Back in 2011, Arsenal faced Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 and pulled off a brilliant 2-1 victory at the Emirates. At the heart of midfield was a young English player, holding his own against some of the greatest midfielders in the world and was pivotal in Arsenal getting the victory. That player was Jack Wilshere and it was claimed that he had confirmed his arrival on the big stage.
Fast forward 3 and half years, the perception of Wilshere has changed. Once seen has a future world class player, many see his position as a first team regular under threat and the criticism of the young Gunner has been common theme already this season. What has happened over the last few years or is Wilshere just another in the long line of players unfairly scrutinised?
During Wilshere’s breakthrough year at Arsenal in 2010/11, the midfielder made 49 appearances in all competitions, but disaster struck in the pre-season Emirates Cup and injury ruled him out of the entire 2011/12 season. Missing 17 months through injury, like Wilshere did, for a young player has a massive impact on their progression.
The potential that Wilshere has always possessed is evidently still there though and this is a big season for the English international – something that he has admitted himself. The thing with Wilshere is not always a lack of quality – in Monday night’s England match, the Arsenal midfielder played an excellent world class first time lofted pass to Rooney – but the small progression he has made as expectations of him grows sees criticism come to his door, which is not aided by Ramsey’s development on the last 18 months.
The biggest problem Wilshere has to overcome is mentally. After a series of injuries with his ankle, his injury woes are still on his mind when he plays and with his position in the team becoming deeper, this will have to change. His tackling has been effected by mental worry of hurting his ankle again and this lack of discipline can be harmful at crucial stages of the match – Wilshere committed 29 fouls last season.
His defensive movement on the pitch has been criticised by fans, some claiming that he doesn’t care, but the reality is that it is not his best position, while his ankle problems have effected his ability to race around the pitch to pressure opponents like he used to. The number of interceptions has dropped ever since his first full season; going from 2.5 per match in 2010/11, 1 per match in 2012/13, and last season it dropped to 0.4 per match.
He also plays like a player who is actively trying too hard to impress and it affects his game. Driving forward with the ball is an element of the game that many enjoy and praise highly, Wilshere does this, but the regularity that he attempts to and loses possession – just like against Everton when he failed with 4 of his 5 dribbles before being replaced. Instead, he should look to keep the move flowing with short or long passes – something Wilshere is capable of – similar to the goal he scored against Norwich at home last season.
Still only at the age of 22, all of these issues can be ironed out of his game and improved on. The short term issue for Wilshere is being overtaken by other team mates in the pecking order and seeing game time become more limited than it previously had been. With focus on working hard in training and getting back to the basics that helped him explode onto the scene, the young Gunner should find himself back on track to becoming a key player for club and country.