The weekend is upon us and football returns. Thank god for that, I hear you all cry, before the slumping sigh of relief expels from your body.
Team news from Arsène was positive in a typically Arsenal kind of way. Everyone’s fit – yay! – and back in training. Too soon for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who will be hoping for a couple of appearances, like Jack Wilshere, to impress Roy Hodgson whilst I’m sure Santi has already Skyped Vicente Del Bosque to remind him that’s he’s back and most likely back in this weekend’s squad.
Doesn’t that put a little spring into your step? And look, there’s light relief from the recent rains and the sun is shining. What more could you possibly want?
Oh, a black cloud? A portent of doom?
OK, that’s easy enough for some to conjure up. Jack Wilshere, it seems, is struggling to change his playing style which no doubt means a lot more injuries in future years. That is grounds to sell him in some eyes and minds which I find baffling.
Speaking to Arsenal Player, Wilshere was brutally honest: injuries are part of his game,
I don’t think there is anything I can do differently.
It’s not through laziness or not wanting to change. Jack recognises that his physical limitations dictate some of his playing style,
I’m not one of those players who is blessed with Theo’s pace who can run behind you. When I’m on the ball, I have to get close to [the defender], which is going to cause him to attempt to tackle me or mistime it as we have seen in the past. That is part of my game
All my injuries have been impact injuries and I have been a little bit unfortunate at times when I have maybe overrun the ball a little bit, so maybe I can work on dribbling with the ball closer to my foot.
Personally, I wouldn’t want Jack to change at all. Off the pitch, yes, a little – a lot – wiser but on it? Football is short of players who are capable of dribbling with the menace around the box that he provides. He’s the sort of player who can send a buzz through the crowd as he approaches an opponent, able to open up a gap or two for others.
It would be a sad day indeed if he was forced to fundamentally alter his style to avoid injury. That demands more protection from referees and a change in the mentality of English football which isn’t going to happen because that, to the marketeers, would damage the brand, downgrade the product.
The bigger question is where he fits into the Arsenal side. Having played the deeper-lying role for England, to good effect I think, he has a versatility which may prove to be an advantage at club level. I don’t think it would work in domestic matches where midfield’s are packed and the physical game unpunished. But at European and international level, his direct prompting has potential.
Everyone seems to flip-flop on this, not least both Jack and Arsène. They didn’t like it, then they did, to the point where I think it’s just accepted that Roy Hodgson is going to use him there, particularly with Jordan Henderson’s injury.
For Arsenal domestically, it’s a different matter. The pairing of Coquelin and Elneny gives the side balance, which was unsettled with Ramsey in there at Sunderland. It would be same with Wilshere as the attacking side of their game leaves the Egyptian in a sole defensive midfield role, patrolling against counter-attacks. Maybe that is his natural game but he is still adapting to the pace of the English game and at the moment, it’s a risk. Time will tell if he is a more fluid midfielder, a supporting player rather than a barrier.
Wilshere doesn’t naturally usurp anyone from the team. Certainly not Özil unless Arsène pushes the German wider to the left, dropping Alex Iwobi in the process but these situations don’t last forever with injuries, suspensions and other interruptions offering most players 20+ Premier League appearances in a season.
Whether that is true or a commentary on the current squad is a matter of interpretation but let’s be honest, in the midfield and attacking roles, only Özil and Sanchez are nailed on starters. Everyone else’s place is up for grabs and dependent on form. None of the pack is so exceptional that like those two, that their place is safe.
That works in Wilshere’s favour. This late in the season, it’s about preparing himself for the next campaign. Yes, he’ll go to France but with England likely to exit in the first knockout round – how very Arsenal – it’s little more than a match sharpness exercise disguised as competitive matches. The summer is the time for Jack to make sure he’s back and firing on all cylinders next time around.
For that to happen, it also requires us to suspend belief a little. His injury record can’t be ignored and thinking long-term with him is a tough call at the moment. It’s unkind to compare to him to Abou Diaby but there’s more than a hint of truth in doing so.
The best thing is one step at a time. Get him through to the end of the season, fit. Then through the Euros. Then through pre-season; one at a time, ticking them off as we go along until his presence is second nature once more. It will be a slow process but one I think, worth waiting for.