20 November 2014

Jack Wilshere, heir to Vieira...

Ever since the glory days, we've pined (somewhat excessively, in this correspondent's opinion) for a brash, brawling, brawny defensive midfielder, someone who could and would win a fight in a back-alley or in the prematch tunnel...someone in the mold of Patrick Vieira, that swash-buckling, swaggering buccaneeer who terrorized the Prem in nearly a decade as Arsenal's domineering defensive midfielder who, at 1.9m, lorded it over all opponents. Ever since he left the club in 2005, we've yearned for the arrival of a similarly-dominant destroyer who could lay waste to the opposition, both demolishing their attacks and also launching counters of our own. We've had to make do with Arteta and Flamini in the last few years, neither of whom intimidate or inspire. Looking beyond them, only Abou "I'm unbreakable kind of like Little John is little" Diaby seems to fit the bill. Given his recent performances for the Three Lions, then, could the diminutive but feisty Jack Wilshere be the DM we've been waiting for?

At first glance, no. At second, you might mutter at me, "what are you, a lunatic?" You might be right, at least on other accounts, but hear me out on this one. The idea that a club needs a brawny destroyer in the midfielder just isn't supported by the evidence. Among the top clubs in the Prem, only Man City can boast of having such a player in Yaya Touré, but, for as effective as he can be when the mood strikes him, he's hardly the domineering type. Despite his size, he can be bossed off the ball just as much as if he were a much shorter man. Looking beyond him, none of the other contenders for the Prem title can boast of a similarly statuesque central midfielder, It's not so far-fetched, therefore, to think that the future of Arsenal's defensive midfield lies in the hands of a certain, diminutive midfielder.

Anointing Jack Wilshere as Vieira's heir might at first seem to be quixotic, at best. He's puny. He's...puny. Standing a mere 1.7m, he's hardly going to intimidate anyone with the kind of bravado that Vieira himself once brandished. However, he's shown that he has the grit and tenacity to go toe-to-toe, or at least chin-to-chest, with some of the Prem's most primeval players. Who's to say that a squad needs the proverbial bull in the china shop if it expects to win? Yes, Man City have won the Prem twice in four years with Touré in that role, but so too have Man U with the much-less imposing Carrick, Giggs. and Scholes sharing responsibilities in the centre of the pitch, players known more for guile and pluck than for brawn or size. Casting a wider net, Chelsea have done quite well with the Flamini-esque Ramires patrolling the middle, with the Brazilian known more for his studs and elbows than for his size or stature. Last but not least, Liverpool have relied on the increasingly immobile Steven Gerrard to "roam" the centre of the pitch, with only the slightest of slips undermining his case.

As with Gerrard, Wilshere has recently explored his capabilities as a deep-lying, holding playmaker with the Three Lions. He's done so to nearly-universal plaudits even if he's done so against opponents less fearsome than those he'd face in the Prem. Against Scotland and Slovenia, he's turned in some MotM-level performances, and while that's hardly a body of evidence that proves he can do the same against Chelsea, Man City, or Man U, it's enough to suggest that he can learn the role quickly enough to make it his own.

It's ideal, at least on this level: for Arsenal, he plays a more-forward role, getting into the final third, mixing it up, creating chances, perhaps even scoring. He gets a lay of the land, in short. For England, he sits deeper and surveys more of the field, splaying long balls in behind the defense for the fleet-of-foot (Alexis, Welbeck, Walcott, Ox...) to score from. Rather than the overly cautious recycling of possession that Arteta offers or the overly brash defending that Flamini inflicts, we could see a holding midfielder who can shield that back four, using his pace and grit to break up attacks, and who can launch counterattacks far more quickly than Arteta or Flamini can thanks to his ball-control and passing. Wilshere may not be ready at this point to play that role for Arsenal, but the more he plays it for England, the better.

We've dreamed of a player similar to Vieira ever since Vieira left, but maybe it's not so much that we've missed him as much as we've overlooked Wilshere. Let him continue to train up for this deep-lying role with England, all the better for him to assume the same for Arsenal. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in fight...and finesse, for that matter. It may not be the role he was born to play, but it may be the one he'll be groomed to fill.