By Wayne Veysey at Madejski Stadlum
Arsenal plan to announce early in the new year that a core of five British first-teamers have signed new five-year contracts with the club.
Jack Wilshere will join Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs in agreeing an improved deal that ties each of the players to the Emirates Stadium until 2018.
Goal.com analyses whether Arsenal are justified in rewarding their emerging crop of stars based on performances or putting too much faith in potential.
With his impeccable Arsenal credentials and talismanic status, Jack Wilshere represents far more to the club than one of the most exciting players of his generation.
His touch, technique and tenacity in the heart of the midfield not only give the Gunners a player around whom to build their team but hope that the Londoners can compete with the very best in the years to come.
Wilshere was the architect of an Arsenal display that was irresistible for an hour at Reading before the familiar defensive wobble.
Few red-and-white worshippers would begrudge handing him the code to the Emirates Stadium safe.
Wilshere proved beyond all doubt in his breakthrough 2010-11 season that he could cut it against the best that the Premier League, Champions League and international football have to offer.
Despite looking like he had never been away since returning to the first team in October, it should not be forgotten that a gruesome sequence of ankle, Achilles and knee injuries meant that the midfielder went 17 months without playing a match for his club.
One school of thought is that Arsenal should have waited longer to see how the 20-year-old comes through an extended run of games before offering a package worth a basic £21.2 million.
A £5m Arsenal signing at 17 and captain of his country at just 20, Aaron Ramsey’s brilliant early career followed a gradual upwards curve until the Ryan Shawcross tackle at Stoke City in February 2010 that caused a double fracture to his right leg and led to nearly a year on the sidelines.
It has been a long and difficult road back for the Welshman, who failed to grasp the opportunity to replace Cesc Fabregas in the playmaker role last season and has been frequently played out of position on the right flank in the current campaign.
By turns, Ramsey is comfortably the most experienced, in terms of games played, of Arsenal’s British quintet and yet still has ample youth on his side. He has the awareness, versatility and all-round game to be a key figure in the future.
Ramsey has become a scapegoat figure for certain sections of the Arsenal fanbase, which has begun to seep into his increasingly inhibited performances.
The guile and eye for a pass is less prevalent the longer that he wears a red-and-white shirt. Moreover, there are voluble groans of despair when he stands on the touchline preparing to come off the bench and replace a more incisive colleague.
In many ways it is laudable that Arsenal retain such faith in what was once considered a rare jewel but, perhaps more than his four fellow Brits, his salary rise looks like an unwarranted leap of faith.
Short of stature, long of name and high in promise, Oxlade-Chamberlain has the kind of swagger and skill that is rarely associated with an English teenager.
He appears comfortable on the big stage and at a big club and did not look out of place in an England shirt at Euro 2012.
Arsenal anticipate that the teenager will eventually develop into a midfielder capable of running the show from the centre, just like he did with a remarkable display in the Champions League home match against AC Milan last season.
The classic case of a home-grown youngster whose performances do not match the hype?
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development has stalled during his second season at Arsenal, even though he gave a hint of better times ahead with his finest display of the season at Reading.
Brendan Rodgers has made no secret of his desire not to give Raheem Sterling too much too soon, a strategy which Arsenal do not appear to be copying with his marginally more experienced countryman.
The terms of Gibbs’ new deal are par for the course for the first-choice left-back at a Champions League calibre club in England.
Moreover, there is evidence that the product of Arsenal’s academy is finally developing into the player that Gooners have been hoping for ever since he burst on to the scene as a richly promising 18-year-old.
His raids down the left flank, bar an occasionally lousy final ball, are a reliable source of attacks, as he proved by providing the assists for two of the goals against Reading, and the defensive side of his game has improved this season.
The two big question marks against Gibbs are whether he can cope with a heavy workload and his defensive reliability against the most able of opponents.
A generally fine display against Reading was blotted by the abject pass straight to Jay Tabb at 4-0, which resulted in Adam Le Fondre pulling a goal back for the home side.
Now in his second season as Arsenal’s regular left-back, Gibbs is perhaps fortunate that he is being rewarded so handsomely for the player who he should be, rather than actually is.
Those niggling injuries must also be addressed. Of the club’s 55 league games since Gael Clichy left, Gibbs has started a relatively paltry 25, a poor return.
Bacary Sagna’s deputy was described by Arsene Wenger as having “massive potential” after his first call-up to the England squad resulted in a debut against Sweden in November.
The right-back demonstrated greater defensive awareness and more composure on the ball when he stood in for the injured Frenchman at the start of the season following a difficult start to his Arsenal career 12 months previously.
For a newly capped England international who is earmarked as Sagna’s medium-term successor, with the Frenchman likely to leave next summer, Jenkinson’s salary does not seem an unreasonable statement of faith.
Jenkinson was one of the three players – Thomas Vermalen and Gervinho were the others – who were singled out in the dressing room by Wenger for being at fault in the home defeat to Swansea City in November.
For all his promise, there are still a number of rough edges to the right-back’s game that require smoothing out.