Arsenal: Why Jack Wilshere's Return Can Lead Gunners to the Title Next Season
A notable thing happened a year before Arsene Wenger came to Arsenal in 1996.
The World-Class Star
In June 1995, David Dein, Vice-Chairman at the time, flew to Milan to secure the signature of Dennis Bergkamp, who at the time was an Inter Milan player, but who—due to the changes afoot at the club as a result of change of ownership—was unsettled and looked for a change of club.
Bergkamp's preference was Tottenham Hotspur. Dein, however, convinced him to sign for Arsenal. He was considered Arsenal's first "true international superstar," a world-class player. The fee was £7.5 million, a record signing at the time.
What is remarkable here though—to answer Dave Mason who declares that everyone, not just Manchester City, has bought titles, referring specially to Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, and in the latter case citing the Bergkamp signing—is that Arsenal bought Bergkamp from the sweat of their brow.
The money wasn't some phantom money, a product of an abstruse bubble that enables you to spend what you don't have, nor was it some handsome hand-out from some patron or oligarch. As far as buying titles goes then, this is a line to be differentiated.
Thus, Chelsea and Manchester City have bought titles, but Manchester United and Arsenal haven't. (Pardon me, Chelsea and City fans. I understand the situation isn’t of your doing.)
If your advantage is from your shrewd planning and your hard work, it is an insult to call the success thereof a product of financial privilege, the euphemism for unearned success.
The nub and crust of the above is that a single player of superior talent can make the difference in a team.
Bergkamp was such a player to both Arsenal and the Dutch national team of his time, as was Diego Maradona to Argentina, Diego Forlanto to Uruguay's 2010 World Cup squad and Lionel Messi to FC Barcelona.
Let me elaborate via one more example, even as I stick out my neck to make a prediction.
I am unconvinced that the current Dutch squad will win the Euro. This is because, as talented as the squad seems, it lacks the kind of influential player to which I'm referring. (I might be totally wrong, of course.)
Wesley Sneijder—a highly overrated player—currently plays that role.
He is gifted, to be sure, but he isn't head and shoulder above the rest, as such players tend to be. In fact, I believe Robin van Persie is the most gifted of the current Dutch squad, but of course, his isn't the playmaker role in the squad.
Playmakers of the ilk under discussion are the catalysts that transform a gifted squad to a remarkable squad. In fact, they can transform an average squad to a winning squad.
We must, of course, acknowledge that sheer team coherence can do the trick as well. Denmark's Euro 1992 winning squad or Greece's 2004 winning squad are just two examples.
One could even argue that the same was true of Spain's 2010 World Cup winning squad—a gifted squad across a board devoid of that above-the-ilk star, although, of course, there is a sense in which Andre Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and even Cesc Fabregas are not your averagely gifted players.
Is Wesley Sneijder, unlike his country-man and predecessor, Dennis Bergkamp, overrated? Marco Luzzani/Getty Images.
Jack Wilshere as a Principle
Returning to the topic, is Jack Wilshere such a player? Is he the one to make a difference in the coming season for Arsenal?
Here, Jack Wilshere is a principle.
Arsenal are a highly constrained club. That is, they are not going to—anytime soon—sign a player that costs £32 million or £17 million for that matter.
Therefore, neither Wesley Sneijder—again, he is gifted enough, but I really don't like him—Eden Hazard (as we've seen) nor Shinji Kagawa (as long as the going price is about £18 million) is going to come to Arsenal.
These type of players—the creative midfielder type, that is—are the current missing link in the present Arsenal squad.
In other words, I don't think Jack Wilshere is this player.
So why then do I think his return could help Arsenal win the title next season?
The Creative Midfielder
A persistent reader gave me some stick in the comments section of my Aaron Ramsey article when I insisted that—based on how I had seen Wilshere play for Arsenal in the 2010-11 season, or owing to how Wenger had played him—I believe Wilshere is more suited to the Box-to-Box role than to Creative Midfielder role.
The modifier "creative," I suspected, seemed to this reader to imply that Jack Wilshere isn’t gifted enough. This, of course, is far from the truth.
I based my conclusion on a season-long observation of the player in action. I saw that Wilshere was the enforcer/influencer type, as his driving runs coupled with his default defensive starting point showed.
I encountered similar resistance to my persistent insistence that Arsenal needs to sign a creative midfielder beside a world class striker—Lukas Podolski is already signed—to assist Robin van Persie in the coming season.
I became baffled when even the most knowledgeable of my readers would dismiss the idea with a wave of hand. One acronym persistently accompanied their response: "may be," they'd say, allowing me some little ground, "but I don't really think we need a CAM."
Jack Wilshere, an influential "CAM." Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.
The Enigmatic CAM
That word, "CAM," allowed me to understand the reason behind the resistant to an idea that I consider very plain to everyone who reads the game. With deep exasperation I would think, "Can't anyone see that this position is the main area of weakness in the team?"
It becomes amusing when some would name Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey as adequate options. Adequate indeed they are, but no more than that, and you need more to go beyond mere competitiveness to being the team to beat for the prize.
Arsenal aren't this latter option at present.
The said resistance is encapsulated in "CAM," the abbreviation for Central Attacking Midfielder. The resistance is informed by a reading of formation through the default formation of the British media, the 4-4-2.
Here's how it is designated.
In this formation, the midfield is anchored by a dual pivot, where one, the CDM (or the Central Defensive Midfielder) holds or enforces mostly—think Gilberto Silva—and the CAM is more attack minded (an influencer)—think Patrick Vieira.
Note that the wingers are designated left and right midfielders respectively. In the case of Arsenal title winning 4-4-2 formations, they tended to drift inward in scissor movement to attack the center-backs of the opposition. It was why both Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg were effective as goal scorers and assist makers.
What is notable here is that only two central midfielders are required in this formation.
In the light of this, therefore, Arsenal do not need a creative midfielder, since a number of Arsenal current midfielders can play this role effectively, especially Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Thomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and even Alex Song.
If you read the formation thusly—one holding central midfielder and one attacking midfielder—you are apt to dismiss the idea of creative midfielder—CAM in your parlance.
But this isn't the formation Arsenal play.
Realize that even when Arsenal played the 4-4-2 formation, none of these two positions was the primary playmaking role.
It was Dennis Bergkamp, whom most would designate as Arsenal's supporting striker, who played this role. But Bergkamp wasn't your average supporting striker as in the 4-4-2 formation.
Bergkamp played deeper than that. That is, he was a true number 10, a creative attacking midfielder.
This comes into focus if you understand that Arsenal didn't really play the 4-4-2, but a 4-4-1-1 formation, where Bergkamp was both the third midfielder—on the tip of things—and a deep-lying forward, what Messi essentially is at Barcelona.
You would recall the following diagram from my Aaron Ramsey article.
The Arsenal System
I explained in that article that Barcelona (under Pep Guardiola) play a quartet of midfielders, where Busquets enforces (that is, anchors the midfield, enforcing Barcelona's game plan and breaking up the opposition's attacks when Barcelona are out of possession), while Andre Iniesta and Xavi influence affairs in the middle by strangulating the opposition while executing killer passes, and Messi plays the playmaker (the dribbler skillful type)/striker role.
I noted then that the current Arsenal team plays a trio of midfielders, with passer/creator at the tip and the enforcer and influencer at the foundation.
The influencer in the Arsenal's old system would be Patrick Vieira, the enforcer, Gilberto Silva and the creator would be Dennis Bergkamp.
In the 2010-11 season, Jack Wilshere played the Patrick Vieira role (the influencer), a role some confuse with creative attacking midfield role (the Bergkamp role), Song the enforcer role, and Cesc Fabregas the creator, passer role.
I will continue this discussion in the second part of this article.
Meanwhile, I welcome your comments.
I have decided to hold back on the number of articles at this period because I believe it's better to observe than to write those shallow "Wenger must" articles—which in the past I have written myself—that time mostly exposes to be rather silly.
Wenger will do what Wenger wills, informed by the principle at work at Arsenal. I choose not to join the inevitable frenzy that transfers or lack thereof engender.
I believe after-the-fact reaction/analysis in this climate is more profitable and enriching. I will of course contribute an article or two now and then, and I will pick up the pace when the season commences in August.
Meanwhile follow me on Twitter at Gol Iath@gol_iath.
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