Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Should Jack Wilshere Play as a Defensive Midfielder?

This is the third in a series of posts outlining my expectation for certain Arsenal players in preparation for the new season. To see Lukas Podolski’s preview, click here. For Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s, click here.

Jack Wilshere is no longer a youngster. Even though he’s still 22, this will now be his fifth full season as an Arsenal regular (fourth if you take out the entire 2011/2012 campaign he missed due to injury). By now, he’s had plenty of time to refine his game on the highest level. But even accounting for the hardships he’s suffered through massive amounts of time on the bench due to injuries, Wilshere has not lived up to the expectations he set for himself as a teenager.

One of the problems with Wilshere has been a lack of a defined role on the field. When he was most successful in 2011, he was playing as a deep-lying midfielder, one who rarely ventured too far forward, but always picked the right passes in possession. But when he came back from his long injury layoff, somebody decided he needed to be a number 10. The problem with that was he was a terrible finisher, which led to a tentativeness in the final third that your playmaker can’t have. He’s also spent time on the wing without much success in recent time when there was no where else to play him. But everywhere he’s played since he’s come back from the injury, he hasn’t been who Arsenal fans want him to be.

Now there is word coming out of Arsenal preseason that Arsene Wenger wants to see if Wilshere can be converted into a defensive midfielder. On the surface, this idea might make a great deal of sense. It would give him a fresh start in a new role, and it would allow him the chance to see the field. As it is now, I would have him behind Mesut Özil, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla in the number 10 role, and behind Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain and even Abou Diaby in the box-to-box role. Wenger probably would disagree, but I wouldn’t even have Wilshere making the bench in those roles right now. So a positional change might make sense.

Wilshere’s combative style also would seem to suggest he could be a decent defensive midfielder, as he has always been an eager tackler. It has been that eagerness to tackle however, that has seen him wind up hurt so many times. Arsenal consider him prized goods, and I doubt Wenger would want to put Wilshere in a position where he’d be more likely to injure himself. I don’t see the Englishman being willing to alter his style either.

My main problem with Wilshere as the lone defensive midfielder is his lack of positional discipline. When he’s played there before, or at least when he’s played in the box-to-box role next to Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini, he has often gotten caught far out of position. He has a natural inclination to advance the ball, and as his goalscoring prowess has slowly increased in recent times, he has begun making more runs into the box. He is one to forgo his defensive duties for the slightest chance at an attack.

With Ramsey so inclined to get forward in the other midfield role, and doing so with unparalleled success, Arsenal need an especially disciplined defensive midfielder who can cover a lot of ground expertly if Ramsey can continue thriving. Wilshere certainly has the talent – as he always does – but it is a question of discipline that will tell whether the Arsenal number 10 is suited for the anchor role. Personally, I’d like to see him try the position in preseason, but the second he starts venturing out of position on the regular, any experiment must be abandoned.

Wilshere has all the talent in the world. But that might be his biggest problem, as he tries to be a hero on the field far too often. Arsenal don’t need Jack the hero right now. They need a Jack that will be committed to whatever Arsene Wenger wants him to do. They need one that won’t pick up cheap yellow cards out of frustration. They need one that will be rock-solid.

I don’t think him going out and smoking a cigarette over the summer is as big a deal as people are making it, but I think it speaks to Wilshere’s over-confidence that he got caught by the press doing such a thing a second time. He believes he is a special talent, and it has gone to his head. He seems to believe things will be given to him because of the skills he showed from such a young age. In England’s World Cup journey, it looked like Wilshere found things unfair. When the going got tough, he complained about his playing time. Minor things like that say a lot about his maturity level.

I genuinely like the guy. And I desperately want to see him succeed. But I think a lengthy spell on the bench might do Wilshere a world of good in the long run. Giving him a wake-up call that he won’t just be given a spot in the starting lineup when healthy would send a message to the young midfielder that he needs to continue to work hard every day to get better.

I think he’ll end up having a great second half of the season, but I predict the first few months will be especially difficult for Jack Wilshere. Buried on the bench behind players that have earned the time, he will have to force his way back into the side. It might seem convenient to give him an opportunity to be a defensive midfielder, but nothing should be given to Wilshere right now. He needs to earn playing time the hard way in order to improve.

Am I being overly harsh on Wilshere? Please comment


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My Thoughts on Group D, England and Jack Wilshere

The action in Group D certainly lived up to expectations today, with both Costa Rica-Uruguay and Italy-England being lively, entertaining games. Italy has now put themselves in the best position to qualify top with their win over England. Uruguay will have their work cut out, and will need some help, but the England loss certainly helps the Uruguayans. Costa Rica may have surprised Uruguay on this day, but Italy and England will be entirely different beasts. CONCACAF, however, has made a dream start.

England-Italy was a particularly interesting game, one worthy of all the billing it received. Despite the loss of Riccardo Montolivo before the tournament, the Italian midfield dominated. Andrea Pirlo was his usual self, Danielle De Rossi and Marco Verratti were solid defensively, Claudio Marchisio provided a stunning strike, and Antonio Candreva was the man of the match on the right. One would have expected England to press higher against Pirlo and company, but the Italians were allowed a lot of time on the ball at times. England seemed content to sit back and wait to release their pace on the counter attack.

England to me look four years away from a serious run in the World Cup. At times, they were electric going forward today, with incredible pace from the young guns. However, their relative experience saw them fail to track back at times, or in Wayne Rooney’s case, he seemed to lack the desire, leaving Leighton Baines exposed on the left, where Italy’s second goal came from. They have a ton of young talent, as evidenced by the three young midfielders who came on and added a directness to England’s play. But despite the flare, this probably won’t be their year. However, they have a serious future in international soccer in the next World Cup cycle.

The one area England seems to lack the necessary talent in Brazil is central defense. While Cahill and Jagielka are solid most of the time and very capable defenders, both are susceptible to critical lapses. Tonight, it was Cahill who let them down. Mario Balotelli’s goal was relatively simple, simply drifting off the back of Cahill to head in a simple cross. The Chelsea defender also missed a chance to redeem himself going forward, when he failed to connect on a header at the near post on a corner. For England to get out of the group, they’ll need Cahill to be better in the air.

On a side note, I found myself caught off guard seeing Jack Wilshere come on the pitch in the second half. I know he made a brief cameo against Hull, and had been deemed fit long ago, but it still felt odd watching the Arsenal #10 fit again. Looking at him run freely for once made me realize how limited he was this year, even when he was playing. At times this season, we saw glimpses of the Jack Wilshere everyone fell in love with before his injury. But it was only glimpses. Seeing him back out in the England #7 shirt made me hopeful that one day Jack might be back to his best. I feel for him, because he has had such hard luck, but time is running out unfortunately for him to prove his reliability.

I’ll have my thoughts on Japan-Ivory Coast and my next set of predictions at 7:00 am tomorrow. Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts.