11 August 2013

Wilshere sticks it to Man City...

As we bask in the glow of having given Man City a proper spanking, one that they deserve for employing the likes of Samir Nasri as well as a matter of principle, we can take a step back and study the game for what it was: a preseason tune-up meant to assess where our squad as a whole stands and how individual players are doing. The first issue has been talked to death already; I think we all agree that we're alarmingly shallow and need a few additions. The second one, though, offers some reassuring prospects. Scoring three goals against Man City, even in a preseason match, is notable, especially when we remember that they were the only team to concede fewer league goals than us last year. However, before I go too far down the "big picture" road, I want to focus more closely on Jack Wilshere, perhaps our most talismanic player.

In last season's run-in, I had my concerns about him playing as often and as much as he did. I would have much preferred that he focus on recuperating from that long-running ankle problem. Better to to drop a point or two now than risk hobbling the man long-term, I thought. Why risk it? As urgently as I believe we need his braggadocio and his intensity, discretion is the better part of valor, and how to put this? Discretion is not among Jack's more-refined traits. He'd run over an opponent every chance he got, bless his soul. Given his injury history, Arsène opted for caution, saying:
I decided before the game to play him only 45 minutes because I want to build him up step by step and because he will go with the national team when England plays against Scotland on Wednesday night. That as well will be a very committed game.
As to the match, let's get the bad news, such as it is, out of the way. As you can see in the clip below, Jack still takes a lot of knocks when he carries the ball. He charges at players when he has the ball at his feet and holds the ball a split-second too long. Making a pass one step earlier or adding a dribble to side-step a defender might see him avoid getting fouled so often and allow him to keep possession. It's one thing to earn a spot-kick in the attacking third; it's quite another to see him aggravate an injury. As a defender, he's eager to go in for a tackle, but his timing and technique are a bit rusty. For example, his slide-tackle on Silva just outside the box (at about 2:12 in the clip) show him come in from the right and go for the ball with his left foot; a cleaner tackle would have seen him go with the right, both for a cleaner tackle and to increase the chance of clearing the ball. This may have been a subconscious desire to protect that right ankle or just from being lefty. Again, as with the dribble, refining that could see him commit fewer fouls while winning possession more often.

That's that. On to the good news. Jack showed tenacity, purpose, and energy throughout the first half and, as far as I could tell, showed no lingering physical affects from last
spring's surgery. His passing was crisp and direct, he was fleet of foot, and he tracked back well. Despite wearing #10, one of the concerns regarding him is that he doesn't add enough goals or assists to be considered a trequartista or attacking midfielder, a role that Cazorla or Rosický might fill more effectively. Then again, his ability to drop back into the defense allow him to link defense to attack meant that on more than occasion, he could make a tackle or intercept the ball to make a long forward pass to Walcott or the Ox. Jack therefore seemed to play as more of a deep-lying playmaker on Saturday, receiving or winning the ball most often in the center-third and rarely if ever venturing deep enough to take a shot. In many ways, Jack was quite literally a box-to-box midfielder, pitching in on defense and initiating the attack.

However we might end up labelling the position, his performance against Man City was a welcome one, and I'm sure we can look forward to many more. An injury-free Jack Wilshere would be a force to be reckoned with. It's hard to believe that, at 21, he's earned comparisons to the likes of Iniesta, Gascoigne, or Gerrard. However, at the rate he's going, he'll someday earn the right to stand on his own achievements.