Manchester United’s world famous Class of ’92 achieved the impossible dream - they went from a group of lads at The Cliff in Manchester to the heights of the treble win in less than a decade at Old Trafford.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has recently started growing his own class of British youngsters – for the last five years he has been nurturing and importing the very best of British talent but are they capable of achieving the level of success of Manchester United’s legendary Brits?
The Gunners’ most exciting protégé since former captain Cesc Fabregas burst on the scene as a 16-year-old is England starlet Jack Wilshere who is, by all accounts, expected to take over the void left for the Three Lions by Paul Scholes.
Scholes’ vision, range and technique influenced the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona where, in turn, Fabregas himself was influence and then, coming around full-circle, he imparted that wisdom to young Wilshere as a teenage understudy to the departed captain. Wilshere’s injuries have set him back but as we’ve seen with other Gunners’ youngsters, that can ultimately make them stronger and more determined to succeed.
Wilshere is still just 21 but Scholes himself didn’t really break into his stride until around the age of 23 and didn’t become the pass-master he was in his peak years until around the age of 26. By the time the World Cup in 2018 in Russia rolls around I would fully expect Wilshere to be the most complete midfielder in England in that Scholes or Steven Gerrard mould.
Those who saw the 18-year-old run rings around Xavi at the Camp Nou will have no doubt in their mind that there is much much more to come from Wilshere. However, there were plenty of doubts surrounding the future of Aaron Ramsey – the Welshman suffered a horror tackle in 2010 and has only just recovered this season to become the Gunners’ top scorer and easily their best performer so far.
The Wales international is a very different player from a young Ryan Giggs – in fact probably Gareth Bale is the closest equivalent but, nonetheless, Ramsey is likely capable of having the same kind of status at Arsenal as Giggs held at United. Obviously, the key is longevity and consistency – can he keep his current form, fitness and technical development up for another decade and a half will be the question.
Then there’s a little-known winger called David Beckham – in his early career at Old Trafford, Becks was considered (as he has been ever since) a tremendous dead-ball technician but, other than that, in terms of his technical level, he was not the best dribbler nor the most creative and he certainty didn’t have much pace.
Arsenal’s top scorer last season Theo Walcott is in many ways the complete antithesis to Beckham, despite playing in the same position as the former England captain. Walcott is one of the fastest players in the league, has developed very well with his dribbling and control as well as his finishing but still his end-product remains inconsistent. I very much doubt Walcott will achieve the level of status that Beckham has in his career – but I think if that’s the case it’ll be down to work ethic.
Its’ well documented that Beckham was the hardest trainer and you could see that on the pitch – his attitude and application of his energy was actually far greater than his natural ability, especially in the beginning and I don’t believe Walcott is cut from the same cloth. He tends to go missing still in big games and when the going gets tough, he can often retreat into the background, which are the opposite characteristics to Beckham.
One youngster who doesn’t shy away from a challenge is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who (when he isn’t injured as he is at present) has a fantastic work-rate and attitude and his technical level is improving all the time.
He is still only just turned 20 but if his comparison was Nicky Butt I very much think he’ll be able fulfil more than his fair share of potential. It remains to be seen where his best positions is – Wenger has suggested he may well deploy him in central midfield in the future but at present he work his socks off on the flanks.
When Wenger put Ramsey there it was difficult for the Welshman last term but ultimately it paid off due to, as Wenger explained, there being far less space and therefore a requirement for quicker control and touch which works wonders and gives the player an extra second when they move back into the middle. I would anticipate much the same turn of tables occurring with Oxlade-Chamberlain as has happened with Ramsey.
As for the fullbacks, it bares noting that one of United’s Neville brothers was a far better fullback than the other and we all know which one’s which – at present I don’t see Carl Jenkinson attaining the level of consistency of Gary Neville but you can’t fault the youngster for his application and attitude.
He is a boyhood Arsenal fan and he does put his all into his development on and off the pitch and in recent months he has definitely improved substantially. I wouldn’t completely rule him out – he too is still only 21 and a fullback position is oftentimes down to experience.
As for Kieran Gibbs, he’s had his own injury struggles but this season (and the end of the last one) he really looked to be over the worst of his troubles and ready to challenge for an England place. Despite being still just 24, he’s got seven seasons of top-level football under his belt but, nonetheless, he has a fair distance to go yet before he meets the expectation of him to genuinely replace Ashley Cole. I think he could definitely attain the level of Phil Neville, though.
Overall, Arsenal’s young guns are exactly that at present – young – and as such they remain quantities unknown in many ways but from the glimpse of the future we’ve seen so far from them, it is certainly possible they could emulate Manchester United’s Class of 1992.
image: © Magnus D