There was an interesting discussion in comments here on Arsenal Arsenal yesterday about the current form of Jack Wilshere.
And we are not the only ones talking about our Number 10.
With a couple of England international fixtures on the horizon his progress was always guaranteed to be a hot topic among the media.
And Jack added smoke to the fire after being caught out by The Sun newspaper while sucking on a fag*.
He subsequently apologised for polluting his body, but I suspect his actions endeared him even more to Arsenal fans of a smoking persuasion (GiE – please confirm).
But the cigarette business was really just a sideshow and the important stuff was what he did (or didn’t do) on the pitch.
Some seem to feel his performance against West Brom on Sunday was pants. Others feel he had a poor first half but a good second half. Others still that he was below par but generally OK.
My impression from watching the game live was that he was having a frustrating time. For one thing he was being played wide left, when clearly his preferred position is in the middle.
But it wasn’t just that. It seemed that he was dwelling on the ball too long at times; he was turning into trouble instead of skipping away from it; and he was too easily muscled off the ball.
He redeemed himself with two pieces of fine play in the second half: the shot which Lamparded its way into the Albion net and earned us a point; and one exquisite long pass to pick out Giroud in the box – the Frenchman only being denied by a good save from Myhill. (Jack should also have been awarded two absolute bang-on penalties, but that’s another story).
Overall the impression was of a player who is out of sorts. Not bad, but not as good as we have seen him in the past.
However, when Chas uploaded a video yesterday of all Wilshere’s moments in the game and I watched it through, my assessment of his performance went up. Yes, he lost the ball a few times, but in general he moved things along well. It was like he did the opposite of flattering to deceive, whatever that is.
It just shows what a conundrum the “Jack question” is.
But the thing that struck me most was how similar his play has been in recent outings to the form shown by Aaron Ramsey last season.
As he battled his way back from his maiming at the hands of the Shawcross orc he often seemed slow in possession and ponderous on the ball. Some Arsenal supporters became frustrated with him; his mistakes were greeted with moans and groans; some dimwits demanded that he be dropped, sold, loaned out, beheaded… whatever.
But Arsene Wenger knew that only match time could rub the rough edges off Aaron’s game, so he stuck with him.
In the second half of the season the Welshman’s performances started to improve considerably and he was a vital component of our run to the Champions League positions and to eventually – hilariously – finishing above the Spuds yet again.
Fast forward to this season and Aaron has become as undroppable as Mesut Ozil.
Interestingly, I thought that his renaissance began when he stopped trying to be the best player on the pitch. He was so desperate to make up for lost time and to silence that awful moaning from the crowd that he kept trying to do amazing things: the Hollywood pass; the impossible dribble; the 35 yard screamer.
His confidence and form were low, so none of these over-ambitious attempts came off. At some point he was either told, or figured out for himself, that he should focus on the simple things: don’t try and win the game with every touch – just move the ball on quickly and simply.
Once he simplified his game, more things worked for him, the crowd got off his back and his confidence started to return. Finally things turned round completely and he was able to start pulling off the special stuff because he had the confidence and composure to do it.
So, the relevance to Jack Wilshere is this: is Jack trying too hard to get his form back rather than just letting it come naturally? If he stops trying to do too much every time he gets the ball, will he – like Aaron Ramsey – slowly but surely return to his best?
It’s probably not in his nature to do that. And, given the hype surrounding him from the national side, it’s hard to imagine him deciding to play conservatively – but it may just be what he needs for a few weeks.
Anyone who remembers him looking like the best midfielder on the park in a game against Barcelona that also featured Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas knows that Jack has what it takes to be world class.
Although he did not have as traumatic an injury as Ramsey’s he nevertheless missed the best part of two seasons with his own injuries and if our Number 16’s rehabilitation has shown anything it’s that these things take time. Quite a lot of time.
But Ramsey’s resurgence also shows that it will be worth it in the end.
So the moral of this tale is this: Arsene should keep playing Jack in the first team; and perhaps Jack should opt to play a more “percentages” type of game for a while until things really start to gel.
There is much discussion about who gets a starting berth on our midfield when everyone is fit. The usual “nice problem to have” clichés get bandied about. I could see Jack potentially slipping down the pecking order, but not for long.
By the end of this season he will be a first team regular and will have re-established himself as one of the best talents in the country.
Right LB… over to you.
- Note to American readers: it’s not what you think.