Boyhood fan Carl Jenkinson can feel the pulling power of derby day
Whichever part of the world they come from, foreign footballers tend to be familiar with the word "derby", often because it has become part of the language in their own country. When they come to England, it is essential to make sure the importance of such an occasion is fully understood and before today's match at the Emirates a boyhood Arsenal fan, Carl Jenkinson, will be doing just that.
A willingness to jolly up much older, more experienced internationals is a mark of the confidence the 21-year-old now enjoys, two years to the week after an 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, in which he was sent off, raised questions about his future prospects.
Now he has an England cap and because of Laurent Koscielny's injury and suspension has taken part in every one of Arsenal's opening games. Today's, above all, is the one he wants to be involved in. "It means an awful lot to me," he said after helping Arsenal secure their regular place in the Champions' League group stage on Tuesday night.
"It's the first game I look for when the fixture list comes out at the start of the season. I shall be spreading this message throughout the dressing-room, in terms of how important it is. It is more excitement than anything else. It's a game I always look forward to. We have had positive results in previous seasons and hopefully we can go out and do it again."
While Spurs have moved away from a policy of bringing through young English players, Arsenal, one of the first teams to field an all-foreign side, have begun to embrace it. Arsène Wenger always insisted he does not study a player's passport when recruiting yet even he admits: "When you have an English core of young players, it's easier to keep them together than if they are foreign." Thus last December Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jenkinson all signed new long-term contracts.
Jenkinson arrived for £1m from Charlton with only eight League One games to his name and shortly after having been on loan at Welling and Eastbourne Borough. With a Finnish mother, he had already played for Finland at Under-19 and Under-21 level, before England rushed him into a friendly against Sweden.
The accent, however, is very much Harlow rather than Helsinki as he says of today's game: "You don't have to be here long and experience one [a derby] to realise how important this is to the fans. I have grown up supporting the club and know the importance of these games. I spread the message and so do the other boys. I will just tell the lads: 'We are playing Spurs!' The boys need to be aware of the importance of what it means. That won't be an issue. Everyone will be up for it."
If a core of Brits who understand the derby mentality is useful, Arsenal can also field a more settled side than their neighbours – the upside of being such slow starters in the transfer market. "We are used to playing with each other and we won a lot of games lately, if you include the end of last season," Jenkinson said. "But Spurs have signed some great players and we cannot kid ourselves, we have to be aware of that. They have a strong squad and have started the season well. But we are hoping to put in a good performance like we have done lately and get the win we need."
Two games with Fenerbahce and one with Fulham, scoring eight goals against one, were a perfect antidote to the misery of the home defeat by Aston Villa that prompted a rebellious reaction from the Emirates crowd. Tottenham should provide a sterner test but they have been beaten 5-2 on their two previous visits and have continually failed to finish above Arsenal in the League, even when well placed and well backed to do so. Losing out to the old enemy on the final day of last season and therefore missing Champions' League football again was the latest example.
"You saw what that meant to us," Jenkinson said. "It was a massive result and a great feeling. All the boys went out for dinner and it was a big relief. There was a point when we realised we would not compete for the title and we wanted to ensure Champions' League football. It was a massive battle to get there and it meant an awful lot to us."
And this season? "Our aim is a trophy. It is a big season for us. We have to kick on. Finishing in the top four and getting Champions' League football is great but we need to be pushing on and we want to compete for the title. I think we are capable of doing that if we can keep playing the way we have been. The main thing is consistency."
But like the home majority in London N5 today, he can be forgiven for allowing the bigger picture to fade a little from view for 90 minutes.
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