Arsenal's Jack Wilshere Is the Key Midfielder for England at the World Cup

Mr XSenior Writer IJune 9, 2014

England's Jack Wilshere points during the international friendly soccer match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium in London, Friday, May 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is unlikely to start England's opening game against Italy in the World Cup in Brazil, but if Roy Hodgson shows faith in the 22-year-old, the Three Lions will advance to the latter stages of the tournament.

When Hodgson named the England squad in late May, Wilshere was given a huge boost by the omission of Manchester United's Michael Carrick and by being handed the Three Lions' iconic No. 7 shirt.

Before the squad being named, many felt that Wilshere was 50/50 at best to be picked for World Cup duty after another injury-ravaged season. Respected journalist Sam Wallace, writing for the Independent, even went as far as to say that Wilshere's selection would be a "huge gamble."

In total, the 22-year-old only made 19 Premier League starts for Arsenal last term and only featured once between March 2 and the end of the season because of a broken foot.

He missed a total of 57 days last season, according to Transfermarkt, after picking up three separate injuries. This dreadful run meant Hodgson could only choose him for four of England's 10 World Cup qualifiers.

Despite this lack of game time and apparent fitness, Wilshere remains the key man in England's midfield.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Steven Gerrard of England is congratulated by Jack Wilshere of England on scoring the opening goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group H match between England and Moldova at Wembley Stadium on September 6, 2013
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Of the five recognized central midfielders Hodgson has at his disposal, former Chelsea player Frank Lampard, Everton's Ross Barkley, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson and Wilshere, the Arsenal man is the only player capable of dictating midfield like a metronome.

Barkley, Henderson and Lampard all do their best work coming onto the ball, winning loose balls and driving forward, while Lampard can also boast a striker's instinct in front of goal. The former pairing's game is built on limitless energy and super-human levels of stamina.

Gerrard, as a younger man, was a unique mix of Barkley, Henderson and Lampard combined. He scored a phenomenal amount of goals, 173 in 669 appearances for the Reds, and covered every blade of grass on the pitch as he hunted the ball down.

Now, as the elder statesman for England, the 34-year-old does not possess the same endless energy and has, somewhat ironically, become a far more rounded midfielder. As such, he is closer now to the type of player Wilshere is, than ever before.

Both men are comfortable with their back to the opposing goal and are brave enough to give their defenders options, regardless of the pressure they, themselves, are under. Possessing vision and real footballing brains, they know the exact position of every single player on the pitch before they receive the ball. Then, almost effortlessly, they move the ball to an open teammate to initiate the next phase of play.

To show a brief comparison of the the five men involved, B/R used Squawka's Comparison Matrix where key statistics from each player were put against each other.

Photo Generated on Squawka.com

Henderson, surprisingly, came out with the best pass-completion percentage with 87 percent. Gerrard and Wilshere were close behind with 86 percent, while Lampard came in with 83 and Barkley with 85 percent.

In successful passes per game, Gerrard led the way with 58 passes per game, Wilshere was second with 54. Henderson offered 50 and both Barkley and Lampard were in the low 40's. In terms of tackles lost, Wilshere and Barkley offered the best ratio, losing just 1.4 tackles per game. Lampard, Gerrard and Henderson all lost more than two tackles per game.

The final statistic for comparison was average pass length. Wilshere, unsurprisingly, given Arsenal's style had the lowest length with an average of 16.33m per game.

What these statistics reveal is that Wilshere is the ideal man to play in the white-hot heat of Brazil and the World Cup as a whole.

His passing ability, vision and will to get on the ball in pressurized situations make him the ideal man to partner Gerrard in central midfield. There, England can be guaranteed a pair of young legs with an old mind.

Wilshere, as can be seen from the stats, is a continuity player par excellence. He likes nothing more than keeping possession and moving the ball around the pitch with real meaning and understanding.

The same cannot be said of Henderson or Barkley, who use their massive abundance of energy and instinct to charge around the pitch causing menace. That tactic may work in the Premier League. It will not work in the searing temperatures in Manaus against the Andrea Pirlo-led Italy or in Sao Paulo, where Uruguay's Egidio Arevalo and Nicolas Lodeiro await.

There is a time and a place to use such players, it is not in central midfield in the group stages. 

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 04:  Jack Wilshere of England evades the tackle during the International friendly match between England and Ecuador at Sun Life Stadium on June 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

This is where Wilshere, once described as England's answer to Zinedine Zidane by Arsene Wenger, will be vital. 

England's players famously expend huge amounts of stamina in their honesty-built game. Every tackle is contested and lost causes are chased down like greyhound's hunting the lure around the bend in a track. With the domestic game built upon energy and with no winter break, the Three Lions' team could tire out before the knockout stages.

This is the most important and vital reason for starting with Wilshere. He knows how to dictate a game, how to speed it up, but most importantly, when to slow it down. This is an aspect of the game that even Gerrard fails in. Remember his all-or-nothing style dictate Liverpool's system when the Reds went behind against Chelsea during the Premier League run in?

The England and Liverpool captain made a crucial error which led to Chelsea's opening goal. In trying to make amends for his mistake, he abandoned Brendan Rodgers' carefully built system completely. Instead of being patient and looking for the 100 percent passes, Gerrard let the occasion and situation get to him by driving into the Blues' deep-lying defense. Wilshere, on the other hand, was raised by Wenger to be patient and not to expend energy so unnecessarily.

The 22-year-old midfield dictator keeps the ball ticking through midfield regardless of the scoreline and injects impetus and equally takes the sting out of the game, when needed. Place him into a team with the likes of Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson bombing down the line and with Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge ahead and he will inflict real damage.

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09:  England manger Fabio Capello talks to Jack Wilshere during the England training session at London Colney on August 9, 2010 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Back in 2011, former England manager Fabio Capello told The Telegraph Wilshere's future was as a deep-lying midfielder:

I want to put him in this position in front of the back four. I have to decide because he's so young, he would stay alone in midfield and that can be dangerous.

I think he's mature enough to play this role. He's a really interesting player. When he started, in some moments he played without big confidence. He was timid, shy. Now every game he improves a lot, he plays with confidence, without fear and he tackles to win.

Wilshere is better technically than Makelele. He's slower than Makelele, but when he receives the ball, he is more dangerous than Makelele.

 This technique will be vital if England are to progress in Brazil.

Both Cesc Fabregas and Arsene Wenger agree that Jack Wilshere possesses the best footballing aspects of two opposing cultures in that he has Spanish technique and an English heart, as per Arsenal's official website.

If Roy Hodgson wants England to venture into the latter stages of the month-long tournament, he will need to start with a midfield built around the unique English talent that is Jack Wilshere.


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