Jenkinson’s Arsenal allegiance shouldn’t mask his underperformance
Perhaps the defining moment of Carl Jenkinson’s Arsenal career came midway through the second half of last Wednesday’s EFL Cup quarter final defeat to Southampton. The right back made a good tackle and moved away from his nearest man. As he travelled the first five yards, he grew in confidence. Suddenly, he was marauding forward into space, carrying the ball 20 yards, but all the time looking for options.
In an instant, an outstretched leg slid in, made a successful tackle and Southampton broke. Jenkinson was now well out of position, putting his team now on the back foot. That split second of hesitation when he didn’t release the ball to a teammate was enough to now place his side in danger.
This moment was Jenkinson’s Arsenal career in a nutshell; something really good and encouraging quickly followed by an error or a mistake that, although not eventually proving costly, is not the type of thing you often see Hector Bellerin doing.
It had already been a bad night for Jenkinson. Both of Southampton’s first half goals came from his side of the pitch. The first saw him tucked inside and out of position, so that when the Saints switched the play, Sofiane Boufal could cut the ball back simply into a dangerous area. For the second, Arsenal dithered on the ball, soon guilty of ‘overplaying’ it down the right. Unfortunately, Jenkinson was the one who lost it, the visitors broke and within seconds Ryan Bertrand had doubled the lead.
Looking at the preferred backup options for when Bellerin is missing, they couldn’t really be more different. Jenkinson is the guy living everyone inside the stadium’s dream; the boyhood obsessive whose bedroom looked like the Arsenal World of Sport threw up all over it. On the other hand there is Mathieu Debuchy, a French international with 27 caps, but someone who hasn’t endeared himself to the fanbase with his attitude since losing his regular spot to the Spaniard.
Subconsciously, fans probably want Jenkinson to do better because he’s “one of us”. But the gulf in quality is plain to see. Debuchy started really well on Sunday against Bournemouth, unluckily suffering an injury and limping off. This allowed Jenkinson a reprieve and an easy route back into the team for the Southampton game.
There is no doubt he fluffed that most recent chance, with some gloomy predictions on Twitter suggesting this could be the final straw for the former Junior Gunner. “He may never play again,” is a view commonly shared.
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Arsene Wenger’s final change last Wednesday was to bring on Ainsley Maitland Niles – a player who has spent most of his youth career in midfield. Not for the first time, he slotted in at right back, displaying composure on the ball and playing one raking cross field pass in particular.
Since then, Gabriel – a centre back by trade – has been preferred in both of Arsenal’s fixtures since, the away win at West Ham and Tuesday’s night’s victory over Basel. Although it’s clearly not his favoured place on the field, the Brazilian has stepped in admirably, doing the simple thing well without over elaborating. Importantly, he’s done nothing to suggest that Wenger needs to recall his Englishman.
There has always been a feeling that Jenkinson has not quite been of the required standard for Arsenal, dating right back to the early horror show he endured at Old Trafford during the fateful 8-2 defeat.
But there have been good games and real signs of improvement over the years. For a while, an argument could’ve been made that he was Arsenal’s best crosser – a trait that now seems to have diminished. His effort could never be questioned, and the first season he spent on loan at West Ham produced some really strong performances.
Unfortunately the regression is real though, with Jenkinson’s form suffering considerably post-injury. Lapses in concentration, giving the ball away, being off the pace in matches; none of that should be excused just because he’s a fan of the club.
The last month has signified just how important Bellerin is to Arsenal. But injuries happen, and when they do, Arsenal should be in a position where they have quality backup in every single area.
Sadly, by the week, it’s becoming more apparent that our guy Jenkinson isn’t of that required standard.
A lifelong Gunner in his late 20s, Joe can just about remember Bruce Rioch and insisting that his dad took him to away games because he had the lightning blue away kit. Quickly grew up to love Highbury and thanks the Arsenal squads of 1998-2005 for making schoolyard banter a delightful experience. Joe quit his job as a teacher last summer to work in the fantasy sports games industry and writes simply because he enjoys it.