Arsenal’s preparations for Sunday’s North London Derby received a timely boost with reports this morning that Bacary Sagna is likely to have recovered from knee-knack in time to face the Boy Wonder. Rumours abound that the Premier League have forced Spurs to field an XI to diminish Gareth Bale’s ability otherwise he would yet to have dropped a point. Welcome to the world of Arsenal, Tottenham; one good season out of a player and then they disappear the following Summer but their legacy is to leave you FFP compliant and proclaiming profits are a sign of good housekeeping <THWACK! Stop talking about the damned accounts>
Should he not make it, Carl Jenkinson will take his place. The youngster did well against Villa, perhaps the moments of madness induced by the Wearside sun were necessary for his development (and that of the team as it happens). Little wonder that he enthused about the core of the team being British, his Englishness ensuring that he is a beneficiary of Arsène considering passports. Time will tell whether his assertion that the youngsters coming through now are going to be good enough players in the future. It is not only the club who benefits, the national team likewise. Whether we will return to the times of England ruling the waves and picking seven Arsenal players for a match remains to be seen. The closest to that is likely to be a training match at London Colney if the FA ever use it again, their desperation to ensure that St George’s Park is not a white elephant will probably preclude that.
Jenkinson harked back to the old days when he noted that Arsenal are an English club, noting that it is something that the “fans can relate to“. I understand what he means, referring to the heart and soul. Decades past, the club would have been a focal point of the community but as mobility increased in society, the function of the club as the heartbeat of the neighbourhood has diminished. Yes, businesses thrive on matchdays, they always will with the club’s pricing structure and general fare being poor. The various projects – the Double club for education, coaching and charitable work – are all commendable but that heart of the community feeling has long since gone, the nails in that coffin hammered in with every passing breath of the Premier League.
Some may take the view that identifying with English players is easier than their foreign counterparts. I don’t buy into that theory. It is the one area that Arsène is utterly correct in that a passport is irrelevant (unless your name is Edu, of course). I don’t care what country a player is from, even someone like Jenkinson who is an Arsenal supporter – and not one posing in a dubious photo – I can’t relate to them. Footballers are beyond any concept of what they used to be. Even in the 80s when I was in my 20s, players the gap between players and supporters was growing. The end of the maximum wage started that process, it took time to gain traction but Bosman and the Premier League ensured that it exploded beyond comparison. I know players all come from similar backgrounds to me – some better, some worse – but that’s where it ends. People who think that they can relate to players now are deluding themselves; football might be the working class game for supporters – even that is dubious – but it is not for the players.
Does the nationality bring about more loyalty? There is a strong case that it does, particularly for someone like Jenkinson or Wilshere, who understand the tribal nature of the game, perhaps have more feeling for the club than someone flying through the doors for a couple of years. Few players have the strength of character displayed by Sol Campbell when he crossed North London a decade ago. Most would not conceive of leaving London Colney for Manchester United but clubs seem reluctant to tap into the native source of players when they are established at big clubs. United and Arsenal do not routinely trade in English players, nor for others either. OK, that might be put to the test now that Arsenal have talented English players coming through. Perhaps that paucity of talent made it seem like an inherent loyalty, the reality being it was a misnomer for lack of talent.
Whatever the case, it is harder to relate to the club as a whole now. The game has changed from my youth and to be honest, my 50p to get onto the North Bank never mattered that much but with revenue streams growing elsewhere, my £50 a game matters even less in the context of the hundreds of millions of pounds they generate each year. The Premier League killed off the heart and soul of the club but as long as there are supporters, it will never kill the heart and soul of the game. No matter how hard it tries.