To me it’s the little nuances of his game: the way he lets the ball run across his body, the weight of his passes when releasing wide options, the close control and burst he displays when dribbling passed an opponent. If you had to pick one player that best embodies the current Arsenal ethos, predicated on technicality and on-the-ball expressionism, it’s Jacky Wilshere.
Regardless of your feelings towards him and his long term Arsenal viability given his injury history, it will be tough to find many Gooners that haven’t enjoyed his inclusion back in the side. He has been a shining light and source of optimism in a season that has been tough to enjoy at times. Below are some talking points I feel should not be ignored in regards to Jack Wilshere’s Premier League involvement over the last four matches.
The Trust Factor
Look carefully at each match Wilshere has played this season and it becomes evident that his teammates trust his skill set. This is largely due to his ability to provide technical security to a side that has struggled to do so from deep midfield since Cazorla went down. What Jack lacks in his ability to cover ground like Aaron Ramsey, he makes up for with his ability to be omnipresent and available. He operates well when receiving the ball in tight spaces and, most importantly, almost always makes a decision that helps us maintain possession.
The best evidence of the trust factor can be seen in his on-pitch relationship with Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez is often hesitant to engage in close-passing interplay with teammates not named Mesut Ozil and constantly bypasses the simple support pass or his overlapping fullback to take extra touches. He now trusts Wilshere in a similar fashion.
The Physicality is Real
Although extremely predictable given his injury history, teams specifically targeting Wilshere has been a theme in the last four Premier League games. He has been fouled on average 3.75 times per game, the most on Arsenal. Up until Thursday, it had been the physicality and cynicism of the challenges that I took note of rather than the quantity.
Conversely, 12 seconds into the game on Thursday, before Arsene could even complete his jacket zip, Crystal Palace had already committed their first of seven fouls on Jack Wilshere. Given his effectiveness in this Arsenal side, Jack deserves game time. Game time means he’ll have a target on his back. We’ll soon find out if his body is up for the challenge.
Jack Provides Structure
Whether its his slightly limited lateral mobility or a player that has matured and has learned to choose his moments better, Jack Wilshere is more a central building block in this side rather than the box-to-box dynamo we were previously used to. The beautifully threaded Sanchez through ball to Ozil is only made possible because of Wilshere’s decision making from deep and the trust of his teammates to move the ball quickly:
This is important due to the fact that many of our goals conceded have come from self-inflicted giveaways in central areas or a lack of a functional midfield.
The Xhaka and Jack midfield partnership is not perfect. They are still limited in mobility and ball-winning prowess. What they have done is provide a structure from deep midfield based on a double pivot that staggers on occasion. They choose moments to alternate who sits a bit deeper and who pushes that little bit forward. With Ramsey soon back from injury, it will be interesting to see if Arsene can accommodate all three.
I know it’s just my opinion, but given my age and scope and sequence of my supporting life, players like Fabregas, Cazorla, Rosicky, and, of course, Wilshere are the ones that embody Arsenal football. Instead of agonizing over a new deal, dreading that next injury, or focusing on his limitations, I’m going to appreciate each and every touch of the ball Jack Wilshere has moving forwards.
Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.