One Of Us Speaks – He’s All Right, Jack
There are a few reasons why we haven’t been able to build much momentum from season to season recently. Apart from being forced to sell players to the league’s financial dopers and watching as rising stars get their legs broken, we’ve had a frustrating habit of losing key players to less dramatic injuries for ages, just as they’d become really, really important to us.
Vermaelen got injured in 2010, van Persie in 2009, and last year’s man was young Jack Wilshere. Maybe I’m biased, but Wilshere’s injury seemed especially cruel after only one full year of senior football.
It’s such a long time since he jogged off the pitch against New York Red Bulls that I figured now would be a good opportunity to try to remember what he can do.
I don’t want to jump the gun; I know he had knee surgery only a few weeks ago. But for the first time since last summer he’s had the chance to recover at his own pace, without everyone aching to find out when he’ll be off crutches/able to walk/run/kick football again. With pre-season approaching we’ll get to find out sooner or later.
I’ll make it clear now – I don’t have a clue if he’ll be back for the start of the season. And say he does come back soon; I’m not sure how long it will take him to pick up where he left off.
But positive thinking never did any harm, and in this post I’m going to assume that he’ll be part of the team and get back on the wagon, because I prefer that possibility to the alternative, even if we shouldn’t discount it.
His name also comes up because, though it hasn’t appeared on a team sheet for more than a year, it’s now a byword for England’s next, supposedly less shit generation. I could try to mock people who see him as England’s answer to the continent’s best playmakers, but I wouldn’t get any satisfaction from it.
Firstly because I rate him. But also because, after Jack, who is there for English football fans to cling to? We’re probably two years away from any of the current midfield prospects breaking into the England team, let alone exerting any influence on it.
As he’s an Englishman it was inevitable that, just by being good, his first real season in the league would be too well received. If we try to be objective about his one full year so far it would be safer to say that he was quietly impressive and showed potential.
What’s Jack all about then?
None of this will be news to you.
For all the promise, there were a few things that he didn’t do in 2011-12. He didn’t score more than a couple of goals, and, despite the subtlety in his passing he managed only three assists in the league, even though he started nearly every match.
There were mitigating factors – the most important being that, as a youngster, the responsibility to score goals and play final passes wasn’t on his shoulders. There were limitations imposed on him by the team’s hierarchy, with Fàbregas, Nasri and Arshavin the main creators in that group.
Whether on the ball or off it, he keeps his head up and always has a good look around before his first touch. Combining that appreciation with good control means he’s able to receive the ball in a crowded midfield and make snap decisions on how to avoid his markers and get into good positions to find teammates.
Also handy for finding space is the speed in his first few strides. Wilshere has got to be one of the slowest players in the squad across 30 metres or more, but he’s as fast as anyone from a standing start. And it affords him the ability to seem to glide past players in midfield. Physically speaking, he’s a bit stocky, with that low centre of gravity enabling him to turn quickly and keep his balance.
Inevitably for someone so young, there were weaknesses. He wasn’t much of a defender. That’s to say; he never demonstrated the kind of nous and ability to cover that Arteta showed last season. Still, Wilshere compensates with energy – snapping at heels rather than closing off angles.
He was strong for his age, but didn’t always pick battles he could hope to win, surrendering possession inordinately during his first few months. But that also improved of course.
Like so many other precocious young footballers, he’s also got an edge. He made a few ugly tackles in the first half of the season, and didn’t exactly endear himself to opposition fans. I’m not sure that’s anything for us to worry about.
At any rate, by the time the first leg against Barcelona came around, he was tackling safely and intelligently against a team that would have done all they could to get him sent off if he showed any sign of recklessness.
So how would he fit into this current team?
Well actually, that’s where things get tricky. Although there were subtle differences to the role, Arteta grabbed that spot in the Arsenal team last season. The Basque was a bit more disciplined, and as I mentioned, read the game better. Further forward, Rosicky was one of the stars during the last few months of the season.
As things stand I don’t believe he offers the team as much as Rosicky and Arteta do, but that shouldn’t stop Wenger from playing him. If he’s fit and not approaching the dreaded danger zone, he needs to play, because of what he could become in a short space of time. Squads have to be dynamic, with space made for players who are still learning, and rotation is vital if we’re going to stave off injury. Steve Bould will have a part to play as well, having overseen much of his career.
But despite setting out hoping to be reasonable, I’ve probably gone too far. First we’ll see if he’s ready to train with the squad. If he makes one of the tours then we can get our hopes up, ready to be dashed all over again.