Jack Wilshere: Where Does the Midfield Ace Fit Best for Arsenal?

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

Jack Wilshere is fast becoming an enigma. There is little doubting the talent of Arsenal's midfield ace, but where does he fits best for the Gunners?

That is a pressing question since the arrival of Mesut Ozil served to swell the ranks of a midfield already burgeoning with like-minded schemers.

Wilshere has adopted the No. 10 shirt at Arsenal. It is the number usually reserved for the most significant member of the squad, the main creative force.

This is the player who consistently provides the telling contribution to undermine a defence. During manager Arsene Wenger's early years it was Dennis Bergkamp who occupied this role.

The roving forward offered clever assists and wonder goals in almost equal measure. Bergkamp was eventually succeeded as Wenger's creator in chief by Cesc Fabregas.

The little Spaniard may have been adorned with the No. 4 worn by Patrick Vieira before him, but Fabregas was a true No. 10. His final through passes were a consistent source of goals during the early years at the Emirates Stadium.

The problem for Wilshere is that while he wears No. 10, he rarely plays like one. There is often an absence of telling contributions to either create or score goals.

Many have believed a greater attacking output will come with experience for Wilshere. It is not an entirely unreasonable argument.

After all, this is a player whose development has endured a prolonged interruption thanks to a consistent ankle injury. It is naturally tough for any player, regardless of their position, to grow into a prominent role without a consistent streak of games.

It took Cesc Fabregas three seasons refining his style before he blossomed into a scoring threat and a consistent creative force.

There are other reasons for believing Wilshere belongs in a more attack-minded position. His ability to go past defenders and run with the ball is unmatched by any other member of this squad.

Santi Cazorla possesses more intricate ball skills, but he is not as direct as Wilshere is when the 21-year-old runs at defenders.

The problem, as it so often is when Wilshere gets near the box, is what comes next. Despite possessing a powerful left-footed shot, Wilshere often seems almost scared to use it.

Worse still, is the lack of defence-splitting passes from Wilshere when he is best positioned to set up scoring chances. It is not uncommon to see him charge to the box only to stop and quickly give up probing for openings before playing the ball across to a fullback.

This safety first approach actually hints at the true nature of Wilshere's playing style. He is an efficient, rather than a mercurial player.

At his best he is a possession midfielder. That may be a less glamorous description than those given to true No. 10's, but it is no slight on Wilshere.

He is exceptional at retaining possession and dictating the flow and pace of play. It is one of the reasons why he draws so many fouls.

Opposing teams clearly take the calculating and deeply cynical view that the way to stop Arsenal owning the ball, is to kick their best retainer of the ball, Wilshere, off the field.

Wenger himself has come to accept that Wilshere will never make the grade as a true advanced schemer, according to The Guardian's Amy Lawrence:

In Arsenal's academy, Wilshere played most of his youth football as a playmaking No10. A more advanced midfield position is earmarked for him with England. Although Wenger initially saw Wilshere's future as a classic No10, he has changed his mind over recent seasons and rates his best position as a deeper midfielder. "Looking at Jack over the years now, he likes to come deep to take the ball and make a difference, and then give and go again," Wenger said.

Wenger's description is particularly apt following the arrival of Ozil. Wilshere can now toil in supporting areas and play a vital role in helping Arsenal's roaming No. 10 attack defensive gaps.

Metro's Hannah Duncan recently quoted Wenger describing that very dynamic:

In midfield, Jack Wilshere is more comfortable in deeper positions and Ozil more in a higher position, that is why I don’t think they conflict, said Wenger.

I didn’t always think that, but looking at Jack over the years now, he likes to come deep to take the ball and make a difference, and then give and go again.

Ozil, though, is more behind the striker, higher up on the field.

That complementary partnership between Ozil and Wilshere looked very promising during the Gunners' 3-1 win at Sunderland.  There it was Ozil who ostensibly started on the left flank.

But as the game developed, that is exactly where Wilshere spent a lot of his time. His movement allowed Ozil the freedom to influence attacks from various positions in advanced areas.

As Arsenal's record signing roamed, Wilshere filled in the gaps and kept the supply steady. It was no coincidence that this was Wilshere's best performance so far this season.

For more performances like that, Wilshere is best suited on the halfway line, buzzing around in deeper positions as a quick, pass-and-move midfielder.

From there he can keep Arsenal on the ball and play the passes from deep that link defence to attack.


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