This weekend just gone showed Arsenal somehow stage a last-gasp comeback to snatch a point away to Everton with two late goals from the effervescent Ramsey and now crippled Giroud. Twitter was rife with condemning tweets for a number of Arsenal players throughout the match (as usual) but one player continues to frustrate Arsenal fans like no other, Jack Wilshere.
The home-grown, boyhood Arsenal fan was once heralded as the saviour of English football and a beacon of hope for Arsenal’s future teams, yet injury, off-field problems and lack of regular football have all played a part in his tale of woe to date. Arsenal fans are now torn between their love of a home-grown talent becoming the forefront of their team and committing blasphemy in admitting he just isn’t good enough for this current crop of Arsenal stars. So in order to understand Jack Wilshere we must be Jack Wilshere…or just ask ourselves what is his role in this team?
This season, Arsenal have started off by playing a 4-1-4-1 with the standard bank of 4 defenders, Arteta/Flamini sitting in between the lines as a defensive midfielder and then a bank of 4 players in front, all behind the front man. Wilshere has adopted the central midfield role alongside Ramsey. So what is he there to do?
As a focal point of the team Wilshere’s role should be both defensive and offensive; he’s needed to track back opposition midfielders off the ball and drive the team forward and create chances when on the ball. Unfortunately it seems that neither he, nor Wenger, know what he is best at doing and so he ends up doing a bit of everything and a lot of nothing, which is grating fans of Arsenal & England.
We know what Arteta brings to the team (‘some’ defensive cover, starts attacks, spreads the play, ball recycler), we know what Ramsey brings (sexy good looks, crazy stamina, box to box running and plenty of goals) but can you give any of these terms to Wilshere? Back in 2011 he gave the performance of his life at home to Barcelona in the Champions League. We know there’s a cigarette carton full of talent within him so why do we see it so sporadically, or not at all?
Pros: Wilshere brings energy, good short passing range, good movement in and around the final third, vision (though he may not use it at times), commitment and bravery
Cons: Easily dispossessed at times, invites tackles, lacks a cutting edge, not enough goals or assists, not a great deal of pace
It’s clear to me that unless Wilshere adapts his game to incorporate more assists and/or goals he’ll quickly fall down the pecking order in a fully fit squad. Against Crystal Palace his average position was identical to Ramsey’s, which cannot be a good thing. Its clear Wilshere is no doubt frustrated at Ramsey’s recent rise to greatness and will be desperate to make his mark. Yet if he continues to play a central role he HAS to do more for the team. Against Barcelona, Wilshere thrived in a midfield where he sat deep with the team and broke down play looking for quick counter attacks. Back then he arguably had a quicker turn of pace but was sublime with his movement and short, incisive one-two passes.
In Arsenal’s current system he is asked to play a more attacking role, which he enjoys, yet his style of play is risky and many other teams have clocked on that if you press Arsenal’s central midfielders all over the pitch then you’ll regularly turn over possession and have a great chance on the counter as thing wings back push high up the pitch in general play.
Because of all of the above, and I realise I am rambling somewhat, Wilshere needs to adapt his game to suit the team. With Ramsey the ultimate box to box midfielder alongside him, he must either play a more deep lying midfield role in the style that Fabregas once played; finding space in deeper areas and playing incisive balls over the top or through the lines, hold onto the ball less, move it quicker and do what he does best, just with less risk. Playing high-risk passes around the area can be forgiven if one leads to a goal but 40/50 yards from goal these errors will prove highly costly throughout the season.
Ultimately Wenger should take a portion of the blame for Wilshere’s lack of progression. Wilshere’s best performances have without doubt come as a deep, central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, an attacking midfielder in the same formation (without Ramsey marauding alongside him), or even out on the right wing cutting in (as Cazorla does from the left) from which he had a stormer at home to Napoli last season. Yet in the current set up he has no identity, no specific role other than ‘get the ball and try and make something happen, oh and help track back when you can’. He isn’t tasked with making late runs into the box to get on crosses, so he doesn’t. Ozil and Cazorla look for the defence splitting pass so Wilshere doesn’t have to.
It’s about time Wilshere decided what player he wants to be and ups his game. That, or find himself drifting down the pecking order and halfway towards being the next Joe Cole.