Arsenal have a track record of introducing young players into its teams in recent years. The names of players who became first team regulars at a young age during Arsene Wenger’s era have been numerous. The club even prides itself as an institution that does not buy stars, but rather it makes them.
So it came as a surprise to many watchers of the club when Arsene Wenger told French TV that playing young players in defence could be costly to a team’s fortunes. The comments were strange because it is exactly what he has done for years.
“If you play youngsters at centre half, you pay for it.” he said
Although the question that elicited this comment is not known, it nevertheless is the opposite of what he has done. By this comment, he claims young defenders are prone to mistakes, yet over time, he stuck with young centre-backs that did exactly that-repeated mistakes. This is the same Arsene Wenger that persisted with Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou for several seasons when it was clear that the club needed an experience defender at the time. Perhaps he was speaking from his time with the Swiss duo.
Despite this comment, he signed an inexperienced Calum Chambers this summer from £16 million. The 19 year old only had 22 first team appearances before the Frenchman splashed the cash on him. He then went on to play the same the young English defender consistently this season as a centre half.
Conversely, Arsene Wenger has bizarrely used Nacho Monreal has a centre half this term supposedly for his experience, whereas, the Spaniard who has not played as a centre half prior to this season has been found wanting several times, when a player like Isaac Hayden would have been better placed to play in that position.
The Hale Academy graduate was part of a trio of three 19 year olds which also included Calum Chambers and Hector Bellerin that played against Southampton in the Capital One Cup in September. If Arsene Wenger was open to give a run out to two teenagers at centre half in that match, it makes the comments he made to French TV ironic because he does the complete opposite of what he says, then he claims that playing them there is costly.
While Arsene Wenger is prone to making cryptic comments, this is just another one out of the rulebook of the Frenchman. If what he is trying to pass is a message that he does not trust Calum Chambers enough for him to have a consistent run in centre defence, it means he has to buy a centre half in January. As he cannot claim that playing youngsters as centre halves could cost a team and at the same time persist in playing one there.
Another thing to look at from that comment is, he could have been asked why he had not given more playing time to the club’s Academy defenders in view of the current issues in defence that could have resulted in why he answered the question that way.
Whatever happened to claims that when a player is good enough he is old enough? If the Frenchman is to be believed, this does not apply to players in central defence, or it shows his own lack of ability to coach young players into competent defenders.