08 April 2015

Whether Wilshere whithers: Ramsey, Coquelin, and midfield-congestion...

Jack Wilshere's fit again. He's ready to take his position on the pitch. However, where is there room? For as heretical as it may be to suggest, it's hard to see just where he can find a way into the starting XI. The emergence of Francis Coquelin as a proper defensive midfielder, should it prove out over the long term, narrows Jack's options even more than before. Early in the season, it looked like his performances for the Three Lions hinted at a deeper-lying role with Arsenal; after all, Aaron Ramsey seemed to have secured the box-to-box role role in the 4-2-3-1 we so often play. If only be default, Wilshere's future might have lay in replacing Arteta in the holding role. Then, along come Coquelin. If he is serious about his desire to emulate Vieira (or, more fitting, Gilberto). Where, then, does Wilshere's future lie?

It's a tough season when long-time Gunners such as Szczęsny and Wilshere are relegated to the bench for newer, sexier models. Then again, it's a fine season indeed when there's genuine competition for a starting spot. The sentimental attachment to Wilshere—he's been with Arsenal since he was nine, for chrissake—starts to suffer a bit when we consider just how good we've been without him in the lineup. That's not entirely fair, of course, as we might have done just as well had Ramsey been sidelined as long as Wilshere has been. That, however, neglects one new variable to be introduced alongside several others.

The emergence of Francis Coquelin has, for now, settled one debate: who will shield the defense? Since his return from Charlon Athletic, he's been a revelation, out-tackling and out-playing the likes of Matić, Touré, and Schneiderlin. Along the way, he's addressed one of Arsenal's most long-standing needs. Not only does he shield the back-four (after all, mild-mannered Mikel has done that...); he's also added some grit, some tenacity, some bloody knuckles to Arsenal. By contrast with Wilshere, he's far more likely to send opponents flying than he is to go flying himself.

Meanwhile, Manchester City are said to be skulking about, ready to offer Wilshere a weekly wage-packet in excess of £100,000 per week. This would double (if not more) Wilshere's current contract, which runs until 2018. At one level, my heart breaks to even consider the possibilities at this level. I love Wilshere. He's scrappy. He's a Gunner. Hell, he's a Gooner.

However, where is there room for him? Could he supplant Özil, Alexis, Cazorla, or Ramsey? Even if we admit that Cazorla at age 30 is waning rather than waxing, that's still some awfully stiff competition for the creative, attacking role that Wilshere has excelled at. As it currently stands, he'd still be best getting forward and driving deep in to the opposition's defence, performances against San Marino, Switzerland, or Estonia notwithstanding. Those performances for England just didn't test his defensive tenacity or mindset; he was still able to focus on passing, creating, and attacking. In none of those matches did he have to tackle, intercept, or defend, and so we're left wondering just how much we could trust him in that role.

Coquelin has now shown his capabilities in wins over Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool; then again, he's also been culpable in losses to Southampton, Tottenham, and AS Monaco. In other words, it's a bit too early to entrust Coquelin with that holding role, even if we can't quite trust Wilshere to adapt to it. In his heart, Wilshere is a creator and attacker. That begs the question of what he's best at and what Arsenal needs most.

Arsène has shown an uncanny knack for unloading players when their transfer-fees would far-exceed their performance. Far be it from me to suggest that Wilshere has reached that crossroads. Then again, if Wilshere could be moved for the right price—enough to bring in another "true" defensive-midfielder such as Schneiderlin—would that be worth seeing him in City blue?