Move to Holding Midfield Could Help Arsenal and Wilshere If He Shows Improvement

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, controls the ball against Cardiff City, during their English Premier League match, at Emirates Stadium, in London, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Bogdan Maran)
Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

Arsenal have been linked with several big-name central midfielders this summer, but the latest reports surround boss Arsene Wenger having a different idea if none of the proposed moves come off.

Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail reports that Wenger will instead offer Jack Wilshere the chance to be the Gunners' holding midfielder, playing the deepest role to dictate play from in front of his own back four, rather than the offensive, probing player he has been until now.

It's a move which opens up a real possibility of being a starter for the Gunners, and perhaps England, for years to come—but Wilshere would need to make big strides across his game for it to be a success, in key areas for the position which he has not always shown an aptitude in beforehand.


Tactical Improvement

Arsenal have tended toward a 4-2-3-1 for several seasons, with a double pivot featuring a holding, passing player—Mikel Arteta in the main—and another beside who can push forward at times, break the lines from deep and offer support to the attackers—Mathieu Flamini often, Aaron Ramsey when fit and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on a handful of spectacular occasions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  A dejected Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal after conceding the first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on March 29, 2014 in London,
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For Wilshere to take over from Arteta, he needs to severely increase his ability to manage games, starting with keeping a more disciplined position on the pitch.

It's not something we've frequently seen from him—but that's to be expected since he usually takes up more attacking positions.

The Arsenal man has shown himself capable in fast-moving, fluid attacks with one and two touches, but can he restrain that side of his game to sit in, direct others around him and protect the channels with sound defensive work?


Technical Consistency

Wilshere's strengths are widely acknowledged as being his control, his ability to drive past players and his short-range passing, but too often last season these skills were seen in bursts during games, not consistently over 90 minutes.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

There might be a fine involvement in a memorable move, but his decision-making would ensure that he lost the ball far more often than was necessary.

It won't be about dribbling past players, into open spaces (or into crowds of defenders) but instead in finding the space first and then making sure he uses that time on the ball wisely to find a team-mate further up the pitch. Almost every time. While not abandoning his defenders, looking to him to protect them.


Arsenal's Midfield

The big issue for the Gunners last term was their ineptitude defensively at the moment they lost possession.

Time after time they were killed in transition play by faster, more incisive, smarter opposition, and not just against big sides. Huge gaps between the midfield two and the defensive line was not recovered quickly enough by Arteta and Co, and this is the reason he (or the midfield pairing) needs changing.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Jack Wilshere of Arsenal replaces Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Whether Wenger will alter so much as to move to a 1-2 shape, with Wilshere holding and two ahead, seems unlikely at this point, so Wilshere as the holder depends not only on his own dramatic progression but also in the unrelenting work rate of the player beside him.

Ramsey has proven himself one of the best over most of a season at doing the box-to-box role, but at this stage, leaving Wilshere alone to deal with onrushing attacking midfielders must be one to give Arsenal fans uneasy moments.

Rashly jumping into tackles won't be the name of the game, it will rely much more on the No. 10 holding his ground, protecting the spaces and getting more support from his fellow midfield pivot than, as a pairing, they managed to give last season.

Wilshere has the capacity to play the role and it might well be his best route into the starting XI at this point—but it needs a significant improvement from the player in a number of key areas, progression which the midfielder hasn't really shown in offensive positions over the past couple of seasons.

And that might just be the best reason of all to try him out in a deeper role in preseason.