Written by Aniefiok Ekpoudom on Saturday, 13 October 2012 14:16
The news that Jack Wilshere has returned to 1st team training has been met with joy by most Arsenal fans. Wilshere capped an amazing debut season by being voted both Arsenal player of the year and PFA young player of the year; just rewards for a personally successful season for the 20 year old. Unfortunately injury struck and Wilshere was forced to miss the entire 2011/12 season and the chance to build on his fruitful campaign.
It’s worth noting that Wilshere hasn’t played with the majority of Arsenal’s current midfield; Cazorla and Arteta have been new additions whilst Diaby was largely injured for Wilshere’s solitary season and Aaron Ramsey was returning from a broken ankle. Not to mention Coquelin was on loan at L’Orient and Rosicky was mainly utilised out wide. So whilst Arsenal fans eagerly anticipate his return to Premiership football, the question must be asked, where exactly does he fit into this already stacked midfield?
Wenger has described Wilshere as having similar qualities to that of vice-captain Arteta. Speaking about the Spaniard, Wenger said:
"When we need to keep the ball he can achieve that - Jack [Wilshere] can do that as well. But with Jack missing he is a player who can keep the ball when it is needed."
It is evident that Arteta can not play every game so is there a possibility that Wilshere could take up a position at the base of midfield? It would seem unlikely with Coquelin and the returning Frimpong waiting in the wings to fill in as cover.
However, it must be pointed out that although both are gifted, neither possess the technique that Wilshere and Arteta are blessed with. Players with their level of technique are crucial in a midfield’s such as Arsenal’s as they can receive the ball in the tightest of spaces but still deliver an accurate pass. This relieves pressure on the team as a whole and in addition to this makes an aggressive pressing game less effective; a tactic usually employed against the Gunners.
Wilshere does possess the clichéd “Footballing brain,” needed to be able operate in this role as he reads the game extremely well and usually is two or three steps ahead of everybody else on the pitch. The 20 year old is not the most physically imposing player but Arteta has shown that physique is not pivotal in this role.
The difference between the two players is that although Wilshere is tenacious, he is not as clean in the tackle as the Spaniard. This is a relatively big issue as the ability to quickly win the ball back without going to ground is crucial to Arsenal’s counter attacking style of play.
Box to Box Role
During his first season Jack enjoyed a box to box role; in this role Wilshere made the most of his agility to manoeuvre out of tight spaces and as a result was able to dictate play from deep. Jack is of extreme use in this role; especially at home where opposing teams look to sit deep with tight compact midfields.
His burst of pace and ability to quickly execute a pass will help keep the tempo high and will aid in the struggle to break down defensively minded teams.
This role also utilises Wilshere’s impressive range of passing as he will be granted the freedom to continually switch the play from deep with that wand of a left foot. This was a regular occurrence during his solitary season; perhaps the most memorable being his assist for Bendtner vs Ipswich.
The first choice for the box to box role this season has been Diaby who has accomplished himself very well (when not injured). However, like Wilshere; Diaby too is recovering from a long term injury and therefore there will be plenty of room for rotation as Wenger will be cautious with both.
The No.10 role
Wilshere is a No.10 by trade; and the fact that he has been handed the No.10 jersey suggests that this is where we may see him operate. Some will remember him playing this position in a pre season match vs Cologne and he was brilliant as he capped his display with a delightful assist for then debutant Gervinho.
Everything that is good about Wilshere screams this position; his impressive movement to evade the attention of markers, his vision and the speed of his play all make him a perfect fit.
However, there is the small issue of Santi Cazorla; whose performances have been nothing short of sublime; no doubt he is a better player than Jack at this moment in time. Cazorla himself had initially expected to play out wide but has recently expressed is delight at the free role he has been allowed to operate in.
Much like Arteta, Cazorla won’t be able to play every game and with Rosicky still a long way from fitness it seems that Wilshere will get some minutes in this position.
Overall it looks as if the next few months for Wilshere will be about fitting in where he can and building up his match fitness. It seems most likely that we will see him alongside Arteta in the box to box role this season; considering the need for Wenger to rotate both him and Diaby. However, once he is fully fit and firing I expect to see him pushing Cazorla hard for the coveted position behind the striker.
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Mean Lean's Response
Jack has great versatility, I suspect that is largely down to his massive natural talent. He is an all rounder or at least you expect he will become a complete midfielder and has already featured in several positions for the club from the youth team to the reserves and finally the senior side.
However with this Arsenal side, rather than a case of where can Jack play, it is more of a case of who else is occupying those positions. I don't see any immediate future as the deepest midfielder for Arsenal and that is not even factoring in the phenomenal displays from vice captain Mikel Arteta who in hindsight perhaps should have been given the captain's armband. Wilshere's game would be wasted, sticking to a disciplined role. Watching at what the opposition are doing and just playing the safe option. To get the most out of Wilshere you need to use his burst, his ability to run with the ball and you cannot show off those talents in that role.
The man who has taken Jack Wilshere's old number is undoubtedly the go to man in this Arsenal team. He already has the most amount of successful through passes in the Premier league to date. Jack Wilshere has some way to go before he is in the same class as Santi Cazorla and for the most part, I do not see Wilshere playing in behind the striker as Cazorla has been asked to do. We want Cazorla taking as many touches of the ball as possible and he can do that where he is in the team, that option can certainly be explored if we are facing top class opposition away from home, where a little more steel may be needed. Cazorla could then be pushed wider with licence to roam inside. But for the most part, I think Wilshere will compete for the box to box role. The role that he played so well in season 2010/11. For Wilshere to compete for that 'number 10' role, he needs to add goals and assists to the first team. In 31 starts and 4 sub appearances during his first league season he only managed 1 goal and 3 assists. He was playing a deeper box to box role but in a team that attacks, you want a better return from a number 10. As with most young players though, I expect those numbers to increase with games and experience.
Wilshere has competition though, anyone of Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky or Aaron Ramsey could leap ahead of him assuming they find a rich vein of form, the type of form that Tomas Rosicky found when given a run of games last season. The bonus for Wilshere is that he hasn't been left behind by two of those three players due to injuries of their own.
If Aaron Ramsey keeps improving then I suspect that it will be a race for all three to catch and overtake the Welshman who has started the season very well so far.
However, in my opinion Jack Wilshere has the largest potential and can be whatever player he wishes as long as he continues to work hard. I am looking forward to that drop of the shoulder and slalom skiing type runs through opposition midfields.
It has been a long time since we saw him play for the first team. In fact, I can't believe it's been so long since we saw Jack.
Not long to wait.
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