[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the injury crisis that had so decimated Arsenal earlier on in the season beginning to abate, Arsène Wenger’s team is placed in the unusual position where a myriad of options in midfield is beginning to create something of a selection headache.
Whilst in some ways it is a good problem to have, it has created the circumstances where the competition for the three central midfield slots available within the Gunners’ customary 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations has become unbelievably fierce. Of these, the only position that appears more or less settled at the moment is that of the holding midfield berth, where Francis Coquelin currently holds sway. The other two positions remain open for grabs, but if the recent performances of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil are anything to go by, it may take a monumental effort and some spectacular performances to dislodge either or both of them from starting places that appear pretty unassailable.
Jack Wilshere has recently stepped up his recovery from a three month spell out on the sidelines and may return to action when Arsenal line up against Crystal Palace at the weekend. The consensus appears to be that Wilshere is at a critical stage of his career and urgently needs to step up in order to transition from being regarded as potential to being hailed as the finished product, but perhaps the most pertinent question is; what role will give Wilshere the best chance of successfully staking his claim ?
Some of Jack Wilshere’s most memorable performances to date have come whilst playing in a deeper role for club or country. The two that completely stand out, and that set a marker for future performances were in the Champions League games against Barcelona, where Wilshere started out in a double pivot alongside Alex Song, and as an energetic box to box player against Bayern Munich. In both games, Wilshere utilised his distinctive ability to pick up the ball in deep positions and drive past players.
His eighteen month absence owing to an ankle injury went some way in reducing his dynamism, especially immediately upon his initial return last term and again at the start of the current season. He commenced this campaign playing in a more advanced position and even though he struggled at first, there were signs, notably against Manchester City at the Emirates, that he was beginning to hit full throttle once again. Further evidence of his revival was evident in his man of the match displays for England whilst operating in a holding role against San Marino and Estonia in Euro 2016 qualifying and against Scotland in November’s home international, thus cementing his place in the England midfield. Even when losing with Arsenal at home to Manchester United, Wilshere’s display of grit, determination and skill was instrumental in ensuring that Arsenal completely dominated the exchanges during that game and only lost (coincidentally after he had been withdrawn owing to his injury at the hands of McNair), when Arsenal lost concentration in the second half.
The current situation where Arsenal mostly utilizes a 4-2-3-1 means that even though Arsène Wenger seems to favour developing him in the no. 10 role where he can utilize his ability to play one-two’s around the box and use his dribbling ability to more devastating effect, he may initially be deployed more in a deeper midfield position alongside Francis Coquelin, his old youth team team-mate. This is the position where he seems to be most comfortable and it is hoped that his familiarity with the role coupled with the experience he garnered from operating at the base of midfield with England may help him perform better in a deeper role, at least in the short term.
The big challenge for Wilshere though will be the increased competition he will undoubtedly face from Santi Cazorla, who has shown he can also perform creditably in that position (although it remains to be seen if Cazorla can replicate his performance against Middlesborough playing there against more established Premier League sides) and Aaron Ramsey, who is probably Arsenal’s best player in the box to box position when he is fully fit.
In all likelihood, Wenger will also sometimes play Cazorla as a no. 10 and use Özil wide on the left, which should create room for Wilshere to potentially play through the middle in a double pivot with Coquelin. There also exists the possibility of playing him in one of two more advanced positions in a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1.
Whatever role he is asked to play, it’s clear that Wilshere possesses the versatility to perform in more than one position. What is also undeniable is that within the context of an Arsenal team that is rapidly improving, and where the likes of Özil and Cazorla are currently gaining in confidence, Jack Wilshere has to seize any chance he gets with both hands with a view to definitively proving that he has what it takes to become an integral part of the Arsenal midfield for years to come. Wilshere’s undoubted talent and the trust he undoubtedly enjoys from Wenger give him every chance of fulfilling his potential. Now it’s up to him to convincingly grasp the nettle.
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