Why is it always that people keep finding something wrong with the Arsenal? We’ve had as good a start to the season as any and things look extremely promising, if early displays are any indication of what lies ahead. Still, there appears to be no signs of let up in the criticism of the Gunners and this time it is a former hero who has been doing all the talking. I hold Tony Adams in high esteem but when he comes out and says the team isn’t defending as a unit just when they are starting to do exactly that, it sounds highly stupid. I might sound biased and to be honest, I am but still, aargh……anyway, enough of my rantings, time to talk football.
The biggest positive this week is the return of Jack Wilshere to full training. Man, it really has been such a long time, almost 14 months since he last played a competitive match. The 20 year old finally appears to have shaken off all his setbacks and from what I saw on Arsenal.com, the young midfielder looked fit and focused during his first training session.
What impact the youngster will have when he eventually makes a much awaited return remains to be seen. His development has been stalled by over a year which means he has a lot of catching up to do. Will he still be the confident passer he once was? Will he resume from where he left off? Will he be the next talisman to take Arsenal forward, as it was being predicted in 2010? All these questions remain to be answered and by the end of this year, I am confident we’ll have the answers.
But Wenger couldn’t have hoped for a better time for the young midfielder to reach full fitness. Arsenal has a settled midfield that is brimming with confidence and playing with the kind of authority you want to see from Arsenal players. Cazorla, Arteta and Diaby appear to be complementing each other and with the assured displays they’ve put up so far, Arsene Wenger now has the luxury of easing the prodigious midfielder into first team football without putting him under too much pressure.
Wilshere himself stands to gain a lot playing in this team. If one remembers his memorable 2010-11 season, his regular midfield partners were Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. While Fabregas was obviously the playmaker, Alex Song and Wilshere shared the defensive duties among them with great understanding, something I see now between Diaby and Arteta. Song was the one who played deeper, protecting the defense while Wilshere played the orthodox midfielder, as he linked the defense and attack with aplomb. His quick thinking, close control and ability to pick out teammates with great accuracy proved invaluable to Arsenal that year which despite the huge promise, fizzled out without a trace.
His handling of much more experienced midfielders in the big stage often baffled me. When news was around that Fabregas was on his way to Camp Nou ahead of Barcelona’s visit to the Emirates in February 2011, it turned out that a young 18 year old Englishman had gate crashed what was supposed to be Fabregas’s party. The control he displayed in midfield against a team that possessed Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets in their ranks was brilliant. He had a passing accuracy of 95% and in the final third he completed 93% of his passes which showed the impact he had made as Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners.
While his flair and technical abilities often hog the limelight, there are certain aspects of his game that fail to attract attention. He is a tough tackler and despite his small stature, he is strong in the tackle and is not someone who shrinks away from the physical side of the game. He has tremendous positioning sense and is always available for a pass while he has the ability to patrol the defense despite not being a natural defensive midfielder. His composure and reading of the game added to his ability to look for a pass up the field makes him a dangerous and tricky customer to deal with.
His eventual return to the heart of Arsenal’s midfield would probably make the Gunners’ midfield one of the strongest in England. In, Arteta he has a disciplined player who sticks to his duties of protecting the defense and recirculating the ball. Given Arteta’s simple yet effective ball distribution, Wilshere could turn out to be the biggest benefactor. The presence of Cazorla allows him the freedom of staying deeper alongside Arteta, from where he is most effective. It relieves him of the pressure of having to be the creative force behind the striker as his ability to launch long, penetrating balls are better off from a deeper position. The perfect example I could give you is Luka Modric’s role for the Spuds last season.
While it means we’ll lose the physical presence of Diaby and his ability to cover ground quickly, Wilshere provides us will the ball control that’ll make us an effective midfield. We’ve been losing the ball often this season and while our defensive efforts have hidden this flaw so far, it is something that could be exploited. With Wilshere we’ll have three players with tremendous passing and ball retention skills that will invariably lead to a higher possession ratio. With Arsenal’s failure to dominate possession against Liverpool, Saints and Montpellier quite evident, Wilshere might well be the player to alter that trend.
I also think, his return could bring the best out of our wingers, especially Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. I think our wide men have been under undue criticism while it is evident that we aren’t playing to their strengths. Wilshere’s long passes from deep in the midfield could be the key to Arsenal becoming an effective counterattacking team. It will help us put the pace of Walcott, Chamberlain and Gervinho to better use bringing the ball out of defense quickly and using Cazorla’s magical feet in the final third. I know it appears all too easy on paper, but it is all within the scope of Wilshere’s talents.
Also evident is the importance the club seems to be giving to Jack’s return to training. Wenger knows how important the 20 year old is to Arsenal’s future and the special pictures released showing him in training indicate how eagerly everyone as the club has been looking forward to his return. He is amongst the first set of players to have broken into the team with an Arsenal DNA since the academy was setup and as we all expect, he is someone who is expected to lead the team into a new era of optimism in the coming years.