Serge Gnabry can fill Theo Walcott's boots and grab a World Cup ticket

Arsène Wenger has backed the German, who is in Joachim Löw's sights, to shine for Arsenal and go to the World Cup

As one World Cup door closes abruptly, the handle twitches on another. Theo Walcott may be absorbing the blow of a tournament lost, but for Serge Gnabry the opportunity to force an unexpected route to Brazil has widened.

A relative newcomer to the Arsenal scene, who is enjoying a breakthrough season which promises more action in the weeks ahead, the 18-year-old German has been tipped by Arsène Wenger to make his nation's World Cup squad. "There is more than a small chance. There's a big chance," notes his club manager.

Such an idea might resonate uneasily for those who never felt comfortable with Walcott's inclusion in the party for the 2006 World Cup as a 17-year-old, with no Premier League experience. As it happens, Joachim Löw has been monitoring Gnabry, and likes what he sees sufficiently to say he remains "open" to considering him for a promotion to the national team's elite squad. There is some suggestion that the Ivory Coast are keen to cap him in time for Brazil (he has an Ivorian father and German mother), which adds a potential twist to the situation.

Surely it would still require a Gnabry-shaped explosion in north London during the rest of the season for the boy Bild dubbed a "miracle bubi" to force his way into Löw's World Cup plans? Wenger believes it is entirely possible.

The chance to shine more frequently than was perhaps the plan has opened up with Walcott's cruciate injury. Gnabry, a gifted sprinter who says he never lost a race in his youth, is the player best equipped to replace Walcott's pace for Arsenal.

Wenger was keen for restraint when discussing the boy's talent after he excelled with a blend of speed and composure in Arsenal's victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup. "Let's not make superstars with one game," he cautioned. But a few days down the line, he felt able to expand on what Gnabry is capable of. "He has a lot in the locker," says Wenger. "We are looking at a guy who has great pace, good individual talent, can pass people, is a good finisher who can finish right and left as he is two-footed, and he has a very good football brain, with good vision." The list is so exhaustive it is hard to figure out areas of weakness.

Inconsistency comes with the territory for young players finding their way in the game. Wenger hopes that he can find the right balance between giving Gnabry the game-time to flourish while reducing pressure by using him carefully. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey are all options for the right-hand side of the attack vacated by Walcott, so Gnabry need not be over-burdened by responsibilities.

Nevertheless, he will have chances and is eager to seize them. "I'm hoping to get some game-time," Gnabry told Arsenal Player. "I'm patient, and I will keep trying to show the manager what I am capable of. I am enjoying every minute on the pitch. The players are nice to me. They help me out. That helps you to improve."

His progress has accelerated fast since he arrived at Arsenal in 2011. Gnabry, who had been with VfB Stuttgart since boyhood, was spotted by Arsenal's scout in the region and was invited to a trial at London Colney at the age of 15. He blossomed, and at the end of the week played in an under-16s match at Charlton where his display confirmed the hunches that Arsenal were on to something. Then came the difficult part of dealing with his hometown club, who were not exactly enthusiastic to see him go. As a free agent, Gnabry was allowed to make what is always a momentous decision, to uproot and relocate overseas.

It helped that he spoke excellent English even before he packed his bags, and that his family accompanied him to London, where they set up a new home. He is not the first young German to be tempted by a Premier League move. Moritz Volz had made the same journey to Arsenal aged 16.

Sebastian Kneissl joined Chelsea's youth system in 2000, though never played for the first team.

The business of prising teenage footballers away from their home nations remains a contentious one. Whatever the compensation, no club is content to hand over an asset they have been polishing.

Wenger always considers any disagreements are generally worth having. When it works – as it did to memorable effect with Nicolas Anelka and Cesc Fábregas despite Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona expressing their frustrations – Wenger is only too ready to play talent he regards as brilliant beyond its years. He feels that way about Gnabry. "I am not afraid with him. Until now when I played him he has always had an impact on the game," Wenger adds.

Gnabry has the benefit of a large German community at his club to give him extra back-up. Training alongside Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker ensures that he has plenty of experienced players on hand to guide him during a critical moment of his career. Gnabry is at the delicate stage where he is trying to leap from fringe to establishment.

Wenger thinks he is ready. Löw, and his assistant Hansi Flick, are watching on with interest.

comments powered by Disqus