Serge-ing Towards The First TeamPosted: October 30, 2012
This piece first featured on SabotageTimes.com (link).
There was very little to be positive about exiting the stadium after Arsenal’s 2-0 home loss to Schalke, but three things stuck in the memory: the performances of Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin and a brief cameo from the youngest German player ever to play in the Champions League, Serge Gnabry. In 10 minutes he managed to mustre more shots on target than the rest of the side had the entire game, and looked to be the only player with the ability to break through. Just as in his other first team substitute appearances, in the League Cup win against Coventry and the League loss at Norwich, he illustrated his qualities: speed, skill and two strong feet.
He is relatively reminiscent of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They can play in the same positions and share the aforementioned attributes, as well as being of a similar physical standing; neither particularly tall, but both stocky and strong, with the former sprinter Gnabry being the more athletic. The 17 year old joined Arsenal in 2011 after he was plucked from VfB Stuttgart’s youth side. He started the 11/12 season in the Under 18 side, but towards the end of the season his impressive performances saw him move up to the Reserve team, in which he scored two goals in six appearances, as well as earning caps at Under 16 and Under 17 level for Germany, with 3 goals in 12 games for the latter.
Arsène Wenger has spoken about him, praising his abilities and even talking him up for a spot in the first team. Before the Coventry match, he said of him ““[He] is a great hope for the future, I rate him highly. If he continues his development, I think he could play in the first team this season. At the moment he needs to work and ensure he remains fit. He [similar to] Oxlade-Chamberlain and [Theo] Walcott – guys who have great power, great pace and good dribbling skills. He has goalscoring potential and good vision as well for the final ball. He can play centrally behind the striker or on the flanks.”
This week he has gone further with his commendation of the forward, saying “He is a guy who can play in all the offensive positions… even play centre forward. He has a kind of efficiency in his game, and can get on the end of things. He has big potential, creative potential, finishing potential. Serge is 17 years old and strong for a boy of that age. It is difficult to compare with anyone. He is not small, he is stocky with good body balance. He glides, he is fluent.” High praise indeed from a man who has worked with the players he has.
Gnabry is clearly a player who has special things awaiting him if he has started as he means to go on. He looks set to start in Arsenal’s League Cup match against Reading, and if he is to follow Cesc Fàbregas’ as yet unrepeated feat of becoming something close to a first team regular at 17, he will need to make an impression in games like this. The talk of him taking Theo Walcott’s place in January, should he leave, is premature, in my opinion. There can be no doubting he is a supreme talent with exceptional potential, but he does not have the experience to take over from a figure who is as important to the Arsenal squad as Walcott is. But in time he will have as much, or possibly even more importance to the club. The last player so young Wenger talked about having a first team role was Jack Wilshere. And that looks like it will go pretty well.