17 March 2013

I ♥ Carl Jenkinson

Basking in the glow of two solid wins, we've talked a bit about clean sheets, keepers, and a strong defense. Lost in the shuffle has been one Carl Daniel Jenkinson of Harlow, England. While a quick glance at his stats at whoscored.com doesn't reveal any scintillating improvements, his performances in the last two games show a young player coming into his own.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's remember that he's still only 21 and has made only 23 Prem League appearances, a still wet behind the ears babe in the woods. Nevertheless, he has shown much greater confidence and competence, if not actual skill, in recent weeks and seems well on his way to leaving behind some of the awful memories of his first season, including being thrown to the wolves at Old Trafford. Progress is also uneven, as evidenced by his fluffed header that led to Aston Villa's goal. By contrast, in his performance against Bayern, easily a more intimidating test, Jenkinson performed admirably, helping to shut down Robben, Mandzukic, and Kroos all day. Have a quick view of his performance, thanks to @XavierGooner14. In it, we see Jenkinson make errors, some unforced, it's true, but he also recovers well, makes strong decisions, and wins the ball. The closest he came to being punished for a mistake was when he slid in to attempt a block on Robben's breakaway. Had the ball glanced off of him, or had Fabianski flinched, we might have had a 1-1 tie and a much tenser finale. On the other hand, he was going all-out to make a last-ditch play to cover for other teammates' mistakes that allowed Robben to break free in the first place. And it's perhaps that effort more than skill that's driving Jenkinson's improved performance.

During a season in which we've endured far too many jaded performances and dejected players, Jenkinson's pluck shines that much brighter. Here's a man who, perhaps due to his youth, still seems to love playing football and, even more, loves playing for Arsenal. His dress-down of Geoff Shreeves after the Bayern win, delivered pointedly but politely, shows the progress he's made. Largely gone is that deer-in-the-headlights look from before. It still pops up and will probably continue to do as Jenkinson works and continues to improve. It's too early to call him our #1 right-back or to make long-term plans around him. On the other hand, his growth is such that I no longer dread what may happen with him in the line-up. Still too one-footed, and still a little shaky, it's true, but a far cry better than before.

The man has a bright future ahead of him, and I know he's still muddling through more than he's mastering the domain, but I believe we'll be thanking him more and more effusively in years to come.