Martin Keown and midfield options

Best of the Blogs - A Cultured Left Foot

There was a hint when the first answer came in. Martin Keown doesn’t particularly rate John Terry, he’s never “been his biggest fan”.

Whilst Redknapp and Carragher knew no limits with their sycophancy, the former Arsenal defender cut to the bone with his summation of Terry’s abilities.

Three words, those three words which guarantee a permanent seat in the pantheon of Arsenal legends:

"Adams was better."

Martin Keown, I salute you.

Best of the Blogs

This article first appeared on A Cultured Left Foot in 2016

A Cultured Left Foot

The FA Cup fifth round draw was kind to Arsenal, Hull City providing the opposition for the third year running and all the usual guff about omens has been mentioned. It’s as good as we could have hoped for, particularly as it seemed that we were heading for a north London derby for a small time during the draw itself.

Coming the weekend before Barcelona visit the Emirates, it will be no surprise when Arsène shuffles the pack. That won’t include playing either Tomas Rosicky or Jack Wilshere. Reports are shaped to suggest injury ‘setbacks’ for both but whilst that is true in Rosicky’s case, Wilshere’s appears to be nothing more than based on Arsène’s comment that he has only just begun outdoor work again.

Six weeks for Wilshere seems entirely within expectations based on that and nothing new.

That the two are mentioned in the same breath marks something of a baton being passed. Quips about Wilshere being the ‘English Diaby’ are wide of the mark; he’s the ‘English Rosicky’, both in terms of injury and abilities.

Wilshere’s return in March will be timely for Roy Hodgson. He’s previously stated that to be included in the final Euro2016 squad, players have to be fit and playing by Easter. How rigid that deadline is remains to be seen and were Wilshere fit by the time the squad is named, it may be a case of cutting of his nose to spite his face if Hodgson didn’t include him. The English talent pool is not so deep that Jack can be ignored.

But it underlines that talk of Arsenal’s squad depth remains talk. As Rosicky gamboled across the turf on Saturday, the Crown Prince had returned. Reinforcements were arriving, even if only to provide momentary relief but it eased the workload on some and with his abilities, Rosicky can still ‘do a job’ for Arsène if needed.

Not now. A stat appeared yesterday that Santi Cazorla has made more Premier League appearances than the Czech despite signing six years afterwards. Not true – it’s Premier League starts rather than total appearances – but that it can even be claimed underlines how Rosicky’s career has been blighted by injury.

Rosicky is at the opposite end of the same spectrum as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsène spoke after the win over Hull about the England international, defending him against his voluble critics.

We forget these guys are still very, very young. He’s getting to the age now where he will be most efficient. At the start of your career you’re a talent, and then you become efficient.

Last year marked something of a plateau for Ox. Mistakes tended to be punished severely and Arsène suggested that the player took them to heart. He is, according to Wenger, “too harsh with himself”. There is a knock-on effect from this self-criticism. It’s evident that his relative youth brings out a desire to put things right, trying too hard in the vernacular.

As Arsène put it, “It’s not too much a lack of confidence, but he has such a high expectation level that he’s very demanding of his performances.”

Part of the problem is that lack of match sharpness. The modern squad system means that half-a-dozen players each week are waiting for a loss of form, injury, suspension or general falling out of favour, to get some playing time. They may only get twenty minutes in a month if circumstances are against them and it shows when they are given a place in the starting line-up. Put them with a newly formed XI and the cracks are evident in play.

Our expectations, it seems, are higher than the player’s own. I’ve seen arguments that his fee requires that he be ready and to a certain extent that tag blights Calum Chambers as well. It’s unrealistic to believe that will be the case with the fee more reflecting the potential – and a good negotiating team – than anything else.

Wenger laid it out clearly.

An automatic choice in our job doesn’t exist, especially in the big clubs. You get some players who get to that status when they’re 26 or 27, but there are not many who are an automatic choice at 22.

I won’t argue with that. Cesc and to a lesser extent other lights of ‘Project Youth’ spoiled the future for others. The Premier League mantra of ‘success now’ feeds supporters demands even more whilst the media has always been content to build up a player as the next best thing before sticking the size 11’s firmly in.

You can’t tell a young player not to try harder, it won’t compute in their minds. That Ox cares enough to follow that path is a good starting point; a lackadaisical attitude wouldn’t get him far in football. There’s something to build on and over the course of the rest of his career, he – and we – will reap the benefits of a touch of patience.

It will be alright on the night, as Dennis Norden used to quip. I hope that night comes sooner rather than later for the lad.

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