Jack Wilshere’s impressive form since returning from injury could prove a godsend for club and country by the end of the season.
He injected some much-needed urgency and pride into Arsenal’s performances while the dark cloud of Alexis Sanchez’s departure lingered over the north London club and should the 26-year-old stay fit until the summer, he’ll surely be of instrumental use to Gareth Southgate at the 2018 World Cup. But Wilshere’s resurrection at the Emirates Stadium does create something of a conundrum; what happens to Arsenal’s other creative central midfielder, Aaron Ramsey?
The Welshman was in strong form at the start of the season, bagging three goals and six assists in 16 Premier League appearances, and will available for selection in the coming weeks as well after recovering from his own injury layoff.
The problem, though, is his similarities with Wilshere in terms of playing style; both are offensive-minded, both like to gallop forward and both like to break into attacking positions. There’s a consequential doubt both can play in the same engine room, especially if Arsene Wenger reverts back to 3-4-3. So where do Arsenal go from here?
We’ve outlined four potential solutions…
It’s Wilshere enjoying the rich vein of form, particularly impressing during his three outings against Chelsea, and should therefore keep his place in the team. Albeit still an attack-minded player, Wilshere doesn’t venture into the penalty box with the same unwavering optimism as Ramsey and he’s probably the more balanced of the two midfielders in terms of the positions he takes up.
That, in addition to his ability to really keep Arsenal ticking on the ball, perhaps makes him a better candidate to partner Granit Xhaka, who has consistently proved he lacks the positional discipline and defensive desire to plug the large gaps Ramsey’s late runs leave behind. Ramsey, meanwhile, will simply have to wait his turn to get back into the side.
It may seem harsh to demote Wilshere to the bench amid one of his best runs in the Arsenal first team since that much-fabled breakthrough season but Ramsey was brilliant for the Gunners at the start of the campaign; telling of how instrumental the 52-cap Wales international was in terms of results, Arsenal’s win-rate this season drops from 57% to 48% when he’s not been in the side.
Likewise, Arsenal need to think about longevity here; Wilshere – who Transfermarkt value at £16.2million – is still set to leave the club when his contract expires in the summer, and one can only assume the vacancy in midfield will go back to Ramsey next season. Surely it makes more sense for him to fill it in the short-term as well as the long-term.
A risky scenario and it’s hard to think of a time when Ramsey and Wilshere have consistently played well with each other in central midfield – they simply leave too much of the engine room exposed. But Wenger’s recent switch to 4-3-3 does make it a far more viable option, especially if the Gunners were to have a workhorse like Mohamed Elneny anchoring between them.
Furthermore, Arsenal pride themselves on attacking football, so why not have two offensive central midfielders making attacking runs from deep positions, even if it does leave them a little exposed at the back every now and then? Amid what has been a rather shambolic season, some truly Arsenal-style performances full of adventure and guile would provide a much-needed positive to end the campaign.
There is one alternative that would get Ramsey and Wilshere into the same starting XI without having such an impact on the balance of the midfield. While, at this point in his career, Wilshere is exclusively a deeper-lying midfielder, Ramsey has shown versatility during his time at Arsenal, playing as a box-to-box, an attacking playmaker and even a right winger.
Accordingly, there is potential to push Ramsey forward and play him as part of the attack rather than the midfield in one of the slots supporting the striker, especially now that Sanchez has left for Old Trafford.
That could work especially well if Arsenal line up in a 3-4-3 and would give Ramsey more license to do what he does best – score and create goals with movement off the ball. But the 27-year-old inevitably lacks the penetrative dynamism of natural forwards, and those roles in attack – more often than not – will surely go to Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
So Arsenal fans, how would you solve Wenger’s midfield conundrum? Let us know by voting below…