Could England go to the World Cup without any Arsenal players at all?

An Arsenal player may have been the centre of attention prior to kickoff at Wembley, with Gareth Southgate’s comments about Jack Wilshe...


An Arsenal player may have been the centre of attention prior to kickoff at Wembley, with Gareth Southgate’s comments about Jack Wilshere causing a minor stir. But when the England team took to the pitch against Germany there wasn’t a single one to be seen. In fact, there was no Arsenal representation on the bench or in the squad at all.

And this was hardly an era-defining England team. The XI named by Southgate looked like it might struggle to reach the Carabao Cup quarterfinals, let alone the World Cup quarterfinals. That Arsenal cannot get a player into this squad is quite an indictment of the current state of their homegrown contingent. Fourteen of the Premier League clubs were represented in Southgate’s squad. Not Arsenal, though.

Yes, Danny Welbeck would likely be there if he were fit, but the continued excellence of Marcus Rashford means his grip on a first-team place is tenuous these days. Wilshere has a chance as well, although by Southgate’s own criteria he not only needs to be playing for Arsenal, but playing in the position Southgate wants to play him: in the deep midfield, rather than the forward role Arsene Wenger has mostly set aside for him this season in the cup competitions.

If Welbeck’s fitness continues to falter and Wilshere doesn’t adhere to Southgate’s demands, then it seems likely that England will travel to the World Cup without a single player from one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. Arsenal under Wenger have hardly been the most reliable supply line of domestic talent, but only once since the 1990 World Cup have England gone to a major tournament without an Arsenal player — and that was only because Theo Walcott was axed by Fabio Capello on the eve of the 2010 World Cup despite playing a prominent role in qualifying.

This state of affairs is all the more troubling for Arsenal given that it is only five years since Wenger unveiled his project to build the team around a “British core”. Of the five young players featured in a famous photo, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left this summer, Carl Jenkinson is on loan at Birmingham and Aaron Ramsey is, of course, Welsh. Wilshere remains, but Southgate will not consider him at present — as he made quite clear.

The British core was a flawed idea which died a slow death. Wenger’s plan, after seeing players like Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie agitate for a move, was to create a more loyal cohort of first-teamers based on their nationality. But there is no point having loyal players if they are not up to standard. Even more painfully, a truly resplendent English core has emerged from North London, but at Tottenham.

It is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that six of the England team who start the World Cup will be employed by Tottenham: Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Dele Alli and Harry Kane.

And if Spurs own the present, it is Chelsea who own the future. They supplied 15 of the players who helped England enjoy the greatest year any country has ever had at youth level, winning competitions at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-20 level. Tottenham and Arsenal each provided five.

Still, there are promising signs in the current Arsenal first-team squad. Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are both youth internationals for England and have been impressive in the appearances they have made as makeshift wing-backs in the cup teams this season.

And, of course, there is the exciting figure of Eddie Nketiah, scorer of two goals in the recent Carabao Cup win over Norwich City. On Thursday, he scored four times for England Under-19s as they defeated Faroe Islands 6-0.

With Wilshere’s future at international level uncertain, it is encouraging to know that Arsenal do have good young English talents coming through. It is hardly the job of the club to prop up the national team, but nevertheless it is always a bonus when young domestic prospects emerge. With the demise of the previous British core, it is hoped that the new cohort might fare better.

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