Carl Jenkinson: The boyhood Arsenal fan continuing to live his dream
Photo: Getty Images - David Price

Carl Jenkinson is living every Arsenal fan's dream. The boy from Harlow in Essex grew up a Gunners supporter and remarkably as he approaches his 27th birthday, he still plays for the club.

He has been a Gunner since birth, a player for the North Londoners since 2011, but often left in the shadows it may have been a surprise to see Jenkinson stay at Arsenal last summer.

However, against Cardiff on Tuesday, the right-back played for the first time in the Premier League since 2016. It was also his first league appearance in the competition at the Emirates Stadium since April 2014. At that moment in time Arsenal hadn't won a major trophy for nine years.

He replaced an old head in Stephan Lichtsteiner. It was a tactical change, one that has sparked debate over whether the defender may well be due a run in the team. Lichtsteiner is a player who has been there and done almost everything there is to do in professional football. Jenkinson is the polar opposite.

But his professionalism is exemplary and Unai Emery seems to be building faith in a right back whose career has never taken off.

In seven years he has played just 68 times for Arsenal, but he can only make us common folk jealous of his everyday life. He gets to train among the stars Gunners supporters idolise and he's become embedded in Arsenal folklore because of it.

Football is a cutthroat business which means Jenkinson's story is a refreshing one and in a season where every Arsenal player deserved a clean slate with Arsene Wenger departing, Jenkinson is perhaps benefitting most.

Welling to Wenger

In January 2010, Jenkinson was sent on a work experience loan to Welling United from Charlton Athletic. 15 months later, he was signing permanently for Arsenal in June of 2011.

Rather coincidentally, his time with the Gunners has felt a little like 'work experience' too. But that's a bit harsh on the 26-year-old. He's gone from Welling to Wenger and at one point looked like a promising young footballer - earning his one and only England cap in 2012.

Jenkinson's story is an intriguing one. He could have played for Finland, having featured for their U17, U19 and U21 sides. He qualified through his Finnish-Swedish mother. Undoubtedly he would have played more international football had he chosen Finland, but that's an entirely different story altogether.

He went from playing four times in the National League with Eastbourne Borough in 2010/11 to featuring nine times in the Premier League the following season for Arsenal.

Jenkinson's rise hasn't quite been like Jamie Vardy's progression, but he is further proof of the quality you can find below England's top flight.

A career that has never taken off

With the rise of Hector Bellerin, Jenkinson was always going to have his work cut out. The Spaniard is now out injured and with Lichtsteiner far from convincing, Jenkinson has a chance of replacing him.

He's had to work hard for his chance. He's waited patiently and after loan spells away from North London, which looked to wind down his contract rather than develop his chances of getting back in the Arsenal team, he's now firmly in Emery's plans.

Jenkinson spent two productive years with West Ham from 2014 to 2016, playing over 50 times for the east Londoners, whilst a chance to impress with Birmingham in 2017/18 was unfortunately plagued by injury.

His contract is up this summer and it's still hugely unlikely that he'll sign a new deal. But with Arsenal's defensive injury issues this term, he may well be presented with an opportunity to at least force discussions over whether he has a future at the club beyond this campaign.

For now, though, his thoughts are on matters on the pitch.

Rejuvenating his Arsenal career?

Following his first Premier League appearance of the season in midweek, Jenkinson commented: "I’ve got to keep working. That’s what I do best.

"I’m pushing and I’m pushing. We’ve got top lads in the squad and whoever plays is going to do a job, but for personal pride, of course, I want to be in the team. I’m training as hard as I can to give the manager a problem and get myself in the team."

Jenkinson's place at Arsenal has always been on the fringe but he now has a real shot at establishing himself for the rest of the season.

If his performances can't secure a new contract with his boyhood club, then you'd think there would be plenty of potential suitors, at least in the Championship.

There's a picture that has done the rounds of Arsenal's British core. Pictured alongside Jenkinson signing new deals in December 2012 were Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Wenger was also there.

Is it possible that Jenkinson could outlast them all? It would be quite a way of showing just how surprising football can be.