Exploring Jack Wilshere’s best role
Cast your minds back to February 16th 2011. Arsenal vs Barcelona. The focus was on ‘the best club side ever’ and the likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta. Cesc Fabregas was preparing to face his boyhood club and much was expected of him from the Arsenal faithful. In the end Arsenal won the tie but arguably the biggest part of that night was the making of 19 year old Jack Wilshere. He showed no fear as he went hammer and tong against the best midfield in the world and came out of that game with all the plaudits. England fans were purring at what a player they had on their hand
Cast your minds back to February 16th 2011. Arsenal vs Barcelona. The focus was on ‘the best club side ever’ and the likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta. Cesc Fabregas was preparing to face his boyhood club and much was expected of him from the Arsenal faithful. In the end Arsenal won the tie but arguably the biggest part of that night was the making of 19 year old Jack Wilshere. He showed no fear as he went hammer and tong against the best midfield in the world and came out of that game with all the plaudits. England fans were purring at what a player they had on their hands.
Now 22, I feel Jack has reached an important point in his career. Not only has he got to shake off some niggling injury issues, but his best position has been debated amongst Arsenal fans recently. Much like he did with Cesc Fabregas around the same age, Wenger seems to be converting Jack into a number 10.
During his breakthrough season Jack played next to Alex Song as a deep lying playmaker with lots of energy to drive forward with the ball. He drew plaudits for his ability to take the ball off the back four, start attacks from deep with a good range of passing but also for his desire to get around the pitch with vast amounts of energy and drive. It is these things that I argue make this his best position still.
A player that is comfortable taking the ball under pressure from the back four is very rare these days, especially one that 95% of the time will retain the ball and do something positive with it. Having a player like this in a side has many benefits.
If the opposition midfield chooses to sit off Jack, he has the passing range to hurt them with incisive passing (similar to Villa at home this year – pass to Monreal in the build-up to the second goal). This forces them to press higher up the pitch to combat Jack, leaving space in behind for the actual number 10 or the wide players.
Recall again the Barcelona game and Arsenal’s second goal. It is remembered primarily for the final phase and the celebrations but for me the start of the move was fantastic and supports my point fantastically. Deep in our half under quite a bit of pressure from Barcelona, Jack received a difficult pass from Bendtner but with a sublime first-time pass he split the Barca midfield and freed Fabregas with space to break into the Barca half. The rest I am sure needs no description.
Arsenal’s passing game relies on swift passing and a quick transition from defence to attack. This is Jack Wilshere’s main asset for me. If a pass is not available he also has a unique ability to bring the ball across the half way line himself, with a fantastic ability to keep the ball close to him. These driving runs were fantastic when Jack was at his best. I believe Wenger described this as something incredibly unique and something most of the lauded Spanish midfielders have.
Aaron Ramsey has added energy to Arsenal’s midfield, arguably in more of a defensive way but Jack’s ability to do so going both ways is something that is sorely missed if he is played in the number 10 role. He has far less room to make driving runs as the space is far more condensed, especially with most teams playing an out and out holding midfielder against Arsenal. At times one can see Jack itching to get involved in the midfield battle but his role dictates he should remain higher up the pitch. This prohibits Jack’s game as well as that of the whole team as his drive is lost.
One current negative aspect of Jack’s game that makes me question his role as a number 10 is his final product, particularly in terms of goals. We all know that his passing is fantastic but I would still argue that his final pass in tight areas needs improving and the likes of Rosicky and Cazorla have this far more fine-tuned. In terms of goals though I feel Jack does not get enough goals for the positions he gets into.
A major requirement of the man behind the striker is the understanding of when to pass and when to shoot. I don’t think Jack quite has that yet and has shown in promising positions that he is reluctant to shoot if a possible pass is on. In what is basically a second striker role, that player needs to chip in with goals, much in the way Santi has. Until Jack improves this aspect of his game and becomes more clinical I feel his best position lies deeper. This may well come with time, in fact I am sure it will but while we have more efficient players in that position, they should play there.
With Jack seemingly still struggling for fitness, I feel that Wenger might have moved Jack forward to add Ramsey’s defensive energy to our midfield, providing the extra protection to the back four which has no doubt added to our resolute defending of late. However, that does not mean that we have to fit Jack in just because he is Jack.
He is a fantastic player at his best, but at this moment we have others that arein better form in that and this seems to be Wenger’s thinking in recent games. The positive of this is that Jack does not need to exert himself and as we come to the end of the season, he can fully recover and hopefully be ready for next season, in a physical condition where he can provide for Arsenal at his skilful best. .
It will be interesting to see if midfield reinforcements are brought in, particularly that of a defensive midfielder. I very much suspect, and hope, that one will come in.
As much as I am appreciating the work of Arteta and Rambo right now, at times we have lacked a major physical presence in midfield, requiring a double pivot to combat this. A robust, destroyer-type midfield player would hopefully combine the positional sense of Arteta with the energy and physicality of Ramsey, allowing Jack to slot back into his best position and demonstrate his box-to-box attributes.
Of course that is arguably what Ramsey does best also and it will be great to have two young and determined British lads in there competing for the spot. Healthy competition is something Arsenal squads have lacked of late but that seems to be an issue that the management staff is addressing.
Wherever Jack plays in this Arsenal side he will have an influence because he is a naturally gifted footballer but right now , to get the best out of him, I think he should be deployed as a deep lying midfield player given the licence to drive from box to box.