From the minute Jack Wilshere stepped onto the glorious carpet that is the Emirates stadium, it was clear that this young lad was going to be a star for the future. His debut came in the premier league against Blackburn Rovers in a cameo appearance, but after that he was to make a huge name for himself against a then relatively good Sheffield United side in the league cup. Wilshere like many other youngsters was given the chance to show Arsene Wenger how good he was in this game and Wilshere shone.
He bossed the game and at the age of 16 scored a stunner on his full debut to rubber stamp his name into the boss’s thinking for the future. This was 2008 and since then he’s been a regular in the Arsenal side whenever he’s stayed fit. But this season could be different, with the midfield talent currently at Wenger’s disposal he may struggle to regularly stay in the side and get valuable game time. There is also the small case of not knowing truly where he is best deployed. Does he best suit the number 10 role? Is he a CM? A CDM?, or does his best work come from out wide?
Wilshere’s breakthrough season came in 2010-2011. He started the year by making his senior England debut and following that featured in the opening three premier league games of Arsenal’s campaign. This was the season where he won the PFA young player of the year award and flourished all season long for the gunners. He cemented his regular place in the side come the beginning of December and the role that Wenger played him in was the holding midfield role alongside Alex Song, and in this role it was his job along with Song to break down opposition attacks and look for the likes of Nasri, Fabregas and Walcott ahead of him to provide the creative spark. Wilshere excelled in this position and the England manager at the time Fabio Capello described him as “the future” and declared his intention to deploy him in the “holding role” for England after watching the then 19 year old thrill premier league crowds with Arsenal with some terrific displays.
When you think about it, Wilshere’s best performances throughout his career have come from this position. Both home and away against Barcelona that season he put in man of the match displays that lead the media to declaring him as the English Xavi or Iniesta. His MOTM performance against Brazil at Wembley in 2013 was alongside Steven Gerrard at the base of the midfield where he could stop the likes of Neymar and Ronaldinho running at the England defence whilst also starting attacks with his vision and awareness of where the players around him were. It’s a position that Jack built into his own and this was where he was supposed to shine.
But now whenever somebody mentions Jack Wilshere and a holding midfield role, it is looked upon as ridiculous. The current Arsenal side that Wilshere is in are crying out for a world class defensive midfielder, Wenger has played Flamini there, Arteta there but it doesn’t work. Flamini isn’t good enough it’s as simple as that but as for Arteta, he is an attacking midfielder who has been put into that role by Wenger against his will. As good of a job as he’s done, he still lacks that ability to lead the team, to dominate from the position like Viera did when he was at the club. So why not play Wilshere there? Everybody complains about Wilshere’s so called failures and inabilities to live up to his huge potential, but maybe that isn’t his fault; he’s now being deployed as an attacking midfield player when really his strongest position is in the holding role in front of the back four.
When people sat back to watch England’s opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign they saw the team sheet and laughed at it. Wilshere was playing at defensive midfield. Questions were being asked like “why is our most creative midfielder being played in the holding role” and “What is he going to achieve from playing him in that position?” But when you think about it, is Wilshere really our most creative midfield player? Does he strike you as somebody that is going to get assist after assist or score 20 plus goals a season? No. He is a leader, a big mouth, a commander and somebody who is technically gifted on the ball. He has all the attributes to play in the defensive midfield position and when I look at it I struggle to think why he isn’t played there on a more regular basis.
But then again you have to look at both sides of the argument. Wilshere at times can produce superb displays from other positions on the pitch. In a somewhat indifferent campaign from Wilshere last season his best performance by a mile came at Home against Marseille in the Champions’ league. Despite his brilliance it came from the relatively unfamiliar role of right-wing. He was put there so he could cut onto his trusty left foot and cause the Marseille defence havoc, and it worked. He was brilliant and it lead The Times’ Matt Dickinson to question whether it could be a long term solution, he said: “I wonder if Hodgson will look at Wilshere’s wider role with England, especially if he does not trust Gerrard-JW combo v top opposition”.
It was an opinion shared by many including Arsene Wenger who went onto say that this was a role that brings the best out of him. He isn’t going to run at defenders with pace like say how Arsenal and England compatriot Theo Walcott does but when out wide he can drift inside into more central positions and swap with other midfields like Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla who also can play anywhere along the midfield. A benefit of him playing out wide would also be that it stops him from feeling the full force of crunching tackles being made in the middle of the park. And with Wilshere’s aggressiveness in the tackle and injury record, this is a very good thing; he can escape almost from the madness of the midfield and enjoy a role with more freedom and space.
The fact that he likes to drift inside and not stick to the wide position suggests though that Wilshere’s best position is in the centre of an attacking midfield 3 or 4. From this position Wilshere can show his fantastic technical ability and prove to people that he can score goals and make assists for the forwards in front of him. But as I’ve said earlier; like many Arsenal fans I am yet to be convinced that this is the case. I think that Wenger as well is yet to be 100% decided whether or not he is going to be Arsenal’s attacking goal-scorer or defensive destroyer. He may not even suit the formation that Wenger plays that relies heavily on midfielders either being predominantly attack minded or defensive minded. I think that Jack is both.
He is a central midfielder that can play anywhere when asked, but if I was to pick a position in which to play him regularly then it would be the holding role as I feel to rediscover the best of the man that we saw tear it up in the 2010-11 season then we need to play him in the position that he did during that campaign. Wenger and Hodgson need to learn to not mess about with him, stick him in the position they feel is best and play him there. Once he gets regular first team football from this position and steers clear of injury then he will produce the sort of displays that we want to see and will be the player that can lead Arsenal and England to future success.