Now that the curtain has come down on an incredible season, it’s a time for some joyous reflection. But for some, the season wasn’t an overly happy memory. For Carl Jenkinson, our on-loan defender from Arsenal, it was a season he’d rather forget.
Jenkinson did a wonderful job in his first season with the Hammers, and fans were delighted when he returned on loan for a second season – but a series of subpar performances and a plethora of penalties left fans wondering where their adored right back had gone.
I don’t think Jenkinson is at fault for the difficulties he faced this season. Some of them, yes – but certainly not all of them. Instead, it was down to a change in structure which caused most of his misery. Under Sam Allardyce, full backs Cresswell and Jenkinson were encouraged to advance up the pitch supported by the cover of the left and right wingers.
Under Bilic, it’s a rarity to play with two true wingers who stick to wide, covering, designated left and right positions. Instead, we started the season mainly playing Victor Moses on the left and an open, rotating, space on the right – leaving Cresswell protected, and Jenkinson woefully exposed.
This change in structure has had a negative effect on the young Arsenal loanee. In the first half of the season, Jenkinson gave away three penalties. The previous full season he played saw him give away only one. He collected four cards in six months this season whereas he received only two in 35 games in the previous season.
In 2014/15 he kept nine clean sheets; in 2015/16 he kept none. It couldn’t have been easy for Jenkinson and his frustration was often evident on the pitch – and it soon went from bad to worse. Whilst giving away a penalty to Manchester City, Jenkinson suffered a season-ending injury which put an end to his loan spell at West Ham. In defence of Jenkinson, we’ve struggled to adequately fill the right back position since his departure.
No one – not Michail Antonio, not James Tomkins, not Sam Byram – has done a completely satisfactory job in that role. I include Byram in this list as yes, he had a stunning debut game, but when fit has struggled to get in his own professional position over midfielder Antonio. This unfulfilled role is largely down to the aforementioned players being in the right back position without a true winger covering them.
The exception to this is when Antonio is allowed to play on the right wing – otherwise, we’ve put every right back in a continuously perilous situation, and it’s one that got the better of Jenkinson. I feel for Jenkinson that he had the experience he did this season and I don’t want this bad loan spell to derail a promising career for Jenkinson.
He’s a good defender, and I admit I missed him during the second half of the season every time Antonio was forced back in defence instead of driving up the pitch and scoring goals. Once Carl recovers, I fully hope he finds a team with the structure that allows him to come to life and play to the best of his ability.
We won’t see him pull on a claret and blue top again, but whenever he pops up at our Olympic Stadium, I’ll be applauding him and I hope our other supporters do the same. Good luck, Carl.