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.