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England Hopefuls: Arsenal

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Taking a look at Arsenal's English contingent, who will make Roy Hodgson's 23? Who will be left behind?

Mike Hewitt

One of the things that instantly comes up to mind when mentioning Arsene Wenger's reign in charge of Arsenal is the phrase "French Connection". Since the turn of the century,  Arsene have signed 19 French players. They have been key performers as well for Arsenal, with players such as Sagna, Koscielny, and Giroud featuring regularly for the gunners. In recent years, Spanish and German players have also featured prominently in Arsenal's squad.

That being said, one probably wonders whether there is space for homegrown English talent with so many players coming from abroad. It's a fair question since Arsenal are one of three teams in the Premier League who have fielded a starting XI of no Englishman (back in February 2005 vs Crystal Palace). One of the criticisms often directed at Wenger was also the lack of English talents playing for Arsenal.

In the past few years though things have changed, as more English players have make the first team squad and able to hold into their first team spot. It is summed up perfectly when Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson, and Aaron Ramsey (the odd one out as he is Welsh) all signed contract extensions in December 2012 (Theo Walcott would follow suit a month later).

Let's take a look at Arsenal's current Englishman and discuss their chances of making it to Brazil this summer.

Jack Wilshere

Jack Wilshere is probably one of the Arsenal players who would be a near certainty to go Brazil this summer (the other being Theo Walcott), ever since he featured regularly into Arsenal's first team in the 2010-2011 season, many have dubbed him as England's next big thing (a tag which have proved to be a heavy burden for others). At the end of that campaign he was voted as Arsenal's Player of the Year and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, he missed the whole 2011-12 campaign through ankle injury. Returning in late October 2012, since then Wilshere have featured regularly for the gunners albeit with some criticism to his game, as he's been asked to play out wide, a role he sometimes struggles with. Wilshere's performance this season have been a mixed bag, highlighted in the game against West Brom back in October, in which he played poorly in the first half, before scoring Arsenal's equaliser in the second half. Since then he have shown glimpses of the talent that he have, scoring a wonderful goal against Norwich, a brace against Marseille in the Champions League, and also scoring and setting up Cazorla's winner agains Aston Villa last month.

On the plane or on the beach? Barring an injury (knock on wood) or huge loss of form, Wilshere will be on the plane to Brazil.

Kieran Gibbs

Gibbs is one of the latest player to have followed Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy as a promising left back emerging from the club. He signed for Arsenal from Wimbledon way back in 2004 (when the team disbanded), and played sparingly during the 2008-09 season, unfortunately the following season he breaks his metatarsal during a Champions League match against Standard Liege and missed the rest of the campaign. He finally becomes the Gunners first choice left back when Clichy departs for Manchester City in summer 2011. However injuries have often prevented him from featuring more for the Gunners. Last season, the signing of Nacho Monreal (who was signed to cover for injured Gibbs) means that he have to patiently wait for his chance. This season, Gibbs regain that left back spot (due to Monreal's injury early in the season), he have been able to stay relatively injury free and have performed well, earning him a recall to the national side from Roy Hodgson in October.

On the plane or on the beach? Gibbs is locked into a four-way battle against Ashley Cole, Luke Shaw, and Ryan Bertrand. Playing regularly for Arsenal is an obvious advantage over Chelsea pairs Cole and Bertrand (only start playing regularly again on loan at Aston Villa), Shaw is another strong performer this season and shouldn't be overlooked, but Gibbs involvement in recent England internationals might give him a slight edge here. Leaning towards him going to Brazil.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The Ox unlike Wilshere and Gibbs, is not a graduate of Arsenal's academy system, and spend his youth career with Southampton. Signing for Arsenal in the summer of 2011, many instantly likens him to fellow Southampton graduate, Theo Walcott, citing his pace. However his performance against AC Milan in the Champions League in the centre of midfield shows another side of him, running rampant in a 3-0 victory (although the Gunners failed to overturn the 4-0 first leg deficit) in which he provides an assist and won a penalty. His reward was a spot in England's squad for Euro 2012. A dip in his performances last season, Ox have also missed the first half of the season as he was injured in the season opener against Aston Villa, only recently making his comeback, he scored two goals in last Sunday's win against Crystal Palace, playing as the.. you guessed it, centre midfield role.

On the plane or on the beach? Ox's future (and best) position would be in the centre of midfield, but at the moment England have plenty of options there. With Walcott's injury, perhaps a spot out wide would be his ticket to Brazil. He hasn't played a lot this season, but his direct competition such as Townsend, Young, or Lennon are either not playing or haven't been on top of their game (might also add Raheem Sterling to the conversation after his performance against Arsenal last Saturday). That being said, I think Ox might just about make the squad (emphasis on just).

Carl Jenkinson

Jenkinson was plucked from  relative obscurity in the summer of 2011 from Charlton Athletic, having appeared only 8 times with Charlton (in two separate loan spells with conference sides Welling United and Eastbourne Borough, he made a total of 14 appearances). Jenkinson had a rough start with Arsenal, culminating in a sending-off in that infamous drubbing by Manchester United at Old Trafford. Later that season he suffered a stress fracture which sidelines him for three months. He improved steadily in his second season, starting 21 times, and thus was rewarded with an England cap against Sweden in November 2012.

On the plane or on the beach? Despite improved showing last season and showing that he is an able deputy for Bacary Sagna, there are too many other players standing in his way. Should focus on making the squad for Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. To the beach he go.

Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott was signed from Southampton back in January 2006. Despite not making any appearances for the Gunners, Walcott was selected by Sven-Goran Eriksson as part of his 23-man squad for that summer's World Cup in Germany, though he didn't make an appearance either. Theo was omitted from England's 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, to which Chris Waddle respond with a critic that "Theo doesn't understand the game" (having previously said that "Theo lacks a football brain"). Last season, was easily Theo's best season with Arsenal from a personal standpoint, scoring 21 goals across all competition. He was also included in the Three Lions squad for Euro 2012. This season Theo suffered an abdominal injury in late September, making his return in late November he look to pick up where he left off, scoring twice against Manchester City and West Ham. His return was short lived, as he ruptured his ACL in the match against Tottenham in The FA Cup.

On the plane or on the beach? Initially there were suggestion that a quick-fix procedure would allow Walcott to participate in this summer's World Cup. Walcott opted against it however, and will miss this summer's tournament. He'll be on the beach cheering on his mates.