Why Jack Wilshere's Return Can Lead Arsenal to the Title Next Season, Pt. 2

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Why Jack Wilshere's Return Can Lead Arsenal to the Title Next Season, Pt. 2
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In the first part of this article, I highlighted the need for a creative midfielder, emphasizing that this still is an area of weakness in the team.

 

What Arsenal Have

Aaron Ramsey, I said, isn't ready yet to fill the big shoes defined by this position. Last season's performance isn't a strong recommendation.

Tomas Rosicky showed flashes of promise when he regained full fitness, it however didn't last. He faded away quite alarmingly as the season wound down.

The argument could be that between the two of them, the position could be well-marshaled next season. After all, Ramsey can only improve, having successfully locked down a season-long performance after a year of absence with a career-threatening injury.

This is true. But an improved performance, while likely, isn't guaranteed. Moreover, last season's scenario may repeat itself, with one of the two overburdened as a result of the other's indifferent form.

In defense of this, one could say any new purchases are a gamble as well. They hold no guarantee of quick adjustment to the new environment, squad and league. New transfer purchases can just as readily go awry as they are likely to help the team.

This, still, is true.

It is a chance, though, that must be taken. Papiss Cissé, for example, a January acquisition, helped Newcastle United to a strong season. Few can argue that Sergio Aguero helped Manchester City secure their first title in 44 years.

 

Aaron Ramsey's form seesawed between the excellent and the torrid last season.Michael Steele/Getty Images.

 

Clarifying Differences

In the first part, I highlighted the difference between what is normally known as CAM—central attacking midfielder, a role akin to the box-to-box in the 4-3-3 formation—and the creative midfield role in the 4-2-1-3 formation. I said CAM was essentially Patrick Vieira's role in the then 4-4-2.

CAM, I said moreover, was Jack Wilshere's role in the 2010-11 season, which should be better qualified as box-to-box in the 4-2-1-3 formation that Arsenal plays.

I then said the Vieira role (Wilshere's erstwhile role) isn't synonymous to the creative midfield role, which is best exemplified by the deep-sitting No. 10 role in a 4-4-1-1 role.

This is the role Dennis Bergkamp played in the heydays of Arsene Wenger's reign. It is, of course, the role Messi plays at Barcelona. The current vacancy was created by Cesc Fabregas' departure last season.

Fabregas in this role was a passer type, whereas Messi, for example, is a dribbler type as was his countryman and predecessor, Diego Maradona. Diego Forlan is a passer type as is Luka Modrić.

In some teams, the passer type is tucked in behind along a holding midfielder. An example of this is Xavi Alonso, whose trademark is long passing. Andrea Pirlo is another of these types.

Alex Song, on the strength of his performance last season, would fit the deep-sitting passer type. The difference is that he also doubled as the main-holding midfielder for the team.


Cesc Fabregas was the passer type creative midfielder at Arsenal.  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images.

 


The Idea of Potential

I should now return to the topic of the article.

Will Jack Wilshere's return help lead Arsenal to the title in the coming season? If so, how does he fit into the picture in Arsenal's midfield?

First, I'd like to highlight what I only hinted at in the first part of the article: that I use Wilshere here as a principle, the importance of which lies in potential.

That is, the potential of Arsenal's midfield is tremendous if fully fit. Wilshere, of course, is a particular example of this.

Wilshere's strength and influence speaks for itself.

A fully fit Abou Diaby is almost without equal in skill and dexterity. Then there's the highly influential Mikel Arteta. Alex Song, of course, is becoming the icing on the cake here.

There's additionally, the pair of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, potential understudies and cover for these positions.

All these are players for two of the three divisions of the midfield: The holding position and the box-to-box position. The two names left out of the list—Ramsey and Rosicky—are the current players for the creative position, the area of latent weakness.

So bar the creative position, the depth of Arsenal's midfield is tremendous, but only, and only if everyone can be fully fit. And here's where the weakness for the assertion in the title of the article manifests.

No one can guarantee that Wilshere will recover his former form, having been sidelined for a year. Ramsey is an example of this improbability. Abou Diaby, to take one more example, hasn't been able to shake off his problem.

The fear can only be compounded in the face of Wilshere's recent minor knee surgery. One can't but fear that this is the genesis of a Diaby-like problem with niggling injuries due to the underlying problem. One hopes not though.

Abou Diaby has been unable to shake his injury problem. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images.

 

There's another pitfall here: that deceptive word, potential. Potential has been the hallmark and the undoing (at least tacitly) of Arsenal these seven seasons.

Already Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive, has come out to sketch out for the fans how strong Arsenal's young squad is, careful to emphasize potential and not to talk directly about any further additions to the squad, although he did not discount it altogether.

Frustration is beginning to mount at Arsenal predictably as the expected transfer activity still hibernates. Lukas Podolski, strongly hymned and touted by the powers that be, does not count.

He was a belated January transfer material. He now seems a smokescreen, or rather a smoke detector to alert the Arsenal authorities to untoward criticism from the fans for their lack of transfer activity.

Ivan Gazidis says the goal of the club is to win titles next year. It is however easy to say all this. Without appropriate investment in players, it isn't clear that this will be so. This, naturally, leads me back to my main point, to wit: a creative midfielder is absolutely necessary for Arsenal.

This brings us back to Jack Wilshere.

A fully fit Jack Wilshere will solve the Arteta problem in the coming season, by which I mean, the lack of replacement for Arteta last season whenever he was injured, which led to visible disjointedness in the middle.

If Diaby can play just half of the Premier League games, then between the three, Arsenal would have nothing to worry about. Good things happened in Diaby's brief cameo appearances last season to indicate the latent possibilities his return could yield.

 

Where Should Jack Wilshere Play?

What I am saying, then, is that Wilshere is a box-to-box option (your CAM in 4-4-2). This assertion has been a point of irritation for some, who interprets it to mean that Jack Wilshere isn't skillful enough to play the creative role. They seem to take this as a slap in the face.

It isn't and shouldn't be, not if the importance of the different roles in the midfield is properly understood. The issue seems to lie in the adjective, creative, which appears to lionize this role in lieu of the others. Plus, it is here, of course, that the best player of a team (the No. 10) normally plays.

For me, the point isn't in grade, measured in a rising order of holding midfield, box-to-box, creative midfield. It is a matter of the importance of each part to the whole. 

 

Holding Midfield

A team without a good holding midfielder leaves the defense exposed, and this lack of an enforcer can hamper a good team.

A good reason why some teams tuck in the pass type of midfielder at the back is because good attacking moves begin at the back. In fact, many goals result from good and intelligent build up from the back.

If you think Makélélé you'd see the point very clearly. Many readers would recalled that it wasn't until Claude Makélélé had left Real Madrid that the powers that be there realized that he all along had been the glue holding the team together.

Chelsea's resurgence last season—while owing a great deal to the change in approach by the interim manager Roberto Di Matteo—coincided with the return of Jon Obi Mikel, whose game consists in roaming the hole just in front of the defense. Although he is under appreciated, his is an indispensable role.

To think, then, that the defensive midfield position is less important than the other roles in the midfield is to advance a fallacy.

Claude Makélélé "held" while Michael Esien "boxed" at old Chelsea. Both shadow former Devil, Cristiano Roanaldo.  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images.


Box-to-Box

This similarly is true in the case of a box-to-box. This role, although designated differently in the 4-4-2 formation, is the role that necessitated the return of Paul Scholes.

This role sometimes is more territorial as opposed to a bias towards attack.

Scholes' way of manning the role (at least last season) is territorial. In this case, the person roams the big hole in the midfield to influence affairs there. He makes sure to break up attacks in a high enough position on the pitch to forestall pressure on the defense.

He is thus the pivot from defense to attack. Paul Scholes controls this area by being very effective with his passing. Xavi performs a similar role for Barcelona.

As the reader knows, control of territory is very important in the modern game. It is what has made Barcelona so dominant. Without the box-to-box, this isn't possible.

The other way of manning this role is rather vertical. In this case, the person is more attack minded, frequently foraying forward to consolidate the team's attack moves. This is the manner Jack Wilshere manned this position in the 2010-11 season. This style is also reminiscent of Vieira. 

The fluid overlap between Song and Arteta means Arteta combines the two manners of playing in this position. Again, to control territory and to enforce the team's will on its opponent the box-to-box is indispensable.

And, as the disjointedness that followed Arteta's absences showed, it is a strong fallacy to say this role isn't very important to the team's formation.

Manchester United's season was nearly derailed by the absence of an effective person to man this position, a fact that necessitated the return of Scholes from retirement.


Paul Scholes returned from retirement to fill a hole at Manchester United. Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

 

+++

There is a sense by which Wilshere's return could prove influential and momentous in the coming season.

I will propose how in the third and final part of this article, where also I will answer some of the issues raised by comments to the first part.

I will also draw other conclusions from all this in the next article. I thank the readers for the positive response to the first part of the article. I look forward to your comments here also.

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