Arsenal: How Gunners Can Finally Get the Best out of Jack Wilshere Next Season
One might have expected Arsene Wenger to push his energetic young midfielder back into the fold after using him so heavily during the middle of the season.
But even after Wilshere was deemed fit to play, he was left on the bench.
Surely he was not healthy enough to start—Mikel Arteta was pushed into the starting XI on the final day of the season with Wilshere, a ready-made replacement, riding the pine. However, Aaron Ramsey, who had been performing superbly in his fellow Brit's absence, was left in the lineup with the Champions League on the line.
Wenger appeared to have found a midfield quartet that worked. Arteta as the metronome, Ramsey the tireless utilitarian pass-and-mover, Tomas Rosicky hustling about in attack and Santi Cazorla drifting inside from the left wing.
Arsenal did not blow teams away, but this system worked when it absolutely had to.
Wilshere, though, has had his ankle taken care of. Simple surgery recently removed the annoying piece of metal that was inserted during his previous episode under the knife, and he will be fully recovered well before next season's commencement.
That presents the manager with a quandary. With the possible exception of Santi Cazorla, Wilshere is the best midfielder Arsenal have. He can do it all: Strong in the tackle, able to play a defense-splitting pass and blessed with the dribbling nous of a crafty winger, Wilshere's dynamism drives much of Arsenal's attack.
Wenger was let off the hook somewhat when he was injured. There was little pressure to reinsert Wilshere into the fold because people knew he was ailing and the team kept producing victories.
But what to do when presented with an overabundance of riches?
Over the course of an entire season, the question will be answered for Wenger as it was at the end of last. Due to injuries and fatigue, no player can participate in every single game. Suspensions are uncommon, but form takes its cyclical dips.
Yet, barring an injury crisis, the issue of what to do with Wilshere will remain. Part of the reason why lies in his versatility.
During his debut season in the first team, Wenger primarily deployed him as a defensive midfielder. Wilshere played a box-to-box style and developed an aspect of his game that was untapped during his days as an attacking midfielder in Arsenal's youth teams.
Last season, when he and Cazorla started together, the former usually occupied that advanced role, while the latter was shifted to the left wing. The result was an overwhelming amount of creative firepower and a disappointing amount of width on the flank.
But how can Arsene Wenger leave a fit Cazorla and a fit Wilshere out of his starting XI?
Unfortunately, the answer might involve sacrificing Aaron Ramsey.
For he occupies the spot that Wilshere sometimes held when Cazorla was being deployed in attacking midfield: in the middle of Mikel Arteta and Cazorla—the fulcrum of midfield.
While Ramsey performed admirably during the run-in, he cannot match the flair and natural ease with which Wilshere plays the position. The Welshman is probably a harder worker (if only just), and the simplicity of his game often prevents idiotic mistakes against disciplined opponents.
But Wilshere is built for the role.
There he can utilize all the diverse aspects of his game to the benefit of the defense and attack. His aggressiveness and refusal to shun contact make him an excellent assistant when tracking back, and those natural attacking instincts allow him to support Cazorla or whoever might be playing further forward.
Wenger will have to be cautious not to use his prodigious young talent too much, though. Wilshere's fitness has been an issue of real concern since he made the jump to the first team—after he completed his first full season, he missed the entirety of the next and a good chunk of this past one.
Once again he has been operated on to relieve a complaint in a troublesome ankle. And those surging runs of his leave him exposed to blunt physical contact with hulking defenders.
Thus, the Wilshere problem will solve itself on numerous occasions next season.
When he is in the team, excellent players will unfortunately be frozen out. But that should be expected at a club that at least masquerades as one of England's elite, and healthy competition is never a bad thing.
While the No. 10 that Wilshere wears on his back indicates his future is likely in attacking midfield, Santi Cazorla's constant presence in the lineup, the width and directness that Lukas Podolski gives the team and Arsenal's need for a commanding central striker mean that he will usually have to play a bit further back next season.
Luckily for the Gunners, it is a position that suits him just fine.
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