right back at the end of their Champions League qualifier at the Emirates. He’s getting closer, but he admits one team-mate doesn’t quite share his faith that he’ll eventually get himself on the scoresheet..."Jack had a cheeky bet with me that I’ll never get one, so I’ll take great pleasure in winning that bet when it does happen! But if he’s in a situation where he’s one on one with the keeper and I’m to the right of him, I’m sure he’ll have a go himself!"I’m pretty confident I’ll get on the scoresheet at some stage – it’s a matter of time. I’m getting in the right positions now, which is the main thing. I’ve got a couple of assists this season and that’s always nice and I’m just trying to contribute in any way I can, whether it’s a goal, an assist or just putting in a strong performance defensively. Whatever it is, that’s what I’ll look to do."It is an attitude typical of the man. Hard-working, diligent and unassuming, Carl has established himself as a invaluable and popular member of Arsène Wenger’s first-team squad during a highly encouraging season. And while excitement may be building among the fanbase – including Carl himself – he insists there is a long way to go before we can start talking about winning the title.
"It’s a great time for everyone at the Club at the moment,” he says. “We’re going into the business end now. The spirit in the group is as good as it’s ever been so it’s nice to be a part of that."Things are a lot different this year. In previous seasons, we haven’t been miles off but we also haven’t been in the thick of it. This year we’re up at the top of the league and there’s definitely a winning mentality in the squad. That’s a great thing to have.
"We’ve fought so hard up to this stage of the season and everybody wants to be successful"
"You don’t want to talk too soon about this kind of stuff but of course it’s great to be a part of it. As a player and as a supporter of the Club, all I want is to see Arsenal doing well. If I can be a part of that and can contribute whenever I’m called upon, that’s what I’ll do." So what’s it like for a lifelong Arsenal fan to find themselves in a position where they could play the decisive role in helping the Club win a trophy?
"It’s strange of course. I think it took a while for me to adjust in my first season – early on you still have a fan’s mentality because I came straight from being a supporter to playing for the Club."It’s different now. I have the mindset of being a player for Arsenal and not so much as a fan. That’s important because when you’re on the pitch, you can’t get too carried away with certain things. You have to remember your job and be professional.
"But it would mean absolutely everything to me [to win something this season]. It would mean so much to every person sitting in the changing room. We’ve fought so hard up to this stage of the season and everybody wants to be successful. It would mean the world to everyone. We all want to lift trophies and for me to do that in an Arsenal shirt would be absolutely amazing – I can’t even explain how it would feel." It is not only Carl’s attitude that has shifted since he joined Arsenal from Charlton Athletic in June 2011. He admits that, more than two years on and with more than 50 appearances for the Club to his name, life is very different these days.
"Loads of things have changed. I get recognised a lot more and I’ve always found that quite hard to deal with. I’m quite a private person and I like to get on with my everyday stuff so it took a while to get used to but I still find it a bit strange. “With my football, I have to work even harder on every aspect of my game. It’s difficult to switch off because the level is so intense that you have to be at the top of your game all the time.
"You’re always thinking about football – you get your rest in, you eat the right stuff and keep yourself hydrated. My everyday life has become a bit more intense because I’m playing with better players and in doing that I’ve got to look after myself and work even harder.""I’m always working – not that I didn’t work hard before but you have to push yourself that bit extra now if you really want to perform. I’m always trying to work on my fitness and doing extra things to improve it, be it sprints or endurance work. It’s a massive part of my game and one of the things that makes me stand out from the rest."
Indeed, Aaron Ramsey – known for his exceptional stamina levels himself – told the Arsenal Magazine recently that ‘Jenko’ would be his closest rival in a cross-country race among the Arsenal squad.
"I’m good technically but some of the players that I’m playing with are exceptional"
"It would definitely be very close,” Carl smiles. "It’s interesting actually because Aaron is fit in a different way to me. For a central midfielder, there’s a lot of twisting and turning involved and getting around the pitch. For me, it’s just getting up and down, which is more endurance. We have a different sort of fitness but we are both very fit in our own right. "I am very proud of that aspect of my game. I try to work hard on it and I’ve had to work a lot on my technique as well because coming from the level that I was at [with Charlton], I’m good technically but some of the players that I’m playing with are exceptional.
"To be on their level is something I’ve had to work at but in training we work a lot on our touch and our passing so I think I’ve definitely developed a lot. It’s nice to see that improvement and feel it in yourself. From the first day I turned up here to now, technically I’ve improved a lot and that’s a nice feeling." Often pinpointed as the game where Arsenal’s fortunes turned on a sixpence, last season’s 2-0 victory against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena was also something of a personal success story for Carl. Arguably the highest-profile game of his career, the right back excelled and even drew applause from the home fans in the first half when he raced back and dispossessed Arjen Robben as the Dutch winger threatened to burst clear on goal. "I had a good game but in terms of how the team played and what it did for our season... it was bittersweet because we came up short at the end of the day, but it was a real turning point of the season. I wouldn’t say that was my best performance but it was good and friends have told me that people were impressed with me. That’s always nice to hear but it was more about the team performance.
Read the the full interview with Carl in our latest edition
There’s still the small matter of that first senior goal to sort out. Maybe it will come against Bayern or even, dare he think it, for England at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil...
"That’d be nice! But I’m just focusing on playing regularly for Arsenal and then we’ll think about England. You never know, but Arsenal is my priority."
Spoken like a true Gooner.
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