Back in November, Arsenal were rocked by the injury of Jack Wilshere. Needing surgery on his ankle after Paddy McNair kneecapped the midfielder, Wenger informed the press it would be at least 3 months before he returned to the pitch. Much more than 3 months later, Wilshere is finally getting game time for the under 21s. In the games he has played, he has looked fairly decent without really imposing himself.
Wilshere made his debut for Arsenal at the age of 16 and 256 days. Seven years on from his promising start, we still have no real indication of whether Wilshere is a flop or a flush. In the games he has played, he has fluctuated between inexperienced, overzealous youngster to inspirational, game winning powerhouse. And yet, it’s still difficult to say where Wilshere performs best. We currently have five distinctive roles held by five distinctive players that Wilshere needs to oust in order to get a game.
At the base of the midfield, we have Francis Coquelin, the surprise package of the season, who relies on his defensive discipline and fervent desire to ‘stick the boot in’ to hold down his place. His tenacity in the tackle is only matched by his complete and utter lack of desire to join the attack. He knows his role and his limitations and is willing to stick to them. His recent performance against Burnley saw a staggering 11 interceptions by the specialist destroyer, an indication that he is as much brain as he is brawn.
In front of Coquelin, we have another surprise package, Santi Cazorla. The lovable, affable woodland chipmunk screams ‘too small for centre mid’ and yet has excelled in the position since Wilshere’s injury. His deftness of touch, dribbling out of defence before sliding the ball to one of Sanchez or Özil make him perfect for transitioning between defence and attack. His pint-sized physique should have eliminated him from midfield contention but his scuttling around midfield and calmness on the ball has proved to be the perfect Ying to Coquelin’s Yang. I’m aware at how dirty Coquelin’s Yang sounds.
Further forward we have our most expensive player in the club’s history, Mesut Özil. Despite what his critics would have you believe, Mesut is a hugely important cog in this Arsenal team. His nonchalance is juxtaposed by his pinpoint precision. He conducts the play like a musical conductor, swaying the passing from left to right, probing for that crescendo moment. He has adjusted to the pace and physicality of the league exceptionally well and has cast aspersions aside through some pretty impressive statistics. NB: Only in Britain would distance covered statistics pacify fans’ unrest at a player who is clearly exceptionally talented.
On the left, we have the undroppable Sanchez; due to his never say die attitude, ability to change a game and the fact that he literally won’t listen to Wenger when he’s told he’s not starting, that leaves us to consider the opposite flank. Currently occupied by the Welsh Jesus but on occasion can be seen accommodating Welbeck, Oxlade Chamberlain or, when the stars are aligned, Theo Walcott. On occasion, Özil will be pushed wide and Ramsey will act as a box to box style player, but for the time being he is being played as a right sided midfielder, similar to the way Ljungberg used to play. His timing of runs into the box is second to none in this current Arsenal team; he is combative, skilful and confident to take the ball in tight areas. He offers protection in front of our young Spanish right back and is generally a leader on the pitch (see WilliamConboy’s article).
So where does Wilshere fit in? Well currently nowhere. And everywhere. If you’ll allow me to be a pedantic son of a bitch for a moment; he is no better than any of these players in their designated position and yet he holds some element of all their qualities. He is dogged in the tackle. He can dribble with the ball, taking on players before a quick sidestep or one-two to evade the tackle (although that quick side step has come a fraction too late on some occasions). He has an eye for a pass, especially in and around the box. And he is certainly combative and hardworking enough with a desire to shoot when the occasion presents itself. A continentally talented but Britishly vexing centre midfielder. A player that you feel wouldn’t look out of place in Barcelona’s tiki-taka styled football of 2012 nor sitting alongside Lee Cattermole in a Tyne-Wear derby before getting sent off for a second bookable offence.
Whilst the attributes he encompasses puts him in a position of relative strength, he is in danger of being tarnished with the ‘Jack of all Trades’ brand rather than the multi-talented, versatile footballer that the Arsenal coaches spoke about in hushed whispers round the schoolyard. All is not lost for Jack; he is young and under Wenger will receive all the time and opportunity he needs, one only needs to look to Diaby for evidence of that. But it’s important that he himself knows where he wants to play. He is too ambitious to act as a destroyer, yet doesn’t have the necessary talent to be the Mesut styled playmaker. His calling is somewhere in between. Santi’s fruition as a dribbling centre midfielder demonstrates the perfect position for a player of Wilshere’s technique, flair and physique but it’s up to Wilshere to prove his long fabled talent.
‘Til next time,