Stats show Arsenal's foreign stars are class

The 3,000 travelling Arsenal fans shoe-horned into the corner of the Doug Ellis Stand at Villa Park on Saturday evening were in party mood despite the incessant Brum rain. Their side were producing a Rolls-Royce first half performance – and they were

The 3,000 travelling Arsenal fans shoe-horned into the corner of the Doug Ellis Stand at Villa Park on Saturday evening were in party mood despite the incessant Brum rain.

Their side were producing a Rolls-Royce first half performance - and they were loving it.

"Have you ever seen England play like this?" they roared as the league leaders pinged the ball to each other with insulting ease, while the claret and blue-clad hosts were chasing shadows for much of the opening 45 minutes.

For an hour not one representative in white was from these shores, an all too regular occurrence these days. That was until the arrival of substitute Theo Walcott, Berkshire born and bred.

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But it was Arsenal's showing in the latter 45 minutes, a steely, resilient defensive display that would have had even George Graham purring.

It was a display which maybe explained why home-grown talent is finding it so hard to make it into Arsène Wenger's first 11.

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With Villa applying extraordinary pressure, the Gunners stood firm in the face of an almost fanatical home attack, clinging on to the three points for life. It was the stuff of champions.

Arsenal's 'soft centre', so often derided last season, has hardened. And if you don't believe it, remember this - the Gunners have salvaged 11 points this season after going a goal behind - no team has done better.

Opposing fans may bemoan the increasing foreign legion at Arsenal, but the bare statistics do not lie.

Take Bacary Sagna, the French defender purchased in the summer, for example. He was outstanding in Birmingham with an excellent 86 per cent pass completion rate - and his cross set up the winning goal.

Was there another right back in the Premier League last weekend with such an impressive stat?

Now is the time for Arsenal's English contingent - and make no mistake there are plenty of young Lions throughout the club chomping at the bit - to match their continental peers by marrying technique with their in-built bulldog spirit.

Many have had the chance in the past; Ashley Cole, David Bentley, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Upson and Steve Sidwell are five notables all now performing at the highest level. But not in red and white.

Wenger, however, is insistent that the future of the club is English.

"We have less developed English players than young foreign talent," he said at the recent Annual General Meeting, in response to queries about the club's long-term direction.

"That is down to one basic reason: England has produced less talent because it responded later to the quality of the academy system.

"In the next three or four years we will have developed the top-level domestic talent we have growing at the club."

Central defender Matthew Connolly - currently on loan at Championship outfit Colchester United, but rated highly within the Emirates - was last month rewarded for his outstanding form at Layer Road with a call-up to the England U21s.

Steve Bould, the Arsenal Academy coach, has made no secret of the fact he would like to see more English players progressing into Wenger's squad.

"What's important is that we are getting a lot of good kids in and it is a big bonus that lots of them are English and I have to say that they are very, very good players," he said.

"We certainly don't know how far they are going to get but we have a lot of good English players, and that is great for the club because the fans want to see English lads in there. They also want to see good players and we have plenty of those from home and abroad."

In the U19s, 17-year-old Henri Lansbury, in particular, has caught the eye at the club and has already trained with the first team, while the likes of Mark Randall, a graceful midfielder in the Michael Carrick mould, and central defensive rock Paul Rodgers are also banging on the first team door.

Gavin Hoyte, younger brother of Justin, and Kieran Gibbs are also developing well.

Islington-born defender Thomas Cruise, from a family of Arsenal nuts, has recently been promoted to reserve team action.

Along with Walcott, the only other Englishman to have made an impact in the first team in recent years is right back Justin Hoyte, who is currently out of favour. But he is determined to regain his place.

"Of course I want to stay at the club and fight," he declared.

"I want to be an Arsenal player. You never know what can happen in football but I know I am going to knuckle down, train hard, work hard and perform when I get my chance.

"It is tough at the moment because the team is doing so well and a few players are not getting into the team. It's up to us to take our chance if there is an injury.

"It is frustrating but I am a professional and need to behave that way and focus on the job in hand."

Wenger expects...

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