I’m not sure who originated the “Corporal” thing with Carl Jenkinson, but it stuck very quickly.
If you want to be picky you could argue that he should probably have started as Private Jenkinson (and there was certainly something about his fresh-faced earnestness when he arrived at Arsenal that called to mind Private Pike from Dad’s Army) but, somehow, “Corporal Jenkinson” sounded right.
He had had only a relatively brief spell of first team action at Charlton Athletic before crossing the Thames to join us.
And his arrival at the start of last season could not have come at a worse time, as we got off to our least successful start since dandan and Gn5 were nippers and dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Jenks’s baptism of fire included that awful 8-2 thrashing at the North Surrey Stadium.
Not much was expected of him when he was thrown into some of those early games due to one injury crisis or another but, nevertheless, The Corporal made a good impression.
He showed plenty of inexperience, but also clearly had desire and a good engine. He also displayed a natural crossing ability, wrapping that right foot round the ball in a way that reminded me of David Beckham.
Best of all, Carl was a proper Gooner: a lifelong Arsenal supporter who had suddenly been given the chance to live the dream.
Fast forward to today, and it’s time to take stock of how the young fullback is doing in this, his second season at The Home Of Football. The question is all the more pertinent given that rumours about Bacary Sagna’s future at Arsenal refuse to go away.
In general last season I was impressed with Jenks and I recall, fairly early on, predicting that he would become the regular right back for both Arsenal and England.
In the early part of this season, however, a few of his outings were less convincing, inevitably leading some Arsenal supporters to write him off as another example of Arsene Wenger’s lost touch in the transfer market. Of course these are the sort of supporters who like to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive. (If you gave them a free twenty quid note they’d complain about it being crumpled).
But young players can – and must – be excused the occasional dip in form (just look at Oxlade-Chamberlain this year, who is at last emerging from his own mini slump).
And the one thing no-one could ever fault with The Corporal was his effort and honesty.
Now, back in the first team ahead of Sagna, he has just had two exceptionally good games.
I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves, but his performances against Swansea at the weekend and, particularly, against Bayern Munich in midweek, were fantastically encouraging.
One particular moment stood out against the Munchens. Bayern were on a fast break; the odious little Arjen Robben was tearing at full pelt down what used to be called the inside left channel; another sausage-eater was overlapping on Robben’s outside (sorry, I can’t remember which one); and our defence was stretched because our centre halves were still making their way back from our broken attack.
It was exactly the sort of break that has resulted in us conceding a goal so many times this season. Worse, for all Robben’s narcissistic annoyingness, he is (a) very, very fast (b) a very good dribbler and (c) a dangerous finisher.
But this time we had Carl Jenkinson in his way. Carl kept pace with the Dutch flyer, matching him pace for pace, but also used his position and body shape to not only force Robben wide, but also to limit the threat of the overlapping Bayern player. It gave time for the rest of the defence to reorganize and the threat was snuffed out. It was a piece of really classy defending and Gary Neville (who, despite having been a filthy Manc, was one of the top right backs of the last 15 years) rightly singled out Jenkinson for praise for it.
I have been (and continue to be) a big fan of Bacary Sagna, but I suspect it was the sort of breakaway that would have found him wanting. Sadly for him, two successive fractures in the same leg seem to have taken a yard off his pace and Robben would probably have exploited that weakness.
Aside from that moment, Jenkinson’s all round play was excellent in Munich –against what is generally agreed to be one of the best three or four teams in Europe.
He continued that form against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. I can recall one silly pass across his own box but, that apart, his play was of the highest order both defensively and offensively.
Two swallows don’t make a summer and two good performances at right back don’t make a Pat Rice. But Jenkinson is showing that Arsene Wenger can still find a diamond in the rough and that, if Sagna does leave this summer, we have a great option ready and waiting.
In fact, late in the season as it is, Wenger may finally have stumbled across his best defensive line-up, comprising Fabianski in goal, The Corporal and Monreal at fullback and Koscielny and Mertesacker in the middle.
All of which begs the question… is it time that The Corporal got that extra stripe? Is it time to say: “take a bow, Sergeant Jenkinson?”
What do you think?