Good morning. I have been gone for a few days but I’m not going to say sorry. I was camping in the forests of the Northwest and I have no regrets. I got to see the stars, hiked 10 miles, watched a beautiful woman swim naked in a lake, started a fire, ate steaks cooked over a fire, had a beautiful woman read The Interrogative Mood out loud to me, played rummy, and passed out whiskey drunk on a pile of rocks. So yeah, I’m not going to say that “I’m sorry” because I’m not.
I do want to say thank you to Chary for his awesome match report and to Naveen for the match preview. Both articles were perfect and much appreciated by me and the readers here.
Through the magic of DVR I was able to record the match against Manchester City and because I had no internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, and no cell phone service I watched the match as if it were live. So, I didn’t really miss anything… except maybe the people freaking out in real time on Twitter after Arsenal gave up the first goal.
As for the game, I thought Jack Wilshere was outstanding and as Wenger is saying today “answered his critics” a bit. So, I want to focus just on Jack today and tomorrow I will look at a couple of other things that stood out to me.
Paul Scholes isn’t the only person who has been critical of Jack Wilshere over the last year or so. In fact, I think Scholes took the cudgel from some of the professional Arsenal bloggers who have publicly wondered if Wilshere’s career was already over.
It’s part of the modern condition that people not only have to have an opinion, they then have to share it, and (most important) they have to have the opinion first. This leads people to making brash statements about players careers being over when the player in question is only 21 years old.
Those who feel criticized by that last paragraph will reply with “yes, but Wilshere wasn’t playing well! The criticism is justified!” and they would be right. It’s not the criticism of Wilshere’s play that bothered me but rather the proclamations that his career was in jeopardy.
Similarly, I want to be careful after one or two good games to not pretend that Wilshere is now a god among men or that he has completely proven his critics wrong. Somewhere in between lies the truth — a statement that you probably hear a lot from me.
But against Man City you saw Wilshere at his imperious best. He scored a goal, he set up a goal (with a caviar pass) and had another caviar pass to Ramsey go begging. He also showed his strength and speed with the ball at feet, showed a plethora of clever dribbling skills, and drove Arsenal’s attack forward through much of the game.
Here is his dribbling dashboard, he made 10/15 dribbles against Man City.
In a sense, this dashboard is the perfect encapsulation of Wilshere as a player. What his critics saw last year was him trying to dribble too much in midfield, getting caught, throwing his hands up looking for the referee to make a call, and giving up the ball in dangerous areas.
But that said Wilshere is fouled a lot and when he plays regularly he is Arsenal’s most fouled player. He is fouled a lot because he is a dribbler, he loves to dribble out of pressure rather than pass out of pressure. Referees in the Premier League do not offer Wilshere any protection and add to that the fact that Wilshere was playing with an ankle which he was babying last year. That’s why he was on the floor all the time with his hands raised looking for the referee to make a call.
So, Wilshere likes to dribble (this is how he “drives the team forward”) and because he likes to dribble he is fouled often. Referees do not always call the fouls and referees do not give yellow cards to players who are fouling Wilshere. The result is that when Wilshere is caught in possession deep in his own half, it makes him look bad. Very bad.
But you can also see where Wilshere’s dribbles can be devastating. If we want to talk about ending a player’s career, Wilshere basically ended Clichy’s career with that dribble into the box which set up his goal. His dribbles deep in his own half also broke pressure, setting up situations for counter attacks and causing the Man City defense to panic.
But this was Wilshere at his best, 10 dribbles is a season high for any Arsenal player and puts him in second place behind Eden Hazard in terms of successful dribbles per game in the Premier League. When he was fouled he got right back up and played through and when he broke pressure he was dangerous both as a goal-scoring threat and as a shot creator.
My hope would be that Wilshere will tame his propensity to dribble out of pressure deep in his own half. It’s a dangerous thing to attempt especially if referees are not going to call fouls. And we know that referees are simply not going to make the calls because they haven’t been up to this point. Instead of dribbling in his own final third (he attempted 5 there and was caught twice) I would prefer him to pass and move, saving the dribbles for further up the pitch where they can cause real trouble. Özil and Sanchez combined for 14 attempted dribbles (8 successful) and only one attempted dribble in the Arsenal final third.
But still, it’s a small criticism of a player who had an all around amazing match against the reigning League Champs: scoring a brilliant goal and setting up another brilliant goal. If last year was the year of the Ramsey, and if Wilshere continues to play at this level, I think we will have to say that this is the year of Wilshere.
Pictures: FourFourTwo StatsZone App
Stats: Opta and my own personal databases