In Arsenal's history, there have been a few players who evoked genuine fear and intimidation in their opponents. But these same players were also among those who got themselves carded and sent off more than most.
One of those players, former Arsenal captain and legend Patrick Vieira, was the perfect combination of steel and skill, showing his proficiency at both winning and then later holding and distributing the ball to his teammates. He might never have come into tackles with the sole intention of breaking legs, but he definitely played with a lot of aggression and force, all while showing his elegance.
Among Arsenal players, the player whose general play threatens to get himself sent off most often, and coincidentally, the only player on the team to exhibit the same dogged, bullish English determination that the once-great Wayne Rooney often displays, is Jack Wilshere.
Like Cesc Fabregas before him, the precocious 18-year-old youngster was rewarded by Arsene Wenger for his hard work and natural ability with regular first-team appearances, even at times, over more established midfield stars like Rosicky and Diaby. And like Fabregas, he is blessed with natural vision, intelligence, guile, skill and a seemingly unquenchable desire to win. But Wilshere and Fabregas are fundamentally two different players.
Wilshere was born with wider shoulders, stronger limbs, more quickness and ferocity, and an inherently British bite to him—that was sharpened by Owen Coyle, Kevin Davies and the rest of the Bolton Wanderers—that Fabregas' sometimes overly nice and laid back Catalan personality lacks.
It is that personality that manifests itself as he lunges hard and fast at opposing players to win the ball, seemingly oblivious of the dangerous consequences his compact and muscled frame could inflict on everyone else. If he were getting stuck-in against non-professional football players, every fourth tackle would send people to the hospital regularly.
In fact, with all the noise that Wenger's been making about ill-timed and reckless tackles, Wilshere could not have picked a worse time to go in full-speed with a full-blooded and equally mistimed English tackle.
In the aftermath of the game and the tackle, Wilshere did not complain and knew right after that he had done something wrong and probably warranted a red card. Wenger, after his almost holier-than-thou preaching about reckless challenges, rightly denounced the act, and both he and counterpart Alex McLeish were unanimous in condemning the act while pointing out that the youngster has never shown himself to act maliciously or with ill-intent.
But no matter how much Wenger tries to calm down Wilshere, and no matter how much he tries to neuter him, his inherent English-ness will come to surface. His industry, determination, and at times, complete recklessness will manifest themselves time and time again.
With all that in mind, last Saturday's red card will probably not be the last sending off in his career. And in the big picture, could that be a good thing?
In retrospect, the steel and meanness from Vieira, Adams, Keown, et al were truly the foundation for Wenger's championship winning sides in years past.
Most Arsenal fans were drawn in by the beautiful flowing football, the pinpoint passing and the sublime scoring brought by the Henrys, Pires, Bergkamps and Overmars. But behind the winning ways of those teams from past glory days was strong base of a no-nonsense back four shielded by the defensive solidity of Petit and later Gilberto, and the legendary Vieira linking defense and attack.
Lately the Arsenal team is full of quick, skilled and technical players who don't stand up very well against the bullies of Chelsea and Manchester United, much less the thugs of Stoke and Blackburn. If Vieira were still around, most teams would not have dared act like the thugs do against Arsenal these days. Perhaps a career-threatening injury or two could have been avoided.
With Song continuing to improve, and Frimpong coming back from injury next season, as well as youngsters Benik Afobe and Chuks Aneke coming through the ranks, Arsenal could be a tough physical side within a few years.
So if Wilshere can keep his fiery attitude while minimizing the red cards and possible leg breakers, and continue to develop as a football star, the halcyon days of old could be ushered back in full force by a young prodigy who is a genuine product of the Arsenal Academy, and undoubtedly one of its finest graduates.
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