My 7-month stint writing for weekly for Football London is over and my house move is behind me so you will hearing more from me back here on GT. There are a few subjects on my mind, most of which have been discussed ad infinitum so the end of the summer transfer window closed to the dissatisfaction of most Arsenal fans. Consequently, just to be contrary I want to explore a subject that I have not heard discussed too much or written about in the last week, but one close to my heart.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen tweet on the deadline day, with zero expectation of any new arrivals that my only wish was to see 11pm pass with Jack Wilshere still a Gooner. There were suggestions that the unfulfilled prodigal son might be loaned to Birmingham City; a prospect that completely appalled me. Just imagine ‘Our Jack’ re-invigorated by ‘Old Twitchy’. I am not sure my Arsenal soul could have taken that outcome.
I know there are many who share my hope, that given an opportunity, an injury free season and a fair wind, Jack might yet prove he has a role to play at his spiritual home. I am equally aware that perhaps more Gunners feel he is finished as a force and that his robust style of play, off field antics and fragile bones and ligaments have simply taken too much of a toll on his young body. The sentiment is that Wilshere is the next Abou Diaby are understandable and it would be unrealistic not to share that concern. What I struggle to understand however are those supporters who contend that he has lost the ability that made him the most exciting young talent of his generation. Many will lazily site his performances for Bournemouth last season and his lack of assists and goals and of course, many feel he chose to opt out of Arsenal’s 16/17 campaign, after Wenger signed Elneny and Xhaka, unwilling to stay and fight. Personally, I am not sure the conversation with his manager was quite that simple and we all must accept after virtually another whole season lost in 2015/16 he needed to just play football.
Whatever your own personal views or you feelings towards Jack Wilshere we have to deal with the fact that until January, at least, Jack is one of only 5 senior central midfielders in the Arsenal squad that, until then, is competing in three separate completions. That being the truth we are faced with it is inconceivable that Wenger will not give his No.10 chances to show that he can earn a new deal, or not as the case may be. Indeed logic suggests we may well see him back in the first team and on the Emirates pitch as early as next Thursday when the Gunner entertain Cologne and all likelihood, the following week against Doncaster. Some may be nervous at this reality whereas I am nervously excited.
So should we listen to the ‘naysayers’ who cast doubt on Jack’s ability based on the ‘sick note’ body and the apparent lack of success based on a cursory glance at his Bournemouth stats. After all his coach last campaign, Eddie Howe, described Wilshere as the ‘best English passer of a football in the Premier League. Was Howe correct or are the Arsenal fans writing their former hero off in the right? Perhaps a look at the relevant stats might provide some insight because given that Wilshere a large number of his matches for the Cherries in a deeper midfield role not at 10, the lack of assists and goals might not be the fairest refection of his form. Moreover, even if there were we are quick to site Ozil’s chances created and blame his teammates when his assist tally falls, as it did in 16/17.
The first obvious fact that stands out is that Wilshere played in 27 matches for Bournemouth in the Premier League before a broken leg curtailed his campaign, an injury unrelated to his previous problems and not caused by a reckless tackle on his part. Interesting enough looking at Sqawka Stats for last season Wilshere was deemed the fourth most effective player for Bournemouth, his pass completion was 84% and tellingly in the 27 appearances, he created 34 goal-scoring chances. Now whilst the may not sound that impressive when you consider, that although he did play attacking midfield, he was also often utilised as a deeper playmaker it actually is. His most used partner, Harry Arter who was far more box-to-box created the same number of chances, 34 in 8 more games. Andrew Surman, Wilshere’s closest counterpart, created only 11 in 22 matches in the league. Therefore, on the face of it the contention that Wilshere was not performing seem off the mark, particularly when you consider the lower standard generally of the team around him.
Last November I interviewed a Cherries Blogger, Tales from the Southside’ who was glowing in his praise of their new surprises addition:
‘His vision, passing ability and strength to hold onto the ball are obvious for all to see. Even when he wasn’t fully fit, he could still pick out a pass that others couldn’t see. And, the longer he has played with the team the better his understanding and awareness of his teammates has become.’
So certainly last autumn the Bournemouth fans seemed happy at Wilshere’s progress but to give it greater context might be given if we compare Wilshere’s effectiveness to other top players asked to play similar deeper playmaker roles in the league at the same time.
Michael Carrick – Arguably over the years one of the Premier League’s finest and still called upon last season in the big games, had a marginally higher pass completion at 89% but in 22 appearances, as one of the finest passes in the league created on 12 chances for his colleagues.
Morgan Scheiderlin – Unable to displace Carrick at Untied, moved to Everton in January and even though he played on 14 occasions in the deep rile for Everton, only created six goal-scoring opportunities.
Danny Drinkwater – Fresh on the back of a Premier League season and arguably the man who took Wilshere’s England squad place in 31 league outings for Leicester created on 15 openings for Vardy and co. This form earned Drinkwater a move to Chelsea.
Jordan Henderson – In an injury hit season the Liverpool and now England Captain only managed 24 Premier League outings in 2016/17. His pass completion was about the same as the Arsenal loanee and only he created more than Jack did, with 35 goal-scoring chances carved out.
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Finally, let’s bring this closer to home and look at those who filled the role at Arsenal whilst Wilshere was on the South Coast. Without an injured Cazorla, Arsenal in 2016/17 relied heavily on new signing Granit Xhaka and his metronomic passing to create from deep. In his first season the Swiss international, whose arrival perhaps precipitated Wilshere’s season long sojourn, played in 32 of the 38 Premier League matches and even with his 90% pass accuracy created the same number of goal-scoring chances and Jack, 34 but in 5 more games. It is also interesting that Wilshere won 60% of his on pitch duals compared to Xhaka’s 45%. Even Aaron Ramsey playing in the double pivot and getting forward far more was less effective creating only 23 chances for the Gunners in 23 matches in the Premier League
None of the above is designed to say that Jack Whilshere is better than Xhaka, or any of the other players I have used for comparison. However, it is designed to throw cold water over contention that because he was not assisting or scoring for Bournemouth, he was ineffective. For the job he was asked to do he was more offensively effective than many if his peers playing in a weaker side with less celebrated teammates.
I have heard he is looking sharp in training, has lost some of the excessive leg muscle bulk that was not helping him and I am sure he is itching to pull on the red and white again. He may not be the answer to Arsenal’s problems but a fit and healthy Jack Wilshere certainly does not add to them. I cannot wait to see him back on the pitch, probably next week and I sincerely hope we are pleasantly surprised because boy could this squad do with a lift from some Arsenal DNA.