Growth not grief key for Carl Jenkinson
When Carl Jenkinson signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2011, he achieved his boyhood dream. The lifelong Gunners fan had grown up in a bedroom filled with Arsenal memorabilia. Now, he would wear the shirt for real. If he could have been granted one more wish, it might well have been to never leave. However, that is not to be. After three years with the club, Jenkinson appears to be on the verge of a move away from Arsenal.
His departure comes as something of a shock. When Bacary Sagna announced his intention to leave Arsenal at the end of his contract, Jenkinson was proposed by many as a potential successor. He had often impressed as a deputy, and his form in the autumn of 2012 even earned him an England cap.
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When Arsenal moved to sign Mathieu Debuchy, it didn't necessarily spell trouble for Jenkinson. It was thought that the two full-backs could fight it out for Sagna's spot. It was when Arsenal started sniffing around other right-backs that things began to look ominous. First, there were a string of stories suggesting Arsenal would sign Atletico Madrid's Spanish full-back Javi Manquillo. Shortly afterwards, they sprang the surprise signing of Southampton's Calum Chambers.
Chambers arrives with a higher price tag and reputation than Jenkinson. What's more, he's younger. It's inevitable that he will take a higher spot in the pecking order. It seems as if the older Englishman has been squeezed out of contention.
His destination looks like being West Ham United, with Hammers boss Sam Allardyce telling talkSPORT on Wednesday: "We're interested in signing Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal on loan. I'm hoping it's going to be completed in the next 24 hours. We're hoping that's going to be OK."
It's intriguing to see Arsene Wenger entrusting Allardyce with one of his younger players. Usually, he is keen to ensure they are loaned to sides who play a more technical brand of football. However, Allardyce is an excellent defensive coach. Jenkinson will learn plenty about the game's dark arts under his tutelage. For a player who can occasionally appear a little naive, that's no bad thing.
Despite the opportunity to advance his game, Jenkinson will be sad to leave Emirates Stadium. The Arsenal supporters will be sorry to see him go, too. They love seeing one of their own out on the pitch. In an age when the connection between fans and players is increasingly tenuous, having someone with a genuine passion for the club on the field is something to be treasured.
If Jenkinson ends up making the move permanent, he can take some comfort from the fact that, for three years, he lived the dream. Every Arsenal fan would give anything to trade places with him. He can draw satisfaction from the fact that his time with Arsenal was punctuated by their first trophy win in almost a decade. There were individual moments of glory, too; rather wonderfully, in the final Premier League game of last season, Jenkinson was able to grab his first and only Gunners goal. He will always have that moment.
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However, it's too soon to be writing obituaries for Jenkinson's Arsenal career. This is, after all, only a loan. If Jenkinson has the right attitude, he could see this as an opportunity to stake a permanent place in the Arsenal setup. Mathieu Debuchy has just turned 29 -- he is not a long-term solution at right-back. If Jenkinson can impress at West Ham, he could return to Arsenal as a superior player, ready to challenge Chambers for a first-team spot.
This is no time for mourning. Wenger will want to see growth, not grief. A gauntlet has been thrown down to Jenkinson. Now he must fight to keep his Arsenal dream alive.