We all remember the picture. Arsene Wenger standing behind Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as they signed new, long-term Arsenal contracts and the boss proudly touting the “British core” that would help secure the future at the club.
It’s fair to say that the 2012 British core were underwhelming at Arsenal — Aaron Ramsey’s multiple FA Cup final heroics aside, that is. Jack Wilshere couldn’t stay healthy and did not live up to his potential and massive expectations. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain never secured a regular starting role in North London, and his biggest contribution to the club was probably the transfer fee he fetched from Liverpool. Kieran Gibbs was an average to slightly below average Premier League starter. Carl Jenkinson was a squad player, a cult-hero because he’s a lifelong Gooner, but a squad player nonetheless. Even Ramsey struggled to stay fit and probably didn’t achieve as much as he could have in an Arsenal shirt.
Now, the Gunners have a new English core that looks set to form the heart of the team for the next several years — Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe.
Three of those four were on the England roster that made the Euro 2020 finals. Saka was a usual-starter and regular contributor. Ramsdale and White were there as backups / to get young players big tournament experience. Emile Smith Rowe probably wasn’t a “first four out” player but likely was in the group behind that in terms of consideration for the squad.
I expect all four of them to be called into the England side for the upcoming international break. Manger Gareth Southgate said that both Ben White and Emile Smith Rowe were close to making the side for the last round of internationals, and with their (and Arsenal’s) recent form, they’ve earned a spot. I think all four will see the field at some point, too.
England are top of the group by three points and face Albania and San Marino, who they beat 2-0 and 5-0 respectively in the reverse fixtures. The Three Lions should win both matches and qualify for the World Cup. The Albania match might be a bit tricky, so I’d expect a closer-to-normal starting lineup from Southgate at Wembley. But for San Marino (and with the possibility of already having clinched qualification depending on other results), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ramsdale, White and Smith Rowe feature.
And beyond the upcoming international fixtures, 23-year old Ramsdale, 23-year old White, 21-year old Smith Rowe, and 20-year old Saka look set to be cornerstones of the England national team and Arsenal for the next five years at least. Given the current homegrown rules in the Premier League and potential Brexit-related changes, it’s quite important that PL clubs have good British players.
Looking beyond those big four, Arsenal have a talented crop of young English players ready to break into the first team at the club. Folarin Balgoun (20) has already started to make his mark, even though he’s still mostly playing for the U23’s. Top prospects Charlie Patino (18) and Miguel Azeez (19) are both English, as is the majority of the academy setup (in large part because of PL and Brexit rules, to be fair).
And lets not forget Eddie Nketiah (22) and Reiss Nelson (21) who both still have plenty of time and potential to come good. The future at Arsenal is bright and very much in the shape of Three Lions.
My sincerest apologies to Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Magalhaes, Gabriel Martinelli, Sambi Lokonga, Nuno Tavares, and William Saliba (?).