Wilshere needs to learn to foul first before someone hurts him

Jack Wilshere is Arsenal’s most fouled player this season and he was Arsenal’s second most fouled player in 2010/2011, his last full season at the club before injury took him out for a year.  And if you were wondering why Arsene Wenger was hesitant to bring Jack Wilshere back to first team football from that injury, you now have a reason: teams seem to target him for rough treatment.

Wilshere is drawing an average of 2 fouls per game in the League this season. In all competitions, he’s drawing an average of 2.2 fouls per game. That tops Arsenal’s most fouled list. Moreover, if you look at the 10 games that he has featured for Arsenal in the League and Champions League, in 5 of those games, Wilshere was fouled as much or more than any other player on the pitch.

Drawing 2 fouls per game isn’t tops in the Premier League, that honor goes to Danny Rose who is fouled 2.9 times per game.* As an aside, a fullback leading the League in fouls drawn per game is highly unusual. It’s normally your creative midfielders who top this category: Hazard, Pienaar, Sterling, Dempsey, Cazorla, etc.

In 2010/2011 Wilshere was second at Arsenal, behind Cesc Fabregas, in drawing fouls with 1.4 per game and led all players in total fouls drawn. Wenger will be aware that Wilshere is a perennial target for opposition midfielders if not from his averages two seasons ago then from the fact that he spent a year on the sidelines after a hard foul in the Switzerland match forced him to get surgery.

And now, it looks like teams are targeting Wilshere again. In the last two games, the opposition have clearly decided that Wilshere is the key to Arsenal’s offence. Against Wigan, Wilshere was fouled twice and had the ball taken from him a further 4 times. Arsenal supporters could complain that some of those four times he was dispossessed were probably fouls and there were several times where Wilshere went down off the ball but no foul was called. And in the match against Reading, he was fouled four times.

Wilshere also now has a reputation as a player with a short temper which is somewhat undeserved but his reputation is getting him in trouble. In the match against Wigan Wilshere committed two fouls and received a yellow card. In the match against Reading, he committed just one foul and got a yellow card. And in the match against United, where he was targeted by Fergie and was fouled a team-leading three times (and was dispossessed an additional three times), he committed three fouls in retaliation and received two yellow cards.

If he’s going to be targeted by the opposition, the rational suggestion is for him to start fouling first rather than invite the fouls as he has been doing in the last two games. Don’t go around tying to break legs or anything, just have sharp elbows. The reasoning here is that referees tend to either miss the first foul or give the more aggressive player the benefit of the doubt. In the match against Wigan, Shaun Maloney, for example, got away with 6 fouls before getting a yellow card. Whereas Wilshere got a yellow card for a clean tackle that had a hint of retaliation to it. Referees always punish retaliation and the reason is simple: yellow cards are supposed to take into account intention and if the player is retaliating, the intention is clear.


Despite the fact that Wilshere is the future England captain, referees are not going to afford him any protection and that’s another reason why he has to take matters into his own hands, and feet. It’s a form of self-preservation: if you can get the opposition into foul trouble early and draw attention to them retaliating, you draw cards on the opponents and make the game easier for yourself.

Dennis Rodman was the master of this form of gamesmanship and used to drive the opposition fans and players mental. And whether you agree with it or not it’s a fact of life in sports that the person who fouls first always gets the benefit of the doubt. So you might as well be the fouler, rather than the foulee.

He’s a tough lad, Jack, and you have to respect him for that but how much longer can he run around getting kicked for 90 minutes twice a week before getting injured again?


*Among players who have more than 10 games.

35 thoughts on “Wilshere needs to learn to foul first before someone hurts him

  1. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1arsenal letters

    I respect your statistics and all your good work, but I am sorry to say that this is one of the dumbest arguments I read in 2012, especially the comparison with Dennis Rodman.

  2. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

    Let me elaborate. If Wilshere follows your advice, he will lose all the good faith of referees and the media, etc as he will be branded as the troublemaker, the initiator of bad blood. The opposition will target him even more. What needs to be done is that someone like Arteta (hardly a troublemaker) makes the case to the referee when Wilshere is targeted and Wilshere to play the victim that he is more often instead of immediately retaliating. Futhermore, whoever is targeting Wilshere should be retaliated by other Arsenal players, like Sagna, Arteta and Vermaalen. What Wilshere needs to know is that he is protected by our own players.

  3. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

    There’s a bias against the Arsenal t shirt. That’s a fact. Just today RvPs reaction during the Swansea match received just a yellow. Had it been while playing for us, the punishment would’ve been harder. How long is it going to last, now that the Britishization of the squad is more evident is the question. I agree with retaiation coming from his team mates. Also with our captain having a word with the referee. Also with sharper elbows on Jack’s part. It’s all part of the game, it seems.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Ankush

    I don’t see what’s wrong with the argument. It’s an astute observation and I think Arsene’s backroom staff will be keeping a watch on it. Although I don’t agree with the final suggestion.

  5. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters


    That final suggestion that you disagree with IS the argument, that Wilshere needs to foul first “strategically” so that he ends up at the receiving end of the retaliation. The author is asking WIlshere to provoke opposition players so that when they foul him, the referee delivers a harsher punishment.

    I will not even elaborate on the reasons why suggesting that a scumbag like Dennis Rodman should be Wilshere’s role model is utterly rubbish.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

      I agree that Wilshere needn’t be provocative, but I’ll not stand for such slander of Dennis Rodman. Are you some sort of a Utah Jazz fan?!

  6. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

    We need protection for him. He is a hell of a player, i used to think he was overrated because he was English, but the elegance married to the grit with which he plays is something to behold. Pires said that he felt comfortable playing because if anybody hit him, Lauren would kick the shit out of them. Come on, Yan M’Vila!

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1GoonerDave

    Interesting take on things…
    I agree it appears as if Jack is targeted, but I think it might be to do with his short fuse, or at least the perception of one. He is regularly wound up, and part of his quality as a player will depend on how he reacts to being regularly fouled.
    It actually appeared yesterday that Wigan were systematically fouling our players, on a kind of rotation basis. It may seem odd, but there was a pattern there yesterday in my view.
    My view is that Jack must learn how to deal with it. Its a very important part of his development. The best players are always fouled!

  8. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Ankush

    @Arsenal Letters

    The argument or point of observation was that Jack gets fouled frequently which is supported by data. But I don’t agree with the suggested plan of action. Jack should in fact learn from Arteta who is the most wily player operating in the league. He has perfected the art of getting out a foul in front of the referee at a slow pace. Arteta has an array of expressions/reactions, one of which he chooses wisely after every foul. No player can foul him twice without getting a caution. Jack has to be similarly street smart as he’ll be the focus of dirty tacklers in the years to come.

    I don’t know much about Rodman so can’t comment if he’s a scumbag or not.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters


      Very good point on Arteta.
      The observation that Wilshere gets fouled is not an argument, it is a fact. What I called “dumb argument” is what the author suggests, that Wilshere goes around fouling them first so that the referee protects him as when he is fouled it will look as if they are retaliating against him.

      How will this “ingenious idea” be implemented? Will Wilshere foul all opposition midfielders (all 3 or 4 of them) or any potential future avenger in the first 10 minutes and make them future potential retaliators. Will he not get a yellow card while doing that and tie his own hands? I am seriously amused by the naive nature of this suggestion, as if Wilshere will be given a free license to cynically foul opposition first, wind them up, the referee patiently allows this and only when they start fouling Wilshere, then he takes action and starts showing them cards. Brilliant!

  9. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1dano328

    Judging Rodman’s flakey off court personality detracts from what could be a good analogy. On the court, no one defended, rebounded, and regained possession like him. He got into the head of his opponents before they could get to him. He was targeted but usually came out on top.

    Regardless if this analogy fits Jack’s situation or not, I’d prefer Jack to learn better control of his temper. I also wish we had a physical player who could retaliate on his behalf. I still feel a PV style player should be the priority in Jan. M’Vila’s price should be lower than it was last summer

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

    Climb down off your moral high horse.

    All teams, even the perfect Barcelona, tactically foul. Fouling is part of the game and when used appropriately a valuable strategy to rile the opposition. Vieira used to employ the tactic and since you find the five time NBA champ Dennis Rodman so distasteful perhaps you could look to Vieira instead.

    Fouling is such an important part of the game that we get mad at a player if the DON’T “take one for the team” when the situation calls for it. Hoping that some letter-writing campaign or, worse, that Arsene Wenger’s words are going to sway the League officials is the naive position. Look at the last ten years, every time Wenger highlights fouls or fouling, it’s Arsenal who are punished.

    You have to take the initiative in these situations and not sit back and passively get kicked off the pitch waiting for the official to do something. Fouling our players and waiting for the team to react is how almost every team has approached Arsenal games for the last 10 years. I haven’t seen this mythical protection emerge yet, so maybe a different approach is needed.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

      My objection to your argument has absolutely nothing to do with the morality of strategic fouling. I am all for it, so if that is what you think I am objecting to, I need to explain it one more time.

      What I am saying is that Wilshere taking things into his own hands and strategically fouling opposition players is impossible to implement. How do you suggest he goes about elbowing people cynically, winding them up so that when they foul him, It will look like they are the ones retaliating. How do you reckon the referee will turn a blind eye to Wilshere’s strategic fouling? Wilshere cannot implement this strategic fouling all by himself without getting targeted even worse or getting cautioned by the referee. It needs to be a team effort, which is what I am suggesting. His teammates must protect him.

      He is the victim of constant fouling, and he needs to show that he is the victim. Winding up the opposition preemptively by cynical fouls hardly makes the case that he is the victim. This is not a moral point of view, it is simply a practical point of view.

      About Dennis Rodman, I do not care how many championship medals he won in the same way you do not care how many titles Alex Ferguson won.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        I never said he should run around cynically elbowing people, that’s something you read into this. If you’ve ever played any sport, you would know that you wind people up, actually, by fouling uncynically and by being just physical. I’m not suggesting he becomes Joey Bartoon, but rather that he’s just a little more deliberate about his fouls and less retaliatory. Be the aggressor and not the reactor.

        I may not have explained that very well but hopefully I have clarified.

        Your idea that he should be running around playing the part of the victim is tired. Arsenal have been doing the victim thing for years, they are exceptionally good at playing the victim. There are whole web sites dedicated to trying too prove that Arsenal are the victims of some kind of calciopoli style conspiracy. And no matter how much we moaned and complained and showed the refs the stud-marks we still get legs broken every year, we still get a yellow card after our first foul, and Wenger still throws massive wobblers at the officials every game.

        We are victims, and that’s part of the problem. We need to stop being so passive and be a little more aggressive.

        But what I find very strange about your position is that you actually basically agree with me on this but you just don’t want Wilshere to do it, you want Arsenal to buy someone who will “protect” Wilshere. And call it a “team effort.” Not really sure you know what you want.

        As for implementation, it’s easy. He “closes down space”. He’s “a little late”. He “left his foot in there”. But always without malice. You know, the same way that Shaun Maloney got away with 6 fouls before the ref did anything to him. The same way that everyone in England does in every game.

        And finally, I do care how many titles Fergie won. How could I not care about the man who has won nearly everything imaginable, every single year that I have been watching football? I don’t love him, but I respect him, he’s a winner.

        Have fun blogging.

      2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

        “But what I find very strange about your position is that you actually basically agree with me on this but you just don’t want Wilshere to do it, you want Arsenal to buy someone who will “protect” Wilshere. And call it a “team effort.” Not really sure you know what you want.”

        Since you are remarkably reluctant to see my simple point, here it is again: A player cannot “with or without malice” keep fouling to signal that he means business. How many fouls do you reckon he can commit by “leaving a foot there”, “being a little late here” etc without getting cautioned? Why do you think even in teams that tactically foul, the players who foul take turns. Yes, I know you know the answer. To put it simply, I am not against Wilshere doing it, I am saying it needs to be supported by the whole team. Only Wilshere doing it all by himself and getting away with it is practically impossible. He will just look like a provocator and then he will have to deal with that. The Guardian and others will start publishing articles about how such a talented player became a thug.

        As a practical matter (which is my only issue) Wilshere, if he does what you say all by himself, will get a yellow card in most games after his third foul the most. You seem to be reading too much into Maloney not receiving a card yesterday despite his 6 fouls. That was huge incompetence on the part of that referee. It will not happen in most games.

        I know what I want, which is that “mean streak” to be the signature of the whole team, from Sagna to Podolski, from Gibbs to Ox, to Giroud. I have no idea how you concluded that I want someone to be “bought to protect Wilshere”.

        Have fun blogging yourself…

      3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        Amazing, you’ve gone from saying it’s the stupidest argument of 2012 to saying that you agree Wilshere should foul more, that the whole team should foul more, but you don’t know how he (we) will get away with it.

      4. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

        Hahaha. Cultching at straws, are we? Nice try. You seem to be seeing extra sentences in my posts, as I do think that the team will get away with it if they help each other when one is targeted. It is your ingenious idea to ask Wilshere to “single-handedly” provoke opposition players a la Dennis Rodman, and that I still find quite dumb, even dumber than before as you now well understood what my objection is, yet you still hang on to it because of pride issues.

      5. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        My argument has remained constant, the only one grasping at straws is you as you keep building straw men to thrash.

  11. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    One of the problems with arsenal over the past few years is that we have lost our “nasty streak”. In the days of yore, we could not be intimidated and players like Viera, Dixon, Parlor, Adams, Petit, Lauren, Wiltord, and Lehman ensured that modus operandi was fulfilled, home or away.

    Since Song has departed, only Sagna and Wilshire is there to carry the load. Intrinsically, we are a “soft” team and while that will work in the CL, the EPL is clearly not for the faint of heart.

    We do need a couple more players like JW and Sagna, with a little bit of a nasty streak.

      1. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

        Did not mean “nasty” in the true sense. Rather, that he plays hard, commits ferociously to tackles, takes no prisoners, scraps for everything and takes no guff. Ditto with Wilshere.

        Growing up as a defender under a brilliant British coach this was drilled into us daily. We learned the art of hard but fair and committed tackling, and how to effectively use your body weight and balance to move opponents off the ball and disturb their movement (legally).

        Sagna represents this dying art very well. My favorite AFC player along with Wilshere.

  12. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

    I should also disclose that I was a huge Supersonics fan in the 90′s and I remember Dennis Rodman torturing the Sonics in the NBA finals.

    I should hate him, but I can’t it was the best defensive performance I’ve ever seen in any sport.

  13. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Luke

    The whole team does need to be tougher, hopefully the physical presence of Giroud and Diaby when he returns can counterbalance the likes of Wilshere and Cazorla.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori


      Except I’m not sure we can count on Diaby in being anything other than a ‘bonus’ player at this point.

    2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

      Even when fit, although being physically imposing, Diaby does not play tough, fit or not. Neither Sagna or Jack would be considered big players, but they have attitude, one of the things I did like about Nasri before he deserted the ship.

      BTW, Song is a perfect example of what Tim is speaking about. He didn’t wait until getting fouled before retaliating. He consistently left his foot in, used his weight and size to great effect and constantly nibbled away at opponents.

      1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        Song is the perfect example; modern footballer, hard, tackles well, no one fucks with him because he’s the giver not the receiver,

      2. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

        That is precisely where I disagree with you, the different roles that Wilshere and Song play and hence their differential likelihood to attract fouls, or as you term it “being the giver not the receiver”.

        Song’s game and main tactical focus is breaking opposition attacks, regaining possession and last season he added to this with amazing over the top balls. However, Song is not a runner with the ball forward from deeper midfield areas like Wilshere. That is what attracts the fouls, running with the ball, not his attitude toward fouling or being fouled or anything. If Song had the different role of pushing forward with the ball in his feet, he would also be at the receiving end of the fouls, regardless of his attitude, whether he is the “giver” or the “receiver”

        Do you think when say Tiote sees Wilshere breaking from midfield with the ball, he will say to himself “Jack is a giver not the receiver, so I should not foul him”

      3. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        We get it. You disagree. You’re also quick to belittle other people’s opinions calling them the “dumbest argument of 2012″ despite saying that you “respect” me.

        You should take some time off from the internet.

        Or at least some time off from here.

        Have a great holiday, and please, don’t take this to twitter. I won’t respond there either.

  14. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    What I do like about Jack is he plays wearing his heart on his sleeves.

    He’s Arsenal through and through, you can see his determination.

    One reason why he is drawing the extra fouls in midfield is because he is also proving more competitive, providing some physical presence (despite his size disadvantage) where someone like Diaby is absent.

    Arteta is not quite as combative relying more on intelligent reading of the game than muscle where Jack tries to add the added physical dimension we lack a little in the middle.

    I’m not sure ‘strategic’ fouls on his part will help him. What may help would be to have an option to Diaby (and Arteta). Someone like capoue for instance who can provide the added physical presence may afford the luxury for Jack to concentrate on other matters whilst providing the grit we need to face off against more ‘determined’ teams.

  15. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1shotta

    Interesting. Tim and Arsenal Letters are unto something. Yep, we have played the victim for too long and it hasn’t worked. I tend to believe that being “mean” needs to be a team effort and not expose Jack to the incompetent refereeing and a hypocritical media. Easier said than done. Too many players at Arsenal seem more concerned with their image than showing a mean streak on the field. I am not being anti-Walcott here but he strikes me as one who wants to retain that goody-boy image. How do you change that?

  16. +1 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    I share the outrage of many Gooners at the mugging – plain and simple – that goes on out there against stand up guys like Wilshere. I made that point immediately in my own post-match comments here.

    What to actually do about it is a more challenging consideration.

    Does footy go the way of (Ice) hockey in which every team has an enforcer and/or goon to protect its “skill” players and keep those chippy defensemen in line? Woe to any “role” player who would dare lift a glove, shove an elbow or raise a stick against Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby. Their protectors would sort it out, if not immediately then on the very next shift change. Payback – penalty or no – is a certainty. A 5 minute major for fighting is a small price to pay to ensure your franchise player is protected.

    Is that what we want in the beautiful game? The National Hockey League is easily one of the worst run sports leagues anywhere in the world which is not having a season this year due to the ongoing fight between millionaires and billionaires. And despite the so called protection from their enforcers many top players still suffer injuries and career threatening concussions (Sidney Crosby anybody).

    When the Luddites at FIFA and the FA start to embrace video technology, when rule changes allow for things like team challenges and on-demand video replay for egregious fouls, then lads like Wilshere might stand a chance against all those flying elbows, shirt pulls, up-ending shoves and above the waist boots.

  17. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    “Role” players, I want to add, exist in many variations in other sports. In hockey a role player in essence is someone – and yes I am exaggerating here – who can’t skate, can’t shoot, can’t stick handle, but is 6′ 5″ and 250 lbs and can spell 3 or 4 letter words with up to 65% accuracy.

    When a monster like that hip checks you into the boards you really do wish you’d rather be in Stoke on a freezing Monday night in February.

  18. Vote -1 Vote +1alex cutter

    Wilshire certainly was given a good beating, but he also needs to stop throwing himself around without abandon.

    Playing hard is fine, but the other day I was more nervous about the contact he initiated than I was about the fouls he received.

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