‘If you are good enough you are old enough’
The above question has been at the back of my mind for a while. In reality it has been in my thoughts since the emergence of Coquelin so magnificently in 2015. Why? Because the likelihood of Wenger signing Schneiderlin or a similar player, as a result, I believe have lessened. Most feel we need an alternative to Le Coq or indeed some feel to play with him in the big away matches. From what I read most seem unfavourably disposed toward the idea of Arteta or Flamini providing that cover or option. This seems harsh to me as I have no doubt that a fresh Mikel could still do a job against the lesser sides if Coq was given a breather.
The option however that is rarely discussed or when it is, is dismissed out of hand, is that Wenger may have already bought the Coquelin cover in January when he invested over £2 million in Krystian Bielik from Legia Warsaw. I have a few conversations on twitter with guys I respect and whose opinions I value (@SweGoon and @TheGarrison_AFC spring to mind) and the consensus is the young Pole is too young and inexperienced and will need another season developing with the U21 team or on loan to be ready for 1st team action in 2016/17.
Common sense, reason and past experience in the main would suggest that view is correct but this article if you stay with me would like to play devil’s advocate on this debate. I was at a meeting at Arsenal in January where in a Q&A with Mark Gonnella he was asked to just reveal one little exclusive for the AISA members in attendance. Mark though for a while and then told us that everyone at the club from coaching staff to players have been incredibly impressed with how Bielik had settled in with the squad. He added that Wenger may be cautious but there was little doubt that he would be with the first team sooner rather than later.
Of course Wenger in March after watching Krystian’s debut for the U18s Le Boss suggested he would hold his involvement with the first team until next season. Or should I say when asked the direct question in March Wenger said “I don’t think that that will happen.” The tone of answer suggested that it had not been ruled out, out of hand. He went on to say ‘He’s a very strong player, he’s 17, he has a very good technical level and looks intelligent. But we’ll have to give him a little time to settle and adapt.’
What would be hard to argue is that physically playing with men would present a problem. The video of his debut above show’s clearly the stature and strength of the lad. So the question is more about talent, undisputed I suspect, temperament and experience. Now none of us can know how Wenger feels about this but I think we can be certain that Coquelin is front and centre in his thoughts. It is Coquelin’s defensive midfield shirt now and it is far to assume having been describing as a £30 million player by his manager he will figure prominently next season. So what Wenger is perhaps looking for his top class talent to step in for the odd game to allow the Frenchman a rest? Can Bielik be that man as soon as the coming season considering his lack of first team experience and that he does not turn 10 until January?
Now I don’t know the answer to the above and claim no inside knowledge but what I thought I might do is look at historical precedents of young players making a difference at Arsenal with little or no experience at a young age. With the old adage of ‘if you are good enough you are old enough’ in your head and considering we are not talking about our young Pole playing week in and week out I would ask you to keep an open mind before you dismiss the idea.
The following may assist:-
Diaby was signed from Auxurre in the January of 2006 having played only 10 games for the French side. From January to May he featured in 16 games for Arsenal, including 2 in the Champions League, the very top level of football, all before he turned 20.
When Arsenal signed Ramsey in June 2008 he was 17 and had played a grand total of only 22 games for Cardiff, all in the Championship. With so little experience and at such a young age surely he would not be able to step into Arsenal’s first team set up? Wrong in the first year he played 22 matches including 6 in Europe, becoming our youngest scoring in the Champions League from Memory. All of this before he was 18 and a half!
Jack had played just 29 professional games before the start of 2010/11 and 14 of those had been on loan at Bolton in 2009/10. At the beginning of that season aged 17 Wilshere was being tipped to have a key role in the first team squad. Injuries game him a chance to shine early on and he went onto play 49 matches 7 of them in the Champions League, including the match v Barcelona in which he out shone their luminaries.
When Arsene forked out £15 million on ‘another kid from Southampton’ in the summer of 2011 collective eyebrows were raised amongst the Arsenal faithful. It was a huge jump from Division One, 2 leagues below the Premiership where Ox had featured in only 42 League and Cup games aged 16 and 17. There was no way Ox would play for us in that first season surely?
By the end of September Ox had suffered defeat 8-2 at Old Trafford, scored on his League Cup debut and scored on his Champions League debut and had only just turned 18. By the end of his first season in which most thought he would hardly play as Walcott before him had not Alex had played 26 times for the Arsenal first team and 4 of those where in the Champions League.
If you are wavering on whether it is possible that Krystian Bielik might possibly have a role to play in the first team as cover for Coquelin if he is good enough I have save the best until last
When Hector arrived back at Arsenal in the summer of 2014 from a loan spell at Championship Watford he was 19 and had only played 8 times as a professional footballer. Despite impressing for Arsenal as a Youth surely if he could not get in the Watford team he was never going to feature even as cover for Arsenal? Another loan seemed likely particularly considering he has the newly signed French international right back, in Debuchy and a full England Cap in Jenkinson ahead of him.
Wenger surprised a few by loaning out Jenko and leaving us with a 19 year old rookie who could not cut it at Watford as first team cover, The rest as they say is history and I assume if asked whether Bellerin or Debuchy will start next season Hector might get a fair few votes. Most of you voting yes for the young Spaniard would have been saying the same about him last summer as we are saying about Bielik this summer!
Bellerin having played 8 matches in the Championship in 13/14 played 28 for Arsenal in 2014/15, scored twice and won the FA Cup.
So in summary I don’t know if Bielik will play for the first team this season but I do know that if he is as good as reports say then Wenger will have no hesitation in playing him at the right time. A lot may depend on pre-season and if he plays well in The Capitol One Cup but there are enough recent precedents at our own club and with our own current squad to surely suggest that dismissing it out of hand is brave.
The lad himself is supremely confident as his April instagram post – Aim? The aim is simple. This place is going to be mine in the future.
Thanks for reading!
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.