Jack Wilshere’s migration south last year was supposed to resurrect his fledgling career. But after proving fitness wasn’t an issue, it was his form that hindered his appearances at Bournemouth.
Arsenal fans will be dismayed to hear he’s being pursued by newly-promoted Premier League side Huddersfield Town. At one stage, the England midfielder was set to be the country’s greatest talent since Paul Gascoigne – a playmaker who resembled a continental attacking-midfielder than the usual athletic box to box individuals England churn out.
However, at the age of 25, Wilshere has failed to make good on his early promise. He is now faced with some very serious decisions this summer. Quite a few football fans and pundits have advocated the academy graduate leave Arsenal in search of a fresh start. There is something quite reasonable in this assertion.
Although Wilshere managed close to 2000 minutes of football last season, his best return since 2010/11, the midfielder struggled to make an impact in the goals’ and assists’ tallies. Whilst this is not the only measurement of an attacking-midfielder, it was hugely disappointing he didn’t make much impact in the final third.
Despite such a low goal output, his Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe remained optimistic at the beginning of last season, claiming that the midfielder’s presence had improved the performances of those around him. However, near the end of the campaign, Wilshere found himself on the Bournemouth bench as Howe opted for Andrew Surman, Harry Arter and Marc Pugh in the engine room.
His demotion to the bench may have been a direct result of Ryan Fraser’s form which resulted in the winger pushing Pugh into a central position. but it weas nevertheless indicative of his performances.
Yet hope is not lost. Not for the first time in his career, Arsene Wenger could be wrong about a player’s best position. As Arsenal fans have witnessed this year, it took the Gunners boss quite a while to identify Granit Xhaka’s favoured position and playing style. So too with Santi Cazorla – as he finally dropped deep into a central position to become a significant cog in Arsenal’s transitional play. One could even argue Oxlade Chamberlain is still trying to categorise himself as a midfielder despite being used as a winger and wing-back this season.
So perhaps Wilshere needs to label himself in the position he feels most comfortable. Although the Englishman is an excellent dribbler recording 2.1 dribbles per game and attracting 1.8 fouls per game, his style of dribbling is less effective than other attacking-midfielders.
At 2.1 dribbles per game, the Arsenal man is 16th in the Premier League. Each of the 15 players ahead of him would be classified as a forward, with the exception of one – Tottenham’s Mousa Dembélé. The six foot midfielder is the player I feel Wilshere should draw inspiration from. In 2013, Dembélé was in a similar position to his English counterpart. As an attacking midfielder, he was struggling to influence games. In two seasons, he contributed two goals and two assists in total.
Struggling to get into the side, things change in 2015. Dembélé was moved into a deeper role for Spurs and began to impress. He was a competent tackler and his body weight allowed him to enforce himself in the midfield. But it was his ability to transition between defence and midfield that allowed him to become a regular starter. Last season, despite playing in centre midfield, Dembélé completed an astonishing 4.5 dribbles per game in the Europa League. Although this was markedly lower in the Premier League as he was rotated with Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama, it was a clear indication Tottenham had found a solution.
Arsenal currently house Xhaka plus one other in their midfield. Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny have all attempted to make the second midfield place their own. However, none of the aforementioned are strong dribblers. When Arsenal are in trouble and need a player to take possession in tight areas, they have no technically-astute players who can wiggle out of danger. Cazorla would usually be the preferred option, but with the Spaniard recouping from another operation Arsenal are without their key component.
The three alternatives who have been mentioned above all have other desirable attributes. Elneny has a huge capacity for running, Coquelin is defensively aware (although some may disagree with that verdict) and Ramsey is excellent at timing runs and getting on the scoresheet. Yet if there is no pass on for Xhaka and Arsenal are being pressed, who do they turn to?
Wilshere, like Cazorla, has the ability to shimmy out of defence and ease the pressure on those around him, while also allowing others to commit forward. If he was able to remain fit for the majority of a season, Wenger would have a fantastic alternative to Ramsey in the middle of the park. Concerns would arise around Wilshere’s defensive contribution, however.
The England midfielder’s weakness in this area could be counterbalanced by three at the back. Additionally, Ramsey, who looked to be really gelling with Xhaka at the end of the season, has very little input in the defensive side of things. Although he is energetic, his statistics in regard to tackling, intercepting and clearances are quite pathetic.
Wilshere, while not incredible as a defensive player, does have numbers to back up his involvement in this regard. He and Xhaka would position themselves deeper (as Wilshere did during his run in the England team under Roy Hodgson) to allow Arsenal’s wingbacks to join the attack with greater regularity.
Whether Arsenal should rely on a player who struggles to play more than 2000 minutes a season is another matter. If Wenger feels the 25-year-old cannot be relied upon and the player is unwilling to play rotation, then another loan deal could be acceptable. As mentioned earlier, Huddersfield are currently pursuing Wilshere.
But would the Terriers be a step in the right direction?
The newly promoted side have aleady confirmed the acquisition of Aaron Mooy from Manchester City. As a result, it seems manager David Wagner has decided to stick with Jonathan Hogg and Mooy in midfield, meaning Wilshere would be predominantly used in the final third – similar to his role in the Bournemouth team. If this is the case, I believe he would refrain from another loan move.
Wilshere clearly sees himself as a central player. And given the performances he has had at the base of the midfield, I believe he thinks he’s a player more suited to the holding role than higher up the pitch. Regardless of where he sees himself playing, the best thing Wilshere can do now is play regularly in the position he feels most confident.
With Arsenal competing in four competitions next season, the playmaker would be guaranteed sufficient playing time to work his way into Wenger’s plans. The only potential problem is whom he would play with. If Wenger starts Ramsey and Xhaka in the Premier League alongside Arsenal’s star players, Wilshere may lament having to partner Coquelin, Elneny, Reine-Adelaide and Maitland Niles in the Europa League.
Some may say, beggars can’t be choosers. But Wilshere may see his best chance of making the England squad by playing in the Premier League. A loan move is still foreseeable at this point. However, talk of any potential transfer seems redundant. There are few in the Premier League who would realistically bid big for him. And with Arsene Wenger still a huge fan of Wilshere I doubt he would sell for anything less than an astronomical fee.
Arsenal fans will have to wait and see whether he remains within their ranks this year. But with Cazorla a confirmed absentee and a lack of any alternative options, Wilshere could begin the season higher up the pecking order than previously thought. He will need to work hard and will require a great deal of luck.
But Wilshere’s Arsenal career isn’t over. Not yet anyway.