Patience paying off as Jenkinson comes good for Arsenal

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to asses Arsenal's rapidly improving fullback

For anyone yet to watch Arsenal so far this season, it will come as a surprise to learn that Carl Jenkinson has been linked with a full England call-up this week.

With an English father and a Finnish mother, Jenkinson has options at international level. After a single game for England’s U17 team, he’s since played for the Finnish U19 and U21 sides, and Roy Hodgson’s supposed interest is probably because he wants to tie Jenkinson to the country of his birth. One competitive minute for England, and he’s committed to the Three Lions for life. Like Jamaica-born Raheem Sterling, he might be fast-tracked into the full side – although the last player England did this with was Andy Johnson, eligible for Poland, who had an underwhelming international career.

Jenkinson was thrown in at the deep end last season. He was signed for around £1m as a back-up for Bacary Sagna, and less than a year after playing on loan at Eastbourne Borough and Welling United, suddenly found himself in Arsenal’s first team due to Sagna’s injury, and Emmanuel Eboue’s departure.

Understandably, after such a quick jump up the football pyramid, Jenkinson’s game was very raw. On the ball he was decent, and when it came to physical challenges he coped. It was his positioning that was the problem – he didn’t overlap frequently enough when Arsenal had the ball, and he didn’t tuck in enough when the opposition were attacking. His red card at Old Trafford in Arsenal’s embarrassing 8-2 defeat summed up his performance that day – by no real fault of his own, he was completely out of his depth.

But Jenkinson just needed a season to adjust to Premier League life. The difference in the qualities required of full-back at non-league level and Premier League level is absolutely huge, especially when that Premier League side is one as technical as Arsenal.

Interestingly, Jenkinson has played a very different role to his fellow full-back Kieran Gibbs so far this season. Whereas Gibbs is a dynamic attacking left-back who overlaps whenever possible, Jenkinson has been more patient and conservative with his forward runs. This was particularly evident against Southampton, when Jenkinson entrusted the wide play to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of him, while Gibbs motored forward and allowed Lukas Podolski inside.

Gibbs got into the final third consistently, to great effect – two of his crosses were turned into the net by Southampton players – but he actually attempted half as many passes as Jenkinson throughout the game, with the right-back playing a steady role, keeping Arsenal’s passing moves going.

The reason, of course, is that Jenkinson is simply stationed in more available positions, generally just inside the opposition half, and perfect for Mikel Arteta to roll square passes out to him. Gibbs is demanding the ball on the edge of the final third, making it more difficult to locate him.

That game might be something of an anomaly this season – few clubs will, or should, arrive at the Emirates in such an open manner as Southampton, whose wide midfielders did little defensive work. It was a completely different situation last weekend against Manchester City, where the Arsenal full-backs’ defensive game was given a far sterner test.

Gibbs got through more defensive work than Jenkinson, making more interceptions near the halfway line, but also intervening more frequently in the penalty box. The two players have made exactly the same number of tackles this season – 16 – but Gibbs has made 18 interceptions compared to Jenkinson’s four, the major difference between the two. While Jenkinson sits back, Gibbs shares his predecessor Gael Clichy ’s knack of nipping in front of opponents to win the ball cleanly.

The duo will get another chance to impress Hodgson in Saturday’s early kick-off at home to Chelsea. In truth, both would benefit from a season concentrating on club football – Gibbs needs an injury-free campaign, Jenkinson will want to consolidate his place. With Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Ryan Bertrand, Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker and Micah Richards all contenders at international level, England aren’t short of full-back options – but the Arsenal duo should be competing for a place in years to come.

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