Arsenal: Is Mesut Ozil a Threat to Jack Wilshere?
On Wednesday morning, Arsenal fans awoke to a plethora of tributes to their German playmaker, Mesut Ozil. Ozil truly announced himself as an Arsenal player on Tuesday night, scoring his first goal for the club and creating another as Arsenal beat Italian league-leaders Napoli 2-0.
Ozil’s goal was a thing of beauty. Running on to a perfectly angled cross from Aaron Ramsey, he allowed the ball to run across his body before opening out to cushion a side-footed shot inside Pepe Reina’s near post. He barely seemed to break a sweat. Few players would even have dared to take that first-time shot on; even fewer would have the technical brilliance to execute it.
For Ozil, it looked as simple as an ordinary sideways pass.
On the bench, Jack Wilshere could only look on and admire. With Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta both fit again and available for selection, Arsene Wenger opted to field the experienced pair at Wilshere’s expense.
Wilshere may wear the No. 10 on his back, but there can be no doubt that Ozil is Arsenal’s true No. 10 in everything but squad number. He has played just a handful of games in English football, but has already established himself as the creative fulcrum of the team. His versatility lends itself perfectly to Arsenal’s fluid style—although ostensibly deployed in the centre, Ozil uses his positional acumen to drift into deep and wide areas, rotating with his teammates to create a dizzying whirlwind of attacking play that baffles the opposition defence.
Jack Wilshere has been handed a few opportunities in that role, but has generally looked more comfortable when deployed deeper, where he can use his burst of acceleration to break through the midfield. What’s certain is that whether he is deployed as a deep-lying or advanced midfielder, Wilshere is at his best in the centre.
However, the young Englishman has not played in the middle since he was withdrawn in the 43rd minute of Arsenal’s victory over Tottenham on September 1. In the last month, he’s played predominantly in an unfamiliar left-wing role, covering for the injured Santi Cazorla. Last night, there was not even room for him in the starting XI.
However, it’s not only Ozil preventing Wilshere from getting a starting spot. In fact, Wilshere should draw comfort from the dramatic progress of another man keeping him out of the side: Aaron Ramsey.
Like Wilshere, Ramsey has had to endure significant physical set-backs. Also like Wilshere, part of his recovery involved being shunted around the pitch and employed as a utility player. It is clear that Ramsey’s best form has come when he’s been deployed in his favoured position, but there may well have been a significant benefit to learning other roles. Playing wide forces a player to improve their close-control and end product.
As for being benched last night, it’s no bad thing. Wilshere’s injury problems arrived as a consequence of being over-played in his teens. He must realise his limitations and manage his comeback carefully.
In the long term, Wilshere must nail down one position as his own. With Ozil flourishing in the No. 10 role, it seems inevitable that Wilshere will have to settle for one of the two deeper midfield positions.
He has the talent to do that. He just needs the patience to wait for his chance.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.
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