Jack Wilshere Still has a Future at Arsenal
Given how long he’s been in the senior ranks of the club, it’s easy to forget that Jack Wilshere is just 23 years of age. Despite that fact, it seems topical to discuss whether or not Jack has a future at Arsenal. Years of injury issues have plagued Wilshere’s development and questions linger as reported interest from Manchester City surfaces. Resident curmudgeon and shit-stirrer Stewart Robson has come out and indicated he believes Jack needs to leave Arsenal to further his development. Robson highlights underlying themes that the medical staff at Arsenal have ruined Wilshere and that Wenger himself is to blame for the players lack of development. Despite Jack’s longstanding connection to the club, many fans have lost patience with their former idol. The additions of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, and the development of Aaron Ramsey have seemingly assured that, when everyone is fit, Wilshere doesn’t make it into the starting XI. Arsene Wenger tried to solve that issue by cramming all his ball playing midfielders into a 4-1-4-1 system early in the year; a holding midfielder, who at the time was Mikel Arteta, with Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Ozil all on the field at the same time. It didn’t go well, Arteta wasn’t equipped to handle the defensive duties by himself as Arsenal increasingly stalled around the opponent’s penalty area, were caught in possession, and conceded with everyone in-front of the ball. Although there isn’t an obvious place for Jack in the starting XI currently, I believe he still has a bright future at Arsenal.
Wilshere vs Cazorla vs Ramsey
The natural spot for Wilshere to play in the Arsenal XI is the roles currently occupied by Santi Cazorla or Aaron Ramsey. Cazorla has masterfully adapted to a central midfield role, in which he has added densive duties and plays next to Francis Coquelin. Due to Cazorla’s effectiveness, Ramsey is currently playing wide-right and, despite not being a natural fit out there, he has proven effective. For arguments sake, lets compare Cazorla’s stats this season (I believe it’s his best all around year) and Ramsey’s from last season (clearly his best year), to Wilshere’s from two years ago. Jack in 12-13 played very similar minutes to Aaron in 13-14, while Cazorla this year has played more than the other two. Judging on a per 90 metric, on key passes Jack averages 2.32, Santi averages 2.11, and Ramsey averages 1.23. When it comes to chances created, Wilshere averages 2.48, Cazorla averages 2.41, and Aaron averages 1.64. Despite the advantage in chances created and key passes, Jack’s per 90 assist rate is only .16 compared to Santi’s .31 and Ramsey’s .41. So, Wilshere is creating far more than Ramsey but is assisting a less than half the rate of Aaron.
One of the reasons Santi Cazorla has been so great as a central midfielder for Arsenal this season is his ability wriggle out of tight situations in Arsenal’s half. On numerous occasions, he has gotten Arsenal out of jail and sprung attacks with his magic feet. Cazorla is averaging 2.72 successful take-on’s this year, Jack averaged 2.96 per 90 in 12-13, and Ramsey averaged 1.53 per 90 minutes last season. Jack is very similar to Cazorla when it comes to wriggling out from seemingly impossible positions. Wilshere from 12-13 averaged 1.27 interceptions per 90, Santi averages 1.19 this season and Aaron averaged 1.18 last season. Wilshere was also fouled 2.75 times per 90 minutes, Cazorla is fouled 1.87 times per 90, and Aaron 1.28. The purpose of this comparison wasn’t to cherry pick situations in which Jack performs better than Ramsey and Cazorla, it was to illustrate that when he is performing at his level he his fully capable of producing exceptional performances that can help Arsenal in key areas.
The Injury Elephant in the Room, When Cazorla Leaves
There are probably many people who are less than surprised by those stats, who say the issue with Jack Wilshere isn’t his performance when he is on the field but rather his inability to stay healthy consistently. That is a fair criticism but at the same time it is also a reason that him currently not being first choice is fortuitous. Given Arsenal’s current setup, they don’t have to count on Wilshere currently to be a starter day in and day out, and be left in a lurch when he picks up an injury. I would also argue that his latest injury blow isn’t so much his fault as he was the victim of an assassins tackle by Paddy McNair that somehow went unpunished. Arsenal have deliberately tried to change Jack’s physical makeup to take pressure off his legs and ankle’s, hoping to reduce the likelihood of an injury. Arsene Wenger indicated in his press conference that it could take “years” for Wilshere to get back to his best and with Arsenal’s current squad depth, they can allow him time to grow at his own pace. On a separate note, Aaron Ramsey has had considerable injury issues of his own and having Jack as backup if Ramsey was to go down is the kind of quality cover Arsenal need.
Another element to the equation is the eventual departure of Santi Cazorla. There have been rumors linking him with a return to Spain this summer but I find it unlikely Arsenal would sell and more likely he leaves next summer. After Arsenal’s recent 3-1 victory over Hull City, Cazorla stated “we want to win the title next year”, a quote that appears to indicate his mindset for next season is with The Gunners. Regardless of when it happens, Cazorla is now 30 and Arsenal need to have an eye on replacing him given is admitted interest in returning to Spain in the near future. Given Wenger’s reluctance in rushing Wilshere back and his seeming desire to give him time to build back to his best, the rumored timetable of Cazorla’s departure coincides nicely with a point where Jack will hopefully be able to assume that role full time.
Conclusion: Fanboys Need Not Apply, We All Want Arsenal to Succeed
One of the most annoying and detrimental elements in the Arsenal fan-base is the emergence of certain fractions. The most common is the ArseneKnowsBest vs WengerOut. People would consider me to be an “ArsneKnowsBest” guy but at the end of the day I want Arsenal to do well and I want them to do it the Arsenal-way regardless of who is in charge. Earlier this year, when Arsenal were struggling, there was a ground swell to have Wenger removed as coach. I was against it but I said if he was removed I would fully support whoever assumes the position because that is what’s healthy for the club’s success. Similarly, there is a split between Aaron Ramsey’s fan-base and Jack Wilshere’s fan-base. Apparently, fans have to choose between one or the other. Both are Arsenal players and both have huge potential to help Arsenal win for years to come. Despite what some believe, both can play in the team at the same time, especially with Ramsey’s new ability to play out-wide effectively. Any player that can help Arsenal win now or in the future is a player I want in the squad. Wilshere has incredible potential and he hasn’t yet reached the age where talk of a wasted career should permeate. Given his performance in recent seasons, Arsenal’s squad depth, and Cazorla’s age, selling Jack Wilshere would be a major mistake (one Wenger won’t make) as he still has a bright future at Arsenal.