It may seem like a trivial point at this time, with Mesut Ozil on the receiving end of flak and criticism following his most recent display against Bayern Munich. But Arsenal and Arsene Wenger also have to deal with a smaller issue in Jack Wilshere and where he fits into this team short term.
Like Ozil, though not to the same feverish degree, Wilshere took on a lot of stick for his performance at Anfield in Arsenal’s 5-1 loss. It was a passionate display that compensated for his wastefulness in possession and otherwise poor footballing performance. It mimicked what he produced away at Manchester City in Arsenal’s 6-3 loss, once again being guilty of giving away possession far too cheaply and not having the influence on a game that fans know he’s capable of.
With the myriad options Wenger has at his disposal, it is a fight for Wilshere to get a game further up the pitch in the No.10 role. Either Ozil will occupy that position or one of Santi Cazorla or Tomas Rosicky. Wilshere has also been used on the flank briefly this season, yet like Aaron Ramsey, it’s not his natural environment, and offering him a central role will be beneficial to him and those around him.
But the problem and worry is that he hasn’t really kicked on from the season in which he made such strides at Arsenal. Wenger was accused of running Wilshere into the ground during the 2010-11 season, but you can understand the temptation to continue to play a youngster who was at the time showing such promise.
During that run, Wilshere was paired with Alex Song, while Cesc Fabregas drifted a little further up field. Nevertheless, it was, for arguments sake, a three-man central midfield, each most comfortable in that deep-lying role. Importantly for Wilshere, he had two players with experience who could shield him and guide him through the rigours of ties against opponents such as Barcelona, who he was magnificent against.
It would be odd, then, that players with the experience of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are unable to bring equal performances out of him. It’s even more curious that someone like Ozil ahead of him hasn’t furthered Wilshere’s contribution to Arsenal this season. It’s not to say Wilshere has been terrible throughout; there have been very good performances this season, and fans are more than happy to see a player who is unquestionably one of their own show some fight and passion during a campaign such as this.
However, the good performances have been fleeting. They’ve been one of three likely contributions: good, average or downright awful.
It should also be mentioned that Wilshere has played extremely well alongside Steven Gerrard for England, perhaps another indicator of a player who is there for the youngster to lean on.
Like Ramsey, there is the issue of injuries and that Wilshere was out for over a year following his breakthrough season with the club. And at 22, there is a long way to go before the glass of hope is drained completely.
For this season in particular, Wenger needs to find a way to bring subtlety and simplicity back to Wilshere’s game. When Fabregas was in the team, he became the reference point for Wilshere, the player who he would look to for the simple, possession-first passes. Now, he’s trying to do too much himself, taking on three or four players only to be dispossessed without much effort.
Ramsey kick started his career by going back to basics. There’s an outstanding footballer in Wilshere; we’ve seen evidence of it. But micro-managing his immediate future in the way Wenger did with Ramsey will get him on the right path. For now, he looks as if he’s not entirely sure what he’s supposed to be doing.