Arsenal: Can Henri Lansbury Still Be a 'Big Player' for the Club?
Henri Lansbury possesses a keen technical ability—a byproduct no doubt of the eight years he spent in the Arsenal academy before making the leap to senior level in 2007.
But the greatest contribution the 21-year-old might donate to the Arsenal cause could be found in his no-frills approach to finding the back of the net.
His beginnings at the senior level were promising—he was featuring in the Carling Cup at 17 and signed his first professional contract during that same year of his life—but the London-born midfielder has since seen his career shift downward a couple gears.
Like most burgeoning prospects (Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the obvious outliers, although Wilshere did spend the second half of the 2009-10 season on loan at Bolton), Lansbury spent the majority of his late teens and early 20s cycling through successive loan deals at Scunthorpe United (2008-09), Watford (2009-10), Norwich City (his formative club before Arsenal, 2010-11) and finally, West Ham United last season.
He has scored everywhere he's gone while also showing a knack for getting the odd assist. He picked up five during his spell at Watford, and while he managed just one goal for the Hammers last season, he did provide four assists.
Wenger once called Lansbury a future "big player for Arsenal," and while first-team opportunities at the Emirates have been sparse—he did play in two league games at the start of last season—the French manager must have been impressed by Lansbury's contributions at, say, Norwich, where he helped the Canaries seal promotion to the Premier League.
Considering that Lansbury was named to the team that participated in July's Markhus Liebherr Memorial Cup—and that he scored the lone goal in Arsenal's opening win over Anderlecht—it seemed safe to assume he might play a role in the upcoming season.
At 21, he is entering that difficult stage where, if first-team opportunities do not come his way, he may be enticed to depart.
He did sign an extension to his contract last September, but as has been seen with recent Arsenal players, that doesn't mean he'll stay.
What is perhaps most frustrating about the dearth of first-team opportunities for Lansbury is the feeling that, if given a good run of games, he could wield a real contribution to this team.
His technical capacity is a given, but it's his mental fortitude and fearless presence in the opposing penalty area that might prove the greatest contributions to Arsenal.
As Terry Burton, appointed manager for the Under-21 side, said of another exciting young prospect following Monday night's 3-1 win, "I was pleased for (Thomas Eisfeld) because if you get into (dangerous) areas then you have always got a chance.
"Sometimes you have to do the work to get there, which is important. It is not just about being on the ball and being technically good, you have to make runs off the ball, work hard and look to make something out of nothing. He did that."
Burton was speaking of the German teenager's goal, the third of the night for the Gunners, and the result of a heady run into the penalty area.
Lansbury did much the same against Anderlecht, timing his run to perfection to round off Carl Jenkinson's low cross with a good finish.
It was yet another example of the Englishman's proclivity for getting into the penalty area, and further indication that he does not mind the inherent contact that inevitably arises.
That mentality could have served Arsenal very well, given their lapses in front of goal last Saturday against Sunderland. Lansbury is rumored to have picked up an injury, however, the extent of which has not been revealed.
When he does come back, expect him to get some chances.
And while his goals, if he does in turn score them, might not be the prettiest—although Lansbury can score those too—sometimes it's best to set aside a disposition toward the aesthetic if it means winning a football match.
Bundling in a goal or two against Sunderland would have worked just fine.
He's seen Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Gilles Sunu, teammates on the 2008-09 FA Youth Cup-winning Arsenal side, filter away to other clubs. Lansbury still has a chance to crack the first team, but one wonders if that opportunity is also beginning to slip.
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