As Claude Puel prepares to face his former boss in Arsene Wenger this weekend I wonder if he will cast his eye across his countryman’s squad and ponder on what might have been ?
For there will be three names on the list that are yet to live up to their potential after swapping St. Mary’s for North London.
As a man famed for nurturing and developing young talent in France, he must be bemused at the lack of progress made my Messrs. Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers.
Three players who all looked like they had the world at their feet when breaking on to the scene on the South Coast and now nothing more than bit part players and squad fodder at the Premier League’s champion also rans.
Theo Walcott is perhaps the best example. He has completed 10 years as an Arsenal player and despite his only being 27 years old, looks jaded and much older having only played on average 16 complete games for the Gunners for the last seven seasons. Is this the return we as Saints fans expected when we saw this exciting young forward burst into the limelight in 2005?
For me Walcott has always been a striker, and it seems (I’m sure statistically this isn’t necessarily the case) whenever he is given the chance in that role for Arsenal or England he scores. Yet, perhaps a victim of the modern tactics and formations, he has been pigeon holed as a winger-cum-forward often pushed out wide. My point is, Walcott should have been a key striker for England, and Arsenal’s misuse of him has made him something of a joke.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain we still hold out hope for. A dynamic attacking midfielder and still only 23, Chamberlain is another whose abilities should have seen him as a key player in the international setup by now. Enter Arsene Wenger. The Ox scored more goals in his solitary season for Saints than he has so far in an Arsenal shirt (he is embarking on his sixth season at the Emirates), and would appear to be little more than a backup player.
Both AOC and Walcott have had their injury problems admittedly, but then who at Arsenal doesn’t? Perhaps there is something in their training regime there or are the medical/recovery facilities not up to Saints standard?
Last but not least, the one that is most recent in it’s frustration is Calum Chambers. A local Hampshire boy who shone at right back in the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino at Saints, yet finds himself as fourth/fifth choice centre half under Wenger. So far down the pecking order that he has been loaned out to Middlesbrough, and to be honest that is the best thing for him. It was bamboozling to most Saints fans that given we struggle at times in the right full back position we didn’t make this move ourselves.
Now, I’m not telling Monsieur Wenger how to pick his team, far from it, though I think he might be confused at times about what his own policy is. Famed for annoying his own fans by not spending their wealth, you would think pushing the young players on would be his priority but apparently not.
It’s reasonably sad to see him invest in a centre half that didn’t make the grade at Everton (Mustafi) in the Premier League, while sending out a young English defender who did at Saints out on loan.
The Southampton Academy puts a lot of hard work into developing the best English young players, perhaps if you aren’t prepared to continue that development, don’t buy them?