International breaks suck. There’s no Arsenal, the football isn’t nearly as interesting, and the break seems to drag on for an eternity. Seriously, there’s no better way to make two weeks feel long than replacing Premier League football with international friendlies.
They suck even more, though, when our players get injured. Especially when it’s Hector Bellerin, who is now ruled out for the rest of November with an ankle ligament injury he picked up in training for the Spain Under-21s. Does it get more frustrating than that?
Coming fresh off of a breakout season that saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year, Bellerin has been a crucial cog in the way Arsenal have played this season. Playing in every minute of the Premier League campaign so far, the 21-year-old has picked up exactly where he left off last season. Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand recently said that Bellerin is the best right-back in the league, and it’s tough to argue with—his rise from youth team sensation to key first team player has been so rapid that it’s easy to forget just how young he is.
This all means Bellerin is quite high on the list of players Arsenal fans don’t want to get injured, especially considering the gap in quality between him and his backups.
Enter Carl Jenkinson. Already notching up 180 minutes this season, Jenkinson is most likely to be called upon in Bellerin’s absence. Both of the matches the 24-year-old played in were wins—a 2-0 victory over Reading in the League Cup and the 3-2 comeback win against Ludogorets in Bulgaria, best remembered for Mesut Özil’s wizardry.
Jenko’s start against Reading was his first appearance for Arsenal in almost three years, and he didn’t look out of place—albeit it was against lower league opposition. He put in a good shift in Bulgaria, too, making more tackles (3) than any other Arsenal player and keeping things tidy with a pass success rate of 92%.
Playing at Old Trafford, however, will be a whole new test for Jenkinson. The last time he played there in an Arsenal shirt couldn’t have gone much worse—he was sent off after getting skinned by Ashley Young all game as the Gunners lost 8-2, arguably their worst result in Arsene Wenger’s time as manager.
Let’s not forget, however, that he was just 19 during that baptism of fire at the Theater of Dreams, making his second-ever Premier League start after joining from Charlton Athletic in the summer of 2011. He’s gotten a considerable amount of Premier League experience since then, playing 52 matches over two seasons on loan at West Ham before suffering a significant knee injury that saw him return to North London earlier this year.
The prospect of Jenkinson filling in for Bellerin might seem like reason to go into panic mode, but that’s only because we’ve been spoiled with one of the best right-backs in Europe for the past two seasons. Bellerin’s influence on the way Arsenal plays means that his absence will certainly be noticed, but Jenkinson shouldn’t be written off before he even steps foot on the pitch.
As a lifelong Gooner, Jenko will give his absolute maximum effort during his chance in the first team and you can’t ask for much more than that as a fan. Against Manchester United at Old Trafford, he’ll be itching to redeem himself and dispel the demons of 2011.
All statistics via WhoScored.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Gunner_NYC