Jack Wilshere: Why His Return Can Lead Arsenal to the Title Next Season, Part 4

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIIJune 26, 2012

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jack Wilshire of Arsenal battles with Leon Best of Newcastle during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on February 5, 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

For first-time readers of the series, first, a disclaimer.


No, we're not saying that Jack Wilshere's return will be the trump card for Arsenal's success in the coming season. Nor are we assuming that he might not have a problem with form or that he'd just walk into the first team. 

We do anticipate that he'll likely have a problem with form. Nevertheless, Wilshere, being the hard worker that he is, will likely overcome this inevitable problem, barring a further setback.

(As to setbacks, I am concerned already by the news of his minor knee surgery. It has left me wondering whether this is the beginning of niggling problems related to the initial injury. I do hope this won't be the case.)

I do not mean to imply, either, that Wilshere will be a replacement for Arteta as the first-choice box-to-box when he returns. I see him rather as a supplement, a person who brings more depth to the midfield, to allow options for Arsene Wenger.

I see the benefit of Abou Diaby's return in the same vein. What I envision is what we saw happen with Germany in the quarterfinal of the Euros, when Joachim Löw changed his entire front line without adverse effect.

What we saw, in other words, was squad rotation at its best. I have said that rotation is a strong key to winning such gruesome campaigns as the English Premier League, which does not allow a winter break and functions side by side other competitions, such as the Champions League and the FA Cup.

A thin squad is always an accident waiting to happen. A team with depth in key areas reduces the chances of injury and burnout.

The major point here, again for the first-time reader, is the idea that the link still missing in Arsenal's squad (despite the new purchases), is the creative midfielder (the playmaker) type.

I have emphasized in the first three parts of the series that this player is necessary for Arsenal if the club hopes to succeed in the coming season.

To this end, I have said that though the team does possess solid midfielders, most are the box-to-box type—Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby. The others are the defensive type—Alex Song, Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong.

Aaron Ramsey. Getty Images.

The rest—Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky—are the creative type. However, for one reason or the other, they are not at the prime of their game or form.

Rosicky is older and is injury-prone, and although he did well last season in the second half, he displayed signs of burnout toward the end. Therefore, he is not a player who'll last a whole season playing at the very top of his game. 

Ramsey, on the other hand, having begun last season very shakily, gained some footing and put in some eye-catching performances, only to lose form precipitously in the second half of the season.

At the moment, he doesn't inspire confidence as the first choice for this position, not if Arsenal want to be head and shoulders above other teams in this area.

Moreover, it happens that this area, this role, is the key to the kind of formation favored by Arsenal, a formation incidentally preferred by the top teams around the world.

Finally, I am not saying and I have not said that Wilshere is the solution for the creative (playmaker) midfield position. I believe that his energy, vision and versatility are better suited to the box-to-box role. It is the reason I still insist that Arsenal need to buy a creative midfielder.

Jack Wilshere (seen here in action for England) is a very gifted box-to-box midfielder type. Jamie McDonald/Getty Images.

I have also said that I do not discount the possibility that Wilshere could play in this role. I should also acknowledge that others think Arteta could play in this role as well, just as he has done previously at Everton

Do I think Arteta should play here? No.

My reason is based on what I saw him do for Arsenal last season. His reading of the game was superb, and as a breaker of the opposition's play and a winner of tackles just ahead of the Arsenal defense he was second to none.

As a result, he functioned very well dropping deep as a second holder in the hole just ahead of the defense as well as when he advanced forward as a momentary support for the attack.

This kind of player is better employed in the versatile role of the box-to-box rather than in the more specific role of the playmaker at the tip of the midfield.

Mikel Arteta (seen here shadowing Spurs' Gareth Bale) is a versatile midfielder who functioned in the box-to-box role for Arsenal last season. Clive Mason/Getty Images.

I should quickly add that although some playmaker types function mainly at the base of the midfield, these types are mainly the passer types, able to pick long passes: Xavi Alonso and Andrea Pirlo are two good examples of these types.

Alex Song functioned thusly last season. I do not believe that Arteta is this type of playmaker, however (note that these base playmaker types are specialists in the long pass, which is the main element here).

A third point, again for the benefit of the first-time reader, follows from the above: If it is true that Arsenal need a playmaker (creative midfielder), why is Wenger linked to a defensive midfielder instead (Yan M'Vila)? Again, why has he bought strikers instead?

As I said in part three, until the summer comes to an end and transfer businesses are ended, we can't be sure that Wenger will not buy a creative midfielder type of player.

We should, however, focus on what is on the ground already at Arsenal. Our speculation, peradventure, might give insight into what the thinking might currently be at Arsenal.

CAM (Central Attacking Midfielder) vs Creative Midfielder (Playmaker)

BBC Sport says that "Managers and coaches...use the phrase 'box-to-box player' to describe a midfielder who is as good in his defensive duties as he is in the opponents' penalty area." He possesses “aggression, commitment, pace, awareness and coolness." 

Jonathan Wilson calls the box-to-box type "those great drivers of teams who could both score goals and make tackles," although he seems to think that pure box-to-box types don't exist anymore, which is because he thinks in persons rather than in roles.

This brings to fore the confusion still intrinsic in this discussion regarding the term CAM. Although I was very clear in my definition (at least I thought so) of the term, or what I take it to be, the comments section still shows that many readers have misunderstood my use of the term.

CAM for me is not the same as Creative Midfielder, the latter of which I use to describe the playmaker type who plays on the tip of the midfield, while I reserve CAM for the Central Attacking Midfielder type as was so-called in the 4-4-2 system. This was the more attacking of the two central midfielders, hence the name.

This type of midfielder is what I refer to as box-to-box. So when you hear box-to-box, know that by it I mean the old-fashioned CAM, which, again, is not what I mean by the term Creative Midfielder.

It is precisely for this reason that I keep referring to Wilshere as a box-to-box type, by which some hear me as saying Creative Midfielder, which isn't my intention at all.

So here (again) is where we stand, and I make the point by way of an illustration:

In this diagram, I have segmented the football pitch into roles, based on the 4-2-3-1 formation. Notice that I have designated the box-to-box as essentially the same role as the CAM (Central Attacking Midfielder) role in the 4-4-2 system.

The holding midfield role is clear enough and hasn't been a subject of misunderstanding. What I call the Creative (playmaker) Midfield role—which some mistakenly call CAM—is shaded in (periwinkle) pale blue.

As I have explained elsewhere, this role can at once be understood as the furthest forward midfelder in the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems as well as the disguised supporting striker in both. It certainly is in the 4-4-2 system, when especially the formation is deployed as a 4-4-1-1 structure.

This is the space within which the old-fashioned No.10 functions. It is why I've tended to refer to Dennis Bergkamp in my treatment of the role.

Having made this clarification, I should like briefly to recall some of the points I struck last week in part three of the series.

Why Strikers?

Arsene Wenger has signed two strikers in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. This gives Arsenal three top strikers.

First, there's depth, like I said in the third part of the series. Second, I supposed that Podolski might be deployed in the False 11 role, which is different from the wing role proper. Refer to the diagram above.

False 11

The False 11 position is often occupied by a second playmaker who starts wide but drifts inside to add another body to the midfield. This often causes a scissor movement with the main striker. This, in the case of Robin van Persie, is very good, since he tends to drift left and tends to score from doing so.

So, then, the False 11 is a disguised midfield role, whereas the 11 proper is a flank player who drifts wide to try to get behind the opposition's defense. The idea of the False 11 isn't to get behind the defense per se, but to cause disorganization in the defense via confusing (to the opponent, that is) movement.

For all the complaints about Arshavin being played wide at Arsenal and ostensibly out of position, the foregoing is the idea behind it, and a player ought to make the position his rather than complain about it. 

In any case, readers would notice that even at the Euros (and at Zenit St. Petersburg, for that matter) Arshavin was and has been deployed wide in this same position, and he hasn't seemed to mind this. Why, then, is it such an issue at Arsenal?

The foregoing assumes that Van Persie stays, in which case we might suppose that Olivier Giroud would rotate the main striking position with him.

These are the possibilities I explored in the third article of the series.

Other Options

First, we assume that Van Persie isn't staying, in which case the purchase of the two strikers makes a great deal of sense. This, though, still leaves the playmaker position with thin options.

Second, we assume Van Persie stays, remains the main striker, Giroud the rotation and Podolski the False 11, rotating with Gervinho. See the diagram below.

I represent the third option in the following diagram. Here is where my main supposition as to the direction of Wenger's thought process lies.

There are two possibilities: The first assumes that Van Persie and Giroud rotate the main striking position as I have suggested above and Podolski  plays in the False 11 position, again, as supposed above.

But then, in lieu of the purchase of a creative midfielder, Alex Song is moved forward, ceding the holding position to Yann M'Vila (or Nigel De Jong?), who is being linked to Arsenal, to be supported by the pair of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin.

In this case, I think that the team looks about complete in the sense that Song can always revert to the holding position in rotation with M'Vila (if indeed he is to be bought—rumor is that Arsenal are cooling their interest) when either of Ramsey and Rosicky are in form to man the advance midfield position.

As to Song’s capability to man this position, my summation is that he is very adequate, as his performance last season demonstrated.

There, advancing forward only in overlaps, he managed to out-pass (killer passes, that is) everyone in the Arsenal squad. He also had the most assists in the squad (14).

One can only suppose vast improvement in his offensive stats were he primarily to remain in the advance midfield position. That he has an eye for the pass is without doubt. He is also very comfortable on the ball and is rarely dispossessed.

Beside the purchase of a holding midfielder, the foregoing would suggest a forging of a new partnership at the base of Arsenal's midfield comprising of Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshire, with the pair of Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin functioning as cover. This might require Frimpong to function mostly in the cup games.

I also suggest in the above that the purchase of Podolski and Giroud might mean Van Persie deployed deep in the creative midfield position.

Here, Podolski remains in the False 11 position, with Giroud becoming the main striker up front. Podolski, we might assume, then rotates this main striking position with Giroud. 

Song, in this case, maintains his old role.

Van Persie deployed deep would make a great deal of sense, and just like in the Alex Song suggestion, it would solve the need in the playmaker position. In fact, Van Persie was bought to play in this position.

The following diagram advances yet another possibility:

Here, Podolski plays behind the main striker in the creative position. Besides playing as the main striker at FC Köln, he used to play in this position and tended to do well.

My assumption is that this would happen in lieu of Robin van Persie, who might opt to leave Arsenal. In this case, with Podolski deployed deep, Giroud and Marouane Chamakh might function as the main strikers.

This assumes that two of the redundant strikers—Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu-Young—would be sold and one retained, in this case Chamakh.

If no additional purchases are made at Arsenal, and if Van Persie leaves, then any of the assumptions above could happen. The one I'd be excited about most is the Alex Song possibility. This would be another instance where Arsene Wenger has converted yet another player to a different position.

Again, if no additional purchases are made and Van Persie stays, playing him deep would eliminate the need in the creative midfield position. If he stays and remains at the apex of the formation, Podolski in the deep position would solve the problem as well.

Jack Wilshere's return bolsters the midfield. If played alongside Mikel Arteta as one of two rotating holder/box-to-box players, a dynamic midfield partnership could develop.

If Wenger indeed is interested in Yann M'Vila (or as rumor had it about three weeks ago, Nigel De Jong), then the possibility seems to indicate Song going into the advance position alongside the existing pair of Rosicky and Ramsey.

If Ramsey is to be sold (there's a new rumor about it), then it becomes very likely that any of the above scenario will happen next season. Otherwise, it'd be a strong indication that Wenger would yet buy a player for this position.

A reader suggested Thiago Alcântara of FC Barcelona. Were this to happen, it'd be a great buy, but since he is being linked with Manchester United, Arsenal would likely be outbid, although one would think that Thiago's style would fit Arsenal better or vice versa.

Wenger has expressed interest in Marco Reus, but since he already has signed for Borussia Dortmund, this cannot be anything but admiration.

 Thiago Alcântara: dream him in red and white. Jasper Juinen/Getty Images.


This is the end of the series. I have enjoyed your comments, and since I have stated my conclusion, I'll be looking forward to hearing your reaction.

Thanks very much for participating in the conversation.


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