So much will be written about the return of Thierry Henry and rightly so, but I would like to look at this amazing story from a new angle.
There are many reasons in my opinion as to whyArsene Wenger may only opt to strengthen the forward line with Henry in this window. The obvious one is that the Henry loan spell will neatly coincide with the absence of Marouane Chamakh andGervinho for the African Cup of Nations. I also believe that whilst many commentators seem to feel Robin van Persie wants to see us sign top stars to convince him of our intent, this is not necessarily practical. My question has always been – why would an established international striker such as Podolski want to come to a team who have for several seasons now, with no sign of change, played with one central striker and two wingers? I am sure Robin is well aware of this dilemma and will understand the position it puts his manager in.
So to my mind the marquee centre forward signing is perhaps unlikely. However, I would like to think that Wenger’s decision on Henry, and the time it is buying him, is not just linked to the absence of his two African attackers. I fervently hope that another consideration is the return to fitness of oneBenik Afobe. After starring on loan for Huddersfield last season, Benik was rewarded by Wenger with a new long-term contract and promotion to the first team squad for 2011/12. Afobe was even withdrawn from the England under-20′s squad in the summer to play for the first-term pre-season, so we must surmise that Wenger had high hopes for Benik for this term. Sadly for Wenger and Afobe a serious groin injury ruled the youngster out in September for a minimum of four months, but I hear he is back in light training now.
I know promoting from within seems unpopular these days with everyone wanting to pay big bucks for the instant hit, but let’s remind ourselves that most experts are predicting that bothDaniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will go to the Euros after their first full seasons playing for their own team in the Premier League. These guys are playing regularly and keeping the likes of Fernando Torres and Dimitar Berbatov on the bench. Sometimes you just need to throw the youngsters in there and truly find out, as we did with Jack Wilshere only last year, if they are truly good enough. Certainly in the case of Benik Afobe he has absolutely all the credentials.
Benik joined us aged six and has broken scoring records ever since. He played for the Under-16′s side when he was 13 and scored over 120 goals for that team, including an incredible 40 in 33 games in the 2007/08 season.
As a first year scholar under Steve Bould, he scored 11 in 13 in 2008/09 and an impressive 24 in 21 in 2009/10 season. It was at this point that Afobe along with Chuks Aneke were invited to train with Barcelona with a view to signing for the Spanish giants. Now I think we can safely assume that if Barca wants you then you must have something about you. Thankfully Wenger convinced the pair, described by Bould as two of the most talented players he has ever seen, to sign professional terms with the Arsenal.
Afobe’s goal scoring exploits have not been confined to domestic competition, as the youngster was instrumental in the England Under-16 team’s triumph in the 2008 Victory Shield Tournament. The tournament saw Afobe match Michael Owen’s record of 4 goals in the annual tournament, with a sumptuous display of finishing. For the England Under-17′s, who he helped win the European Championship in May 2009, he scored an impressive 11 in 23, only to better this ratio, scoring 4 in 4 for the Under-19′s in 2010.
His impressive form for the Under-18′s saw him break Wilshere’s record and become the youngest every Arsenal player to appear for the reserves. However, Benik only made two substitute appearances for Neil Banfield’s side before being loaned out to League 1 title challengers Huddersfield for the whole of last season. I imagine that a player going straight on loan without any real reserve team experience is virtually unprecedented, but Lee Clark had done his homework and was well rewarded. The Terriers fans took Afobe to their hearts immediately when he scored twice on his debut in a Yorkshire derby win over Rotherham. By the end of the season he had notched 5 in 28, but was played wide for much of the season, covering for an injured Anthony Pilkington. If that name rings a bell it is because Pilkington is now playing Premier League football with Norwich City and being mentioned by some as an outsider for England. This certainly proves that if you are good enough you can step up two divisions and perform on the highest stage, as we have also seen with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Anyway, I have written enough about this incredible talent that is Benik Afobe, and if he is fit and has played some reserve team games by March, I sincerely hope that he and not Marouane Chamakh can step up and play understudy to Robin van Persie. The last player to break all the scoring records through the ranks with us was Andy Cole, so let’s not make the same mistake again.
I will leave you with a suberb Youtube compilation of Benik’s career to date for club and country. I for one do not wish to see a big-name signing cause this lad to consider his future at the club. This lad is not Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who we could afford to lose; this lad is the real deal – fast, two-footed, skilful and great in the air.
Benik Afobe along with Wilshere should be the spine of our team in the future and just perhaps that future is sooner than we think.
Enjoy this video of the next Arsenal superstar.
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